Horror Fiction

The Current Settlers (Pt. 8)

Part 8 of the Settlement Series!

The CreepyPasta

[upset] I knew it! I knew you’d come today of all days. Damnit, we gotta get you out of this forest!

… … One day a year – one! And it’s the day you show up! I knew it, I tell ya! Ugh, it’s too late… we’d never make it to the bridge; hurry up – come inside. [door slams/locks]

… … … What do you mean you have no clue how you got here?! You have your pack and everything!

… … … I’m not sure I understand how you could be compelled to pick it up, but we don’t have time to chat. There’s a horde of evil outside, and more are on the way. We don’t even know what half of those things are anymore. Based on what we do know – ignorance is probably a blessing, but we can speculate later.

[Trish] We need to open the floor, it’s our only chance.

… You’re right; there’ll be nowhere left to hide once it begins. We could make a hole under the bed… Once our friend is behind the barrier, it’ll be like every other year.

… … [walking to bedroom] We’ll have to explain later, but I’m sure you remember my telling you about converting the basement, yes?

… Good. Long story short – there’s also a few magical protections around it. We couldn’t have survived without them.

… … [defensive] I’ve been brutally honest about how dangerous this place is, I’m not sure why you look surprised.

… … It’s amazing yet frightening how many questions you have in the face of certain death. Stand back, please. Come on, Ethan, help me move this thing.

… … [bed slides across floor] You’re gonna be just fine, friend, we’ll get through this together. I’m surprised they haven’t smelled you, but maybe they’re too preoccupied… or lulling us into a false sense of security…

… … [wood creaking] I’m only planning for every possibility, but those guys aren’t exactly known for their patience. If they knew you were here – we wouldn’t be considered much of a threat. It’s more likely they’re too busy to notice. These rituals have been happening for centuries; they probably can’t remember the last time one was interrupted—

[wood cracking] Whoa, hold on, boy! Just because the bed will be covering it doesn’t mean we can rip the boards in half! It would be nice to lay them back in place afterwards. Once our pal is safely hidden, we’ll make it look like this room hasn’t been touched since those kids with the tie-dye van.

[Ethan] The ones who thought we were all acid hallucinations?

… Yep, but this time – we stay quiet and lay low; there shouldn’t be any problems. I bet we can even manage a few stories to help pass the time; how’s that sound?

… … Hah, I thought that part would be well received. [board set aside] Alright, it’s time.

… … Don’t worry, friend, Ethan will lower you nice and slow; he’s stronger than he looks. You’ll be on the ground and taking the grand tour before you know it.

… … … … [shout/echo] See? No problem at all. You two go ahead; we’ll get this mess cleaned up and be with you in a few.

… … [distant/fading voice] See, Trish? I told you it was best to keep the height a surprise.


Great news, family! We’re officially bunkered down, and the ritual has begun. Only something fairly extreme could stop them now, and we aren’t giving them anything but distance; tonight, we don’t exist!

… … Thank you, friend, I’m glad you like it! This is my real library; the original journals, every book, and all our downloaded entertainment are right here. I often worry they aren’t safe enough, but I fear no amount of precautions would make me feel differently.

… … … Oh my! I was so worried about the ritual I’ve been a terrible host! I’m ashamed of myself, truly I am. You haven’t had a chance to say more than two words since you got here; hell, I didn’t even ask how you’ve been since your last visit!

… … …Well, “gracious host” is probably a stretch, but it’s kind of you to say so – I do try – but no more about me; what’s the big news? You’re grinning ear-to-ear, and the curiosity is killing me.

… … You… I mean… I know you said you were going to email Mr. Somnium, but… Are you trying to tell me he actually responded? As in he read it?

… … … He wants to narrate it? For his actual channel? When?!

… … It’s already done?! Are you screwing with me, friend? Because this is a cruel joke to play on an old man no matter how long ago his heart stopped—

… … … [whisper] Sweet cricket… okay… don’t sugarcoat it; what did people think?

… … … Shut up! I’m not crying! You’re crying! Holy, sweet mother of all crickets… You even took pictures of the comments? You, my friend, hold the special power of restoring one’s faith in humanity.

… … … Shush, everyone; of course I want to hear it, but we need to be quiet – no unnecessary risks, remember?… But don’t worry, friend – you’ll be across that bridge before you know it!

… … Hell yea, I’m positive! And – once you’re home – would you have time to pass along a message to our Dark Family? It should be heart-felt, yet stoic – humble but not desperate; maybe I should draft a few key points. First impressions are every—

[Trish] You’re doing it again, dear.

… Oops… umm, enough of all that; we’re in for a long night. What would you like to hear about next? The Mountain Settlement, maybe? How about the Civil War or the Revolution?

… … … [disappointed] Really? Firsthand accounts of America’s entire history are at your disposal, but you want to know how Trish and I got here? You’re one strange cookie, my friend, but that’s the main reason we like you so much. Alrighty then, I aim to please! Hang tight while I find the right journal; we’ll need to go back to a couple weeks before we died.

… … … [shuffling books] Oh, yea, those are the Weapons; Those have been down here since the ordeal with the outlaws. It’s kinda nice not having anyone else to meddle in what we do with our own family heirlooms.

Ah, here we are, [wipes off dust] I only hope you aren’t too disappointed. When you get bored we’ll switch to a different journal; until then – sit back, relax, and try to ignore any strange noises. Now that the Ritual has begun, they can’t leave the circle… Well, they could, but they’d be forced to start over which would be extremely inconvenient.


April 5, 1696

It has been a hard day – the kind that makes me long for the years I could work without pain in my back. If not for the grandchildren, my fields would be empty this season. It seems like only yesterday I was teaching their fathers how to plant and plow, yet now, I ramble incessantly like the old men we mocked in our youth. Even when there is actual news to speak of, I somehow default to writing the same, dull drivel as always.

Bill Sanderson returned from a business trip two days ago, and today, his entire family is ill. The doctors were only notified when his children failed to attend class for a second morning; Ms. Harvard sent one of the students to the Sanderson home, and the lad went for help upon finding the family confined to their beds.

No one dares speak the words we all know to be true, but— [woman’s scream]


… … [exasperated] Damn, that one was loud.

… … [hesitant] Well, um… it sounds like they’ve brought out a sacrifice…

… … … I can understand why you might be upset, but we didn’t see a reason to worry you when there’s nothing we can do to help that poor soul.

… … I know it’s hard to hear; in the beginning, we wanted to help, too, but you gotta trust us. Our first time hearing it, we rushed into the middle of them like fools; they had some poor girl – must have been between 17-20 – and she—

[Trish] Maybe skip that part, dear.

… Right. The point is – they almost ate us, and if you go running out there, I’m not sure we could save you at all, but we’d try. The one thing I am certain of is that we would be consumed either way. [whining] Please don’t get us eaten before I can hear Mr. Somnium read Pappy Grant’s journal! Please!

… … Yes, exactly! The demon himself is smack in the middle of it all and growing more powerful as we speak! He’s surrounded by every evil thing this place has to offer; We can’t help them in the same way you can’t walk on the ceiling.

… … … [whining] Aw, why aren’t you understanding this, friend? Yes – killing the demon would mean an end to the sacrifices, and this place would finally stop attracting new monsters, but—

… … … [sigh] Yes; it would make it possible to deal with other creepies and crawlies as well, but—

… … … Because we can’t! Even if the demon wasn’t surrounded by his minions – we wouldn’t stand a chance!

… … … Tell me you did not just point to the Weapons. [louder] No, better yet – tell me what we did to make you hate us? Why are you trying to re-kill us?

[Trish] Volume, dear.

… … [softer] It’s a moot point, anyway. The girl is dead by now, let’s not dwell on what we can’t change. I’m sorry, but if y’all don’t mind, I’d like to continue read— [man screams]

… … [annoyed] Oh, Jiminy-friggin-Cricket! Yes, I heard it! [throws down journal]

… … [exasperated] Yes, I know it was a man that time.

… … I don’t know how many more.

… … I swear, I don’t know; they don’t hunt for a specific type or number of sacrifices, but if an opportunity presents itself in the months leading up to the ritual…

… … Yea, I’m afraid so; they’ll use as many as they find. There’s no maximum limit, and the more lives they take – the more powerful the ritual becomes.

… No, please! Don’t touch the Weapons!

[Ethan] Actually, I have an idea.

… An idea on how to calm our friend down?

[Ethan] Sort of!

… Nope; sit down and zip it.

[Ethan] but—

… Sit! [clap] Zip! [clap] We are survivors! Do you understand what that means? It means we survive! We keep going; we record the story! Just now – finally – that story is making it to the outside world. We can’t let it end here. If we can get the rest of it out there, real help will come! People who know what they’re doing – hell, maybe someone with a YouTube channel—

[Trish] Dear…

… Right. The point is – someone who isn’t us! We have two choices. We can go out there – become dinner – and let the world forget about that one random story, or we can be strategic; we can forfeit the battle to win the war and enjoy victory together – as a family. Then, when it’s time to deal with the other unfriendly inhabitants, maybe some of those Paranormal Investigators will visit! I don’t think I’d be comfortable with Ghost Hunters; I know you said it’s not the same kind of hunter but—

[Trish] Dear…

… Right, sorry. Can we please just go back to reading? If they had another— [man screams]

Well, that was obviously the same one as before— Wait a second, friend! You do realize those Weapons are useless in our hands, right? They wouldn’t work even if we could land a hit; that means you would have one shot with only a dagger to fall back on!

[Ethan] Seriously, I have a plan.

… Please, boy, I’m serious, too.

[Trish] It’s a good plan, dear.

… [heartbroken] Aw… you too? But… how do you already know what it is? Why are none of you concerned with—

[Trish] Dear…

Fine, fine, fine; go ahead, Ethan. Take your time and explain in as much detail as possible.

[Ethan] Since the entire horde of bad guys are confined to the ritual circle – no one is guarding the Demon’s Path. Those egg sacs have been incubating for ages; tonight will probably be enough to put a few more monsters into the world. Unless something happens to them…

… Ok, since we’re completely ignoring my strategic plan for victory – let’s hear it. How do you propose we bypass the fact they’ll smell our flesh-and-blood pal the moment we stick our heads out of the hole? You know – the one we hid under the bed that happens to be the only exit for someone incapable of passing through solid objects?

[Ethan] Um, actually only two of us need to go. Technically, they could burst the sacs with a regular crossbow. The only reason I never have before is because the demon would know it was one of us, and we never had a way to fight back until now. Don’t you see? This is why our friend was brought here! It’s fate! We could make a real difference! The demon will feel what happened and rush over in a blind rage; he’ll pass straight by the lake! Someone on the roof could probably get a clear shot…

… … Oh, and our friend is suddenly an archer now, eh? Hell, let’s pretend that part is true – you realize the demon won’t simply be strolling by, don’t you? Even our eyes can barely keep track! That’s a vital detail since a miss would mean we all suffer fates worse than second deaths! Dying the first time was bad enough, thank you very much!

[Ethan] I could do the aiming, and I remember the demon’s name well. You know I can make that shot; let me have revenge… Imagine if Jamestown could really expand; how long do you think it would be before they brought in some electric poles? Surely WiFi wouldn’t be far behind…

… Damn you, boy. Taunt me with sweet dreams all you want, but none of those things would matter if we weren’t around to enjoy them.

[Trish] We can destroy the eggs much faster than the demon can break their circle; we could be back before they need to shoot. If the worst happens – one of us will get our friend to bridge while the others stay behind… We can pack the journals now as well – then, our story will live on, and your plan will still work. What do you think?

… I think it’s horrible! It doesn’t change a thing about how it will end. Besides, have you noticed how long it’s been since— [woman screams] Oh, come on!

[Ethan] Please, we don’t have much time; you know full well they’ve barely gotten started. This has gone too far! Once the demon is dead, we’ll be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Most of them will run scared back to their dens, and some will move on to darker pastures entirely. While that’s happening, Trish can get our friend back to safety, and we’ll go after the hostages!

… I don’t like it.

[Trish] That’s a shame dear… Based on what mother saw, I could have used your help. Oh well, sit tight – we’ll return as quickly as possible; try not to worry.

… [grumble] You can be a cruel woman sometimes… Ethan, listen to me very carefully; don’t extend a single hair beyond the protection barrier until we’re finished, you got that? Then it’s straight into position; do not overestimate the amount of time it will take him to break the ritual’s circle! We’ll clear the path for you on the way out.

[Ethan] You got it, uncle!

… Alright, let’s get it over with. If it’s the last thing I do – I’ll fit in some “told you so’s” before going loudly into that dark, eternal night.


[Trish] We’ll stay underground as long as we can and come up by the path’s entrance.

… Are you going to explain what happened with Gale? I didn’t want to worry our friend anymore than you two already have, but she clearly saw something that shook you up.

[Trish] Last week, she was having a good day and said this year wasn’t like the others. The demon was angrier after the French settlement than we realized. In our grief over lost friends and enchanted arrows, we failed to realize that several of the sacs were destroyed as well. Rather than replacing them – he poured everything into what was left—

… We should be close, let’s go up… And they’re supposed to hatch tonight? Is that what you were saying?

[Trish] You’re right; we’re here… But no – those eggs hatched ages ago. However, the results were so promising – he tried something new. This time he divided everything equally between two sacs. They’re already massive, and when the 24 sacrifices are dead – there will be two more extremely dangerous monsters loose in our forest.

Twenty-four? How? It’s never been more than a dozen!.. And wow, this place really has gotten dismal. I remember when it was impossible to see more than a few yards into the tree-line, but now there’s hardly any green left in the forest!

[Trish] The bulk of the sacrifices are boy scouts; they weren’t camping here – their bus broke down. The repairs were going to take a few hours, so their troop leader suggested bringing the restless kids for a hike. The worst part is – they never told anyone what happened; no one knows they came here. When the repairs were complete, those who stayed with the bus drove down to retrieve the others; they had no clue what they were driving into… Of course, there are probably a few other sacrifices mixed in; surely they aren’t all with the scouts.

… [pouty] I just wanna go home and listen to my story… Geez, the ground is so hard and black it feels like concrete…

[Trish] If we can end the reign of terror, you’ll have eternity to enjoy all the stories you want, dear. Now, move your ass; my baby is practically alone back there. Is your crossbow ready? I think I see the first one ahead – look up and to the right. Mother said these were bright yellow instead of orange – that has to be one of them.

… Yea, that’s it; the other is on the ground to the left, do you see it? We should stand back; that gunk inside could still hurt us… Or we could turn around and go home now – no harm done.

[Trish] Wow, they really are massive!.. Wait – did you mean ‘no harm doneaside from tonight’s 24 sacrifices?

… [sigh] Are you ready? We shoot on three… One… I love you… Two… Three! [both shoot, sacs burst with liquid explosion]

… [ground shakes and rumbles with guttural roar] Go!


… [panicked] Can you feel that? The air is heavier; it’s like walking through deep water.

[Trish] Yes, and we need to go faster.

… No, darling; just me.

[Trish] What’s in that vial? Did you try brewing potions again?

… It’s just something I’ve been saving for an emergency. Don’t worry, if the worst happens, the enchantment will weaken overnight; you’ll be able to free yourself by morning. [cork pops]

[Trish] Alex, no; we don’t have time to argue; you don’t— [Trish sucked in/Alex corks bottle]

… It’s ok to be mad; I can handle that, but not losing you. I’m sure you’re frustrated that I can’t hear what you’re saying, but if it’s any consolation – I can feel your displeasure loud and clear. Hopefully, I’ll be back for you— [frightened] Oh no; the air is getting even heavier… [sweeps leaves aside] Ok, ok… Ok, hun, you’ll be safe here, and I’ll be right back… [covers bottle with the leaves]

[speeds away, muttering to self] Alright, ole boy, – she’s safe – totally, completely safe, yessir. Now, you’re gonna bottle up that loud-mouthed nephew and hope to hell the demon is satisfied with only one savory morsel… And that our friend skews towards flight rather than fight…

[gasp] There they are – thank Jiminy! They’re on the roof; all I need to do is drag— [earth shakes and rumbles with a roar like thunder] No, please no, not when I’m this close!


[Ethan] This is it! Remember – just like we practiced; don’t panic… keep your eyes closed… body relaxed… mind clear… and—

[confused] Hey, why is uncle— Shit! [shoots arrow] No!

[everyone screams, demon screeches, arrow thuds into tree]


… … [panicked] I’m not gonna make it… Oh, no! No, no, no! It only scratched the bastard!… Holy mother, he’s looking right at them! The arrow! It’s so close; I have get to it… [pulls arrow from trunk]

… [screaming] Oi! Hey, look at me, asshole! Yoo-hoo! [whistles]

Crap, he’s really coming! Even uglier than I remember… Looks like a tall Quasimodo caught leprosy and went into the final stages of liver failure… Oof! My throat… Jiminy, he’s a big mother… lucky I don’t need to… breathe… just need… arm… free… legs are already gone…

[strained] Boy! Catch! [arrow whizzes through air, thuds into roof]

[mutters to self] Thank goodness, it got through… Wow, everything is going all wonky… sorry, fam


[Ethan] Bastard! He’s absorbing Alex! We have to shoot before there’s nothing left! [pulls arrow free, Alex groans in the distance] Hold on, we’re coming! [bow-string tightens]

[Ethan whispers] Are you ready?… Now! [fires arrow] Say it!

[demon screeches in agony, drowning out all other voices]

[Ethan, yelling over the demon’s wails] Alex! Uncle!… Why isn’t he reforming?! Stay here, I need to get down there!


… … [voice confused, disembodied] Is it over?… Is this where the dead go when they die?… Or is this a black void unique to the demon’s victims? Maybe I’m being stored away until needed… At least Trish is safe, and I thinkyes! Before everything went dark, that bastard took an arrow in the neck! I remember hearing the start of his name before the sound was cut off by screaming. It’s too late for me, but surely my boy got our friend away from this place. The demon is still dangerous even in this condition. [Ethan calling in the distance]

… … … [voice slightly more focused] Was that Ethan calling for me? No, it was too close; maybe I’m hallucinating after all… [woosh]


[Ethan yelling over demon’s continued screams] Uncle, if you can hear me – I found your dirty bottle trick lying next to what was left of you. Hopefully, I got all of you, but… umm… it looks like I’m stuck… Alex, I can’t move my legs… [whimper] He’s… g-ot me… I g-guess this guy r-really doesn’t want to die… I’m gonna throw you while I can still move my arms— [shocked gasp, dagger stabs into demon’s foot]

[demon roars in guttural agony as the ground rumbles with the force of an earthquake]

[Ethan] Holy shit! You stabbed him! No; don’t pull it out! We need to go; get on my back! [leaves rustle in the wind as the group flees] Alex, where’s Trish— Oh, right, he can’t answer…

… … … [angry and frustrated] I can answer; you just can’t hear me! What the hell is happening out there?! I can’t see or sense anything! We better be headed away from the demon with our friend in tow, or I swear before the sweet cricket I will find a way to tan your hide! [bangs loudly on the bottle walls] Ugh, you best find a way to hear me, boy! Hello?!

[Ethan continues speaking] —Yes, I’m positive Alex is in this bottle; here, you can hang onto it. Oh, wait! [hears light tapping on glass] Do you hear that? This is fantastic; I must have gotten all of him! Hey, Uncle – tap once for yes and twice for no; do you understand? [single tap] Is Trish safe? [single tap] Whew, thank goodness. Uncle! You won’t believe it! Our friend came out of nowhere and stabbed that bastard in the foot, haha! I think this is really it! He was falling apart as we fled! I’m trying to get us to the bridge – then we can find a way to get you out of that bottle.

… … … What do you mean ‘find a way’? Open it!— Wait, what are you two saying out there? No, no, no! [frantically bangs on glass] No way, friend! You are not staying one second longer! We can check on the sacrifice hostages after you’re safe! Ethan, don’t you dare listen to that nonsense! Get your ass to the bridge! And open the damn bottle! [continues banging on glass]

[Ethan] Sorry, friend, but I can’t take you to the ritual circle; Alex would kill me. Just listen to him in there – he’s going nuts!… Whoa, what are you doing?! Sit still or we’re gonna— [everyone falls to the ground, glass bottle breaks]

… … … Holy Cricket, that’s better! Now – we were all human once – let’s talk about this like reasonable folk.

[ground shakes with loudest roar yet]

… …. [disbelief] It really happened… He’s gone… Even after everything… I just didn’t believe it… But, damn, can you feel it, too? The air is normal again! The looming sense of dread is— actually… it’s stronger than ever… Let’s get Trish before we do anything else…


… … [hysteric] How?! How is it empty?! It shouldn’t have weakened that fast! How is she gone?! [sobs/smashes bottle]

[Ethan] Wait… Calm down and focus for a second… Do you feel that? There’s another fight happening, and she’s definitely part of it… [demanding] I’m going now! Are you coming, friend? Or do you want to stay here and argue with Alex?… Great, let’s go!

… No, umm… [defeated] ugh, wait up. Damnit, Trish! Why’d she have to go over there alone!

… … I know, friend, you don’t need to remind me. I’m clearly surrounded with ‘kind souls’ but, you see, we are a family of survivors, and avoiding danger is the key to being a survivor. This expedition is in direct conflict with our mission statement; she’s breaking the prime directive – that’s not ok!

[Ethan, patronizing] There, there, uncle; we can have a court martial after we help her. For now, we need to hurry! We should find a vantage point before showing ourselves. If it looks too dangerous, one of us will rush our friend to the bridge while the other helps Trish. Fair enough?

… … It’s not like I have any choice in the matter! You three have been forcing my hand all night anyway, so come on! Let’s go before it’s too late!


… … [shock] Are… are you two seeing this? It’s absolute chaos down there… [children shouting war cries] and it looks like… is Trish leading a platoon of boy scouts?

[Ethan] Hell yea, she is! Look! Everyone must have fled; only the Walker is left! Geez, where did they get all those weapons? It’s been ages since I’ve seen a mob like that – some of them are actually carrying pitchforks!

… … Don’t stand there gawking, boy! That Walker isn’t going to wait by idly while they fill it with holes! Why would she do this?!

… … Friend, if we survive this ordeal – remind me to explain the definition of a rhetorical question.

[Ethan] It won’t fight outnumbered either; I think it’s waiting for— [hostages screaming in the distance]

… … … Yep, you saw it right, friend. It waited for one to come within reach and fled with him. It’s safe for you to come down with us now; [leaves crunch beneath feet] we need to get everyone back to the cabin and calmed down so we can discuss what story you’ll tell the police.

… … Well, of course I mean you; who else is gonna take them? Their last chaperone was just carried off by the Walker and none of us can cross the bridge. We can’t send a group of traumatized kids off on their own.

… … I have no clue what you’re supposed to tell them – we haven’t discussed it yet!

[Ethan, yells over chaos of frightened boy scouts] Trish! Over here!

[Trish] You’re all here! I’m so relieved! When I was able to free myself, you three were fleeing towards the bridge – so I came straight here.

… … [muttering] How considerate of you…

[Trish] What was that, husband? Did you say something?

… … [perky] I love you, and I’m delighted you’re safe…

[Trish] You’re such a dear. [whispers] Don’t let the children know we’re ghosts; I don’t think their fragile minds could handle it.

… … Fair enough; I suppose we’ll take the long way home, then.

[Trish] Actually, I’ve had a rather long night, and so has our friend. I think it’s best if we go ahead while you and Ethan bring the boys along behind us. We’ll make sure your path is clear, of course.

… … [monotone] Of course… Come on, Ethan, you heard the lady. Round ‘em up…


[Trish] —I can’t believe the demon was finally defeated! So, you went right up to the monster and stabbed him in the foot?!… You really are amazing, my friend, and I know you’ll understand why we had to make this little detour… We need to get any demon goop left behind into this jar. [unscrews lid] We’ll burn it in the fireplace, and then you can take the ashes with you… [closes lid] There, that’s all of it; we better get moving.

[Trish, nonchalant] Oh, you don’t remember what my brother-in-law learned from the Mountain Settlement? The ashes must be spread over salt water – never fresh. Do you see any salt water in our territory? Alex doesn’t want to think about it yet, but you and I know better than to wait, don’t we?… I knew I could count on you! I can never repay you for saving my boys, [cabin door creaks open] but you’ll always have a home with us. Although, I’m sure you’ll be hearing those words in abundance over the coming months. Those children are probably assumed dead; the news crews will be rolling in before lunch – I guarantee it! [distant chatter] Oh, shh, they’re almost here! I’ll put this in the fire and get the ashes into your bag discreetly. Once you’re safely across the bridge – I’ll let the boys know we have everything under control.

… … … [several pairs of footsteps file across the wood floor] That’s right, this way fella’s; y’all are safe now. You’ll be home with your families in no time. We’re just gonna have a little chat to make sure everyone is on the same page while we wait for the sun to rise; then, our friend is going to take you all to see some nice policemen! How does that sound?

… … [exasperated] Come on, guys. We’ve been at this for over an hour; I don’t think you understand what’s waiting for you on the other side of that bridge. Do you know what it means to be national news?

… … I didn’t think so; it means you can say goodbye to your privacy for a long time, my little friends. You boys have had multiple agencies searching for you across multiple states; you’re already national news, but with our story – people will leave you alone when the next tragedy strikes. With the truth – your names will be synonymous with this event for the rest of your lives. The story for this place is older and darker than you can fathom, and I promise – you boys don’t want this shadow looming over you forever… So, what’s it gonna be, kids? Were you lost and found? Or kidnapped and rescued?

… … That’s a great choice, guys! I knew you looked like a reasonable bunch; I got a sixth sense about these things. Now – how many people found you?

… … That’s right! Only our friend! You boys are gonna be just fine – chins up, now! Remember – you’re all traumatized children; don’t be afraid to cry if they ask uncomfortable questions. As for your chaperones – you got separated; how should you know what happened? They’ll come down here to poke around and look for the bodies, but it won’t trouble us any. There’s nothing left to find, and we’ll be settled in with our new stories!

… … [sarcastic] Haha; yuck it up. Yes, I only want to listen to my story; is that so much to ask?! I’m sure they’re desperate to go home, too!

[Ethan] He’s right guys, and look – there’s a hint of sunlight out there! How about it? Are you ready to finally get out of here?

… … See! I told you they were reasonable chaps. My friend, I eagerly await your next visit when we’ll have time to thank you properly. Until then, we wish you the safest travels, and don’t forget – you deserve every reward they give you!

[Ethan opens creaking door] Hey, everyone, come take a look at this… What the hell is that?!

… … [door softly clicks shut] Umm… ok, on second thought – let’s go ahead and wait for the sun to fully rise… Anyone up for a quick game of charades?

Horror Fiction

I Work for the National Park Service; It’s Hiding a Disturbing Secret (Pt. 2)

Part 1

🚨ATTENTION🚨
This is a Swamp Dweller exclusive; he owns all rights to this story and it cannot be used in any way/shape/form. Be sure to enjoy the full experience with his wonderful narration. If you haven’t heard his work, I highly recommend checking him out! He uploads so often that new viewers will be hard pressed to run out of content!

Hey Swamp,

I hope this letter finds you well! It’s your friend from Washington again; I can’t thank you enough for reading my last letter. Seeing so many kind words of support and the requests for an update mean more than you can imagine. It gave me the courage to finally tell my wife everything, and while it was a difficult conversation, the relief that came with it made me feel twenty years younger. I’m sorry I can’t use real names, but where the internet is concerned – there’s really no such thing as too careful. Hopefully, I can make it up to the Swamp with some new information.


The first thing you should know is that Amy resigned; I miss her, but I’m glad she’s not in danger anymore. Do you remember how worried I was at the end of my last letter? For those who don’t – she had recurring nightmares where she was reliving her encounter with the creature; at first it was the same, but when the monster should have disappeared – it turned to face her. It even began walking towards her, getting a little closer each night until it was only a few feet away.

The nightmare she had next was so bad – her wife told Rick to trash anything left in her locker because no one was coming for it. There wasn’t much there – just some pictures and a few basics – but it felt wrong to throw them away.

I drove to Amy’s house after work – expecting to leave her box by the door – but when I got out of the car, her wife was waving to me. “Thanks for going to the trouble, can you stay for coffee?” She asked, already leading me inside.

The nightmare that finally made Amy quit gives me chills to write; this time, she was face-to-face with the creature – its mouth inches from her own – and it began whistling a sad, eerie tune she couldn’t identify. The sound made her feel safe and calm, but after waking – she realized it was more like hypnosis.

Is it an extension of the monster’s abilities, or the result of psychological trauma? Yes, she said the eyes looked the same as what we saw on camera, but I had also previously described the eye I saw; it’s easy for our minds to warp images into what we expect to see. I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time fixated on this, and I’m fairly comfortable with my personal conclusion; though, please keep in mind this is purely my theory.

The night she saw the creature standing over that little girl – her brain realized an important detail, and the nightmares were its way of relaying that information; now that it has – it’s finished. Those whistles seem to have a literal hypnotic effect, but if that’s true, who knows if it can hold sway over our dreams… I admit my judgment is biased. I hate thinking the creature could suddenly appear in my dreams – or that it could potentially regain control over my friend’s.


We didn’t have anyone to cover for Amy that first night, so Ranger Rick himself partnered with me for the shift. I don’t think he’s a bad guy; I was admittedly spiteful about the withheld information, but now that I understand more about what he does – it’s hard to blame him. He’s following orders, just like me; he needs a paycheck, just like me. The problems we have at night are also happening during the day; it’s not like they’re walking around in sunshine and daisies while we’re fighting monsters in the dark. The guests are also more active during their shift which makes it much harder to keep track of the people in your territory.

Apparently this kind of stuff has been happening for as long as anyone remembers, but never so blatantly as what we’ve been experiencing recently. The last few months specifically are making Rick’s mysterious bosses quite nervous, and frankly, the way he refers to them as “Management” makes me quite nervous… Ok, maybe it doesn’t sound as sinister when you read it, but it’s said with very Men in Black conspiratorial inflection.

Normally, there are entire decades where little to no activity happens – then, they’ll have a cluster of disappearances and accidents for a few months; the cycle was always the same… until now. This time, it’s not stopping, and no one knows what to do.

Even Rick isn’t sure if Management knows what the creature actually is, but the Rangers call it the Whistler; fair enough, I suppose. Most of the stories he shared were the same, but one was particularly chilling. This took place his rookie year, in the 90’s, when responding to reports of a black bear near the lodges. Back then, there were only a few cabins on each side of the lake; when this incident took place, one was occupied by a family of five, and a young couple was staying on the opposite bank.

The order came at the end of a dark, drizzly day, and the real storm was due to start any minute. There hadn’t been a Whistler sighting in eight years, and nothing about this report raised any flags when the senior Rangers passed it off to Rick. He drove a golf-cart to the lake and was greeted by the family waving from a window; they were afraid to come out. Rick joined them and listened with growing apprehension as the storm began in earnest.

It started with a large, black animal trying to open the metal trash cans; Mr. Gordon used his air-horn to scare the beast away, but instead of fleeing, it turned to face him – rising to its full height and glaring angrily. That’s when he saw it was no bear and yelled for his shotgun.

In the process of explaining how the creature fled before he could shoot, Mr. Gordon’s story was interrupted by frantic screaming outside. The young couple was racing towards them, waving their arms and begging for help; once safely indoors, they walked through each room, checking every window. When satisfied nothing had followed them – they were able to explain.

They had been eating dinner when the patio doors slid open, and they turned to see a hulking, black beast with bright, red eyes. The couple escaped through the front door and ran straight for the Park Ranger’s golf-cart. Both the family and the couple wanted to leave – Rick too, for that matter – but the weather made it easier said than done. The storm knocked out the phone line, and there was no response on the radio; even if everyone could somehow fit into the small cart it would be too dangerous to drive. The weather reports had only warned against heavy rain, but in a span of minutes it developed tree-bending gusts of wind; lightning streaked across the sky, cracks of thunder shook the walls, and there was a frightening threat of tornado activity as the temperature dropped drastically. Rick was out of his depth and terrified, but he couldn’t show it; he had to be In Charge.

In the 90’s, it wasn’t a big deal if a Ranger licensed to carry wanted to bring their handgun to work; Rick’s .38 and Gordon’s shotgun were the only real weapons the group had as they waited in the cabin’s living-room. They were trapped and had no clue where – or what – the creature was, but things weren’t exactly hopeless. The doors and shutters were locked, and soon, help would be sent to investigate why Rick didn’t check-in after the bear sighting.

At least, that’s what he told the others – leaving out the part where they might assume he was simply unable due to weather conditions. Regardless of rescue chances, they should be able to wait out the storm as long as nobody panicked; the larger a group is, the harder they are to control – especially for a single person. Rick asked the children to check the phone lines every few minutes as a distraction – quiet children make happy parents – but he knew it would be weeks until they were functional again.

The five adults were whispering amongst themselves for only a few minutes before the girls called out, “the phone is working!” Rick – assuming they were either mistaken or joking – simply said to make sure no one else used it.

The eight-year-old lifted the receiver once again – firmly stating, “you can’t be on this line”, and everyone fell into a stunned silence as a deep, menacing voice replied. No one is sure what it said, and the girl wouldn’t repeat it, but she dropped the phone, screaming while it was still talking. Rick rushed to hang it up – hoping he could use it after all – but the line was dead; after that, the girls were given coloring books, and the phone was unplugged.

An hour passed with no relief in sight; help wasn’t coming, but something else was. From the patio doors – beyond the nearly solid wall of rain – Mrs. Gordon was just able to make out a hulking, black figure. That’s when the whistling began; it was the warped Ring Around the Rosie tune, and it didn’t stop when the creature darted away. It was gone as quickly as it appeared – zipping between trees as it circled the cabin; they would catch glimpses of it – even closer – from a different window only to watch it vanish before their eyes yet again. All the while, they were moving as well, but they weren’t consciously aware of being herded. Finally – as they stood grouped near the sliding doors – the beast returned, face pressed to the glass.

For a brief but horrifying moment, no one moved; they were frozen in the face of an evil they didn’t know existed yesterday. Their paralysis was broken suddenly by the sound of shattering glass as the Whistler came inside and chaos erupted. Rick and Mr. Gordon tried taking aim, but the creature moved too fast in the crowded room; in seconds, the young woman was being carried through the shattered doors – out into the raging storm.

The poor girl’s boyfriend ran after her and leapt onto the Whistler‘s back with a proud – but ultimately useless – roar of angry defiance. With the couple in the way, no shots could be fired as the mortifying silhouette disappeared into the wall of rain. The parents could do nothing to shield their children from the screams that came next, but they ended quickly. The creature didn’t return, and when the storm finally passed three hours later – Rangers were sent to the occupied campgrounds to perform wellness checks.

When they found Rick, he and the family told them everything – all the way down to the Whistler’s red eyes, round, contracting mouth, and horrible smell – but the main point they stressed was the whistling. You’d think that would warrant an investigation right? Two people were dead, the creature they saw up-close clearly wasn’t human, but animals can’t whistle – especially not a song!

A big fuss was raised for the Gordons’ sake; they would be attending family therapy sessions for the next ten years because of that night. Management was terrified of the implications that might arise from the fact it all happened while a Park Ranger stood five feet away, but once those people left, that was the end of it. I don’t find that surprising – I would never want to think about that experience ever again!

Rick wasn’t willing to answer any of my questions. I’m not sure if he told me this story to warn me about the Whistler, Management, or secrecy, but I think it was intended as a friendly warning. Who knows what I could have learned if it would have taken longer to replace Amy. From that one night alone, I also heard a dozen examples of hikers being stalked on the trails and campers being tormented in the night. One story even sounded like the couple’s from Mississippi – the ones who basically played red light/green light with something invisible – but none of the other stories came close to that one on the lake.


Thankfully, I’ve only had one personal incident since my last letter; it happened to me and my new partner in that damn fog yesterday. Chris had to drop out of college to help care for his sick mother; he and his sister are doing their best, but he needs to get the hell away from the park before the choice is taken from him. It’s one thing for the older roughneck types like myself, but I hate seeing the young ones out there. I know that sounds hypocritical, but at least if I died, my family would mourn with a comfortable insurance payout; his family would have nothing but more debt on top of broken hearts.

I tried to warn Chris delicately at first, but nightmares and whistling didn’t phase him – nor did Tyler’s memorialized Facebook page. Nothing got through to this kid, so I decided to let nature take its course; most of us learned the hard way, but I didn’t expect him to get thrown straight into the deep end.

Five of our bigger lodges are rented out for a family reunion; they arrived over the weekend and planned to stay for ten days, but who knows what they’ll do now. After breakfast, a husband and wife left for a day of hiking, though they didn’t have a specific route or destination in mind; Jarred, the husband, simply told his brothers they would be back from exploring by dinner time. Both were experienced hikers who love to go camping and mountain climbing in their spare time; there was no doubt they were already dead.

When the sun had fully set and the couple’s food was hours cold, the family began to worry in earnest. As Chris and I passed by on patrol – all five cabins were lit up; in the windows, we saw multiple people pacing on their phones while teenagers hauled flashlights and various supplies out to a dozen men who were hunched over park maps.

Our radio crackled to life at the same time the family noticed us; we were told to wait with them at the lodges. Search & Rescue was on the way, and they didn’t want to lose anyone else – which is understandable, but difficult to manage. We stood in front of nearly forty people and said, “You can’t go looking for your family members because your scents will confuse the dogs.”

You know – because we couldn’t say, “They’re already dead, but we’d rather perform fake searches than admit the truth.”

Of course, that was far too easy for a night at the park; the whole bunch reluctantly agreed to stay near the cabins except for the ones who were already gone. Jarred’s two brothers set off fifteen minutes before we arrived, and now, three more wanted to bring those guys back. That didn’t leave much wiggle room for our options; we had to find those brothers or the other three would be sneaking off under our noses.

There are five trails in that area; four are very easy and used to navigate the park, and the other one is for people who specifically want the full hiking experience. Since the missing couple were avid hikers, the brothers chose to start there – which, yes, it was obviously the logical conclusion – but I couldn’t help feeling a strong resentment toward them as our flashlights illuminated the rocky, uneven terrain.

We set a fast pace – probably too fast – but I hoped the men were stopping periodically to search for tracks and call out the couple’s names; if they had, we would have found them relatively fast. Thirty minutes later, that theory was dead, and we were at a split path. Chris wanted to split up – rookies, am-I-right – but I shut that shit down fast. We took a closer look at the trail, and there were tracks on the left side that looked fresh – well, when compared to the other side; I’m not very good at that sort of thing, but I happened to be right on this occasion.

We walked for another five minutes before beginning to hear faint voices in the distance. Soon, we could understand their words – they were calling for Jarred and Emily; it was the brothers! We had been ready to collapse after the ridiculous pace we kept, but finding them gave us a second wind. I shouted their names as we ran, and I almost didn’t notice the wisps of fog at our feet. My heart dropped into my stomach like a lead weight, and I came to a dead stop – grabbing Chris as I did so. We fell to the ground in a tangle, but it didn’t matter – I ignored him and continued calling for the brothers while struggling back to my feet.

The rookie didn’t understand what was happening, but he followed me in silence as I crept around the next curve and saw huge clouds of pure white fog enveloping the trees. Roughly twenty feet ahead, the brothers were standing half-shrouded in it already. In my desperation to get them away, I said something horribly misleading. “We have very important news about your brother; please come with us!” I screamed so loud my voice cracked.

The shadowy figures turned their heads, and my eyes filled with tears of relief when they began walking towards us – away from that god-damn fog. Before they reached us, I began walking back. I had to keep us moving; we couldn’t stop to discuss anything while that stuff was spreading. I didn’t plan to stop at all until we were indoors, but not long after passing where the road split – the brothers didn’t leave me much of a choice; they refused to go any farther without an explanation.

No matter how desperate I was to get them away from there – I just couldn’t bring myself to get their hopes any higher. When “your mother needs you” didn’t work, I tried, “they were spotted near one of the mountain trails a few hours ago.” That one did the trick; they resumed walking, and I happily did the same.

Then Chris opened his mouth, and I’ve never wanted to punch someone so badly in my entire life. “You fellas go ahead, I’m gonna make sure Mrs. Robinson didn’t get lost in this fog.” He ran off, ignoring every word I said as he went.

Who the hell is Mrs. Robinson’, you ask? Oh, she’s the imaginary lady we need to check on when a particularly chatty guest doesn’t want to let us go. We don’t do it often, but you gotta remember we’re working night shifts; if someone is holding us for a random thirty minute conversation at 3am – you can bet it’s a freaking weird one. Hell some of them would probably fit in on this channel, but I’m not trying to drag you guys along on a tangent. The point is, I couldn’t let the fool run off alone, so I had to send the brothers ahead and chase after him.

One of the first things I ever said to you guys was ‘we’re just regular people” and that certainly hasn’t changed. I followed my partner because he was in danger, and I couldn’t leave him behind; that being said, I couldn’t walk into that fog, either. I stopped before reaching the low, wispy edges that fanned out from the wall, and I begged him to turn back; the last speck of his silhouette was fading, and I knew he was gone forever the moment it did. Then, there was a low, monstrous growl that felt like the sound itself was wind – blowing beneath my skin and through the bones.

Tears were already falling down my cheeks as I thought of his sick mother and how his sister would be all alone; the tiny speck left of Chris was magnified through my blurry vision, and even as it continued growing, I thought nothing of it until the screaming began. It wasn’t a death wail; it was the terrified scream of a man who saw something absolutely horrible, and it made me smile.

Soon, Chris was beyond the wall – still screaming – and the utter look of relief that crossed his face upon seeing me made him look six-years-old… however briefly. It was gone in the same instant, replaced by guilt and shame. He almost fell while trying to look back, and only then did I realize the big question – the one you guys probably asked immediately – ‘is something chasing him?!’

No, it wasn’t – not this time – but he might not be so lucky the next – or me either for that matter. We radioed the others that we were heading back, and Chris stared at his feet while trying to explain he would never have forgiven himself if they turned those brothers away, and it cost the hikers their lives. I already knew that – that’s why we all pull stupid stunts in the beginning – but I wanted to know what happened in the fog!

He only intended to walk straight for a few minutes, but it was less than sixty seconds when the ground suddenly disappeared along with everything below his knees. The fog was too thick to even see his outstretched hand, and that was enough to make him turn back, except – as he did – something heavy suddenly ran several steps towards him. Chris jumped, spinning around as he searched for the source, but there was only fog everywhere he looked; even worse – he lost his sense of direction; he had no clue which way he was originally facing.

Scared of going the wrong way, he stood in place and called to me, but I never heard him. While listening for a response, he took a few steps forward and noticed it was slightly easier to see; wanting to be out of the fog more than anything, he went a little further until the ground was visible again. That’s when he heard a crunching sound – like a dog with a bone – and the occasional meaty rip. Then he saw it – the Whistler sucked up an intestine like spaghetti, but the visible body parts weren’t gender specific; he doesn’t know if it was Jarred or Emily… and if this story ruins spaghetti for you, too – I sincerely apologize.

Chris backed away slowly at first, but then a whimper escaped his throat, and the creature stopped eating; my incredibly lucky-to-be-alive partner screamed and ran away without looking back. It was nothing short of a miracle that he happened to run in the right direction. I don’t understand why we couldn’t hear each other’s screams in the beginning but we could at the end… Of course, I don’t understand most of this stuff, but some things make even less sense than usual.

Eventually we passed the Search & Rescue teams on their way to secure the fog with their fancy automatic rifles – rifles I bet the family didn’t see. The wall didn’t begin to disperse until dawn, and by then there wasn’t even blood left in the grass. The family extended their stay indefinitely while the search continues, but Chris and I are being moved as far away as possible so we won’t be tempted to answer any of the guests’ persistent questions. I’m not complaining – even if I tried to warn them, they wouldn’t believe me. People like that would go straight to my boss claiming I tried to scare them away or something equally ridiculous; it’s safer and easier to avoid the spotlight.


Well, that’s all I have for now, I’m sorry there isn’t more, but I didn’t want to wait any longer to send this. As much as I love writing to you, I won’t be heartbroken if things are slow for a while. It might be cool to research other past incidents – maybe I could map the events out on a timeline to see if any unusual patterns or connections emerge!

Anyway, thanks again, everyone; you guys have really made this whole situation bearable. Sometimes, I wonder how many other people had their sanity saved by this channel; one of the other stories described it as coming home to a big house full of your friends, and that’s exactly what it feels like for me, too!

Classics Translated

The Pit and the Pendulum

Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1842; translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same.

(Narration coming soon)

I was sick to death of the agony; when they untied me, and I was allowed to sit, I felt like I was losing my mind. The dreaded death sentence was the last thing I heard. After that, the sound of the interrogating voices merged into one dreamy, unrecognizable hum. It infused my soul with the idea of revolution – perhaps due to the way it sounded like a mill-wheel – but I only heard it for a brief period. For a while, I saw terrible things! I saw the thin lips of the black-robed judges. They were whiter than the paper I write on and grotesquely thin; they all wore the firm expression of one who is absolutely certain of their beliefs, and they showed a stern contempt for torture. Their lips squirmed with deadly commands as they passed judgment over my Fate. I saw them form the syllables of my name and shuddered when no sound followed. For a moment, I also saw the soft and nearly invisible movement of the black curtains that wrapped the walls. Then, I saw the seven tall candles on the table. At first, they seemed like white, slender angels who would save me, but suddenly, I became very nauseous; every inch of my body felt like I had been electrocuted. The angels became meaningless ghosts with flaming heads, and I realized they would be no help. Next, I heard a rich, musical note and thought of how peacefully the dead must rest. The thought crept up gently and took a long time to complete, but just as I began to really consider it – the judges magically vanished. The tall candles sank into nothing, and the black darkness prevailed; all sensations were swallowed up in the mad, rushing fall into hell. Then, silence, stillness, and night were the only things left in the universe.

I felt faint but did not completely lose consciousness. I will not attempt to define or describe what little remained, but all was not lost. In the deepest slumber— no, in delirium— no, in death— no, even in the grave, all is not lost; otherwise, man cannot be immortal. When waking from a deep sleep, we break through the silky web of some dream, yet a second later – we forget what it was about. There are two stages to waking. First, is in the mental or spiritual sense; second, is in the physical sense. Once awake, we can usually recall impressions of the dream; these impressions are clear memories of the gulf beyond, and that gulf is— what? How can we tell its shadows apart from the ones we see in death? If the impressions from the first stage are not remembered immediately, they come to us spontaneously, and we wonder where they came from. A man who has never felt that madness will not see strange places and familiar faces in the embers of a fire or imagine sad visions floating in the air; he will not wonder about the smell of a random flower or grow confused over the meaning of a song.

Among frequent attempts at trying to remember any part of mine, there were moments I remembered dreaming of success; there were very brief periods where I imagined myself in the future, and that is how I knew it could not be real. These shadowy memories are of tall figures that dragged me down in silence— down, down, still further down, until I became horribly dizzy at the mere idea of continuing. My unnaturally still heart also warned of a vague horror. Then, everything suddenly stopped – as if my tormentors had reached their limit and needed a break. After this, I remember a flat, damp area, and the rest is a chaotic memory trying to hide forbidden things.

I woke to my heart beating loudly in my ears followed by a silent pause, and a tingling sensation spread through my body. For a long while, there were no thoughts – merely an awareness of my existence. Then, very suddenly, my thoughts returned, and I was consumed by terror as I tried to understand my situation. It resulted in a strong desire to fall back into oblivion, but was soon followed by a surge of motivation and a successful attempt at moving. Now, I remembered the trial, the judges, the black robes, the punishment, the sickness, and the delirium; with great, concentrated effort, I was able to vaguely recall what happened later that day.

So far, my eyes remained closed. I was untied and laying on my back; I reached out my hand, and it fell heavily onto something hard and damp. I struggled to keep it there for several minutes while trying to imagine what it could be. I dared not to look even though I wanted to; I dreaded seeing the objects around me. It was not that I feared looking at horrible things, but I feared there would be nothing to see. With a wild desperation, I opened my eyes quickly, and my worst fears were confirmed. The blackness of night surrounded me, and I struggled to breathe. The intensity of the darkness was crushing, and the air was unbearably dense. I continued to lay quietly and tried to think logically. I thought about the trial and attempted to discern my location. It seemed like a very long time had passed since my sentence was given, but I did not think myself dead for even a moment. Such an uncertain belief only happens in works of fiction, but where – and in what – condition was I? Those sentenced to death usually died at the inquisition burnings, and one of these had been held on the same night as my trial. Had I been returned to my dungeon to wait for the one that is several months away? I immediately knew that could not be. Victims were in immediate demand. Plus, my dungeon and all the condemned cells in Toledo had stone floors, and they were not pitch black.

A scary thought suddenly made my heart race, and for a brief time, I once more fell into a state of delirium. Upon recovering, I immediately rose to my feet – my entire body shaking. I reached my arms out blindly in all directions and felt nothing, yet I feared taking a step in case I found the walls of a tomb. Sweat ran from every pore and stood in big, cold drops on my forehead. The suspense was agonizing and grew to be unbearable; cautiously, I moved forward with my arms extended – straining my eyes in hopes of finding any faint ray of light. I continued for many paces, but everything was black and empty. I breathed easier; it was obvious that I had at least escaped the worst fates.

As I continued to step forward cautiously, I suddenly remembered a thousand vague rumors about the horrors of Toledo. Strange things have been said of its dungeons; I had always considered them to be myths – too ghastly to repeat above a whisper. Was I left to starve in this underground world of darkness? What even worse fate might await me? It would be a harsher death than the usual bitter executions they perform; I knew my judge’s character too well to doubt it. The how and when were the only thoughts that distracted me.

My outstretched hands finally found a smooth, stone wall. It was slimy and cold, but I followed it along, stepping carefully and wondering what brilliant idea made me try in the first place. This process did nothing to help determine the size of my dungeon; I made a complete lap back to where I started without being aware of it. Since there were no unique features, I looked for the knife that had been in my pocket, but it was gone, and my clothes had been exchanged for a coarse, woolen robe; I had wanted to use the blade to mark my starting point. There was an easy solution, but my initial panic made it seem impossible to do any other way. I tore part of the robe’s hem and placed the strip of fabric by the wall; I thought it would be impossible to miss while feeling my way around the cell, but I either underestimated the dungeon’s size or my own weakness. The ground was wet and slippery; I staggered forward for some time until I tripped and fell. I was too tired to get up and soon fell asleep.

When I woke and reached out my arm, there was a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water. I ate and drank greedily – too exhausted to care how it got there. Then, I resumed my lap around the prison, and finally returned the strip of cloth. I had counted 52 paces before falling, and I counted 48 more after. In total, that is 100 paces, and – assuming two paces equal one yard – I figured the dungeon to be 50 yards in circumference. However, I found many angles in the wall and could not guess the shape of the vault; I could not help thinking of it as a vault.

I had few clues and no hope of learning anything, but a vague curiosity prompted me to keep trying. Giving up on the wall, I decided to cross the dungeon’s floor. At first I went with extreme caution; although the floor seemed solid, it was covered with slime. Ultimately, I did not hesitate to step firmly as I struggled to cross in as straight a line as possible. I went 10-12 paces this way when the scrap of cloth became tangled between my legs; I tripped and fell hard on my face.

During the confusion after my fall, I laid on my back, not understanding what I saw. My chin rested on the prison’s floor, but not my lips or anything above them; my forehead was soaked in a clammy sweat, and I could smell the peculiar stench of rotten fungus. I reached forward and shuddered to find myself at the edge of a round pit; I had no way to determine its size. Feeling around the bricks at the edge, I was able to remove a small piece and drop it into the hole. For many seconds I listened to it bounce off the stone walls as it fell; finally, there was a sullen splash of water followed by loud echoes. At the same time, I heard the quick opening and closing of a door from above, and a faint beam of light suddenly flashed through the gloom and faded away.

It became clear what they had planned for me, and I congratulated myself for the timely accident that allowed me to avoid it. One step further, and it would have been the end. There was a choice between a physically horrible death or a mentally horrible death, and I had been marked for the latter. My nerves were a wreck from all the suffering I had endured; I trembled at the sound of my own voice and was now a perfect subject for the awaiting torture.

Shaking all over, I felt my way back to the wall; I decided to die there rather than risk the terror of the pit. My imagination created many horrors in the dungeon. If my mind were in a better state, I might have had the courage to end my misery immediately by jumping into the hole, but in that moment, I was the king of cowards. The fact that it was a slow death was the only thing I remembered reading about the pit.

My anger kept me awake for many hours, but eventually, I slept again. Upon waking, I found another loaf of bread and a pitcher of water nearby. I was consumed by a burning thirst and emptied the pitcher in a single drink. It must have been drugged; I hardly drank any before becoming unbearably tired and falling into a deep, death-like sleep. I do not know for how long, but when I woke, my surroundings were visible. Due to an unknown soft, yellow glow, I was able to see the full prison.

I had been greatly mistaken about its size; it was no more than eight feet wide. For several minutes this fact troubled me greatly. What could be less important than the size of my dungeon? My mind tends to focus on insignificant details, and I tried to discern how I misjudged the dimensions by so much. Then, I realized the truth; during my first attempt, I counted 52 paces before falling and must have been only a couple of steps away from the torn fabric. I had almost completed the lap when I fell asleep; considering my calculations were almost double the actual size, I must have walked back the way I came after waking. In my confusion, I failed to realize the wall was to my left when I started and to my right when I finished.

I was also fooled about its shape. I found many angles when feeling my way around and assumed something very unlikely; waking from a deep sleep in total darkness has a strong effect on one’s senses. The angles were only a few small, sporadic indentations; its actual shape was square. What I mistook for stone were huge plates of iron or a similar metal, and the indentations were where the plates connected. The metallic dungeon was filled with hideous and repulsive devices inspired by the superstitious monk’s burial chambers. The walls were covered with menacing skeletons and other frightening images. The shapes of these monstrosities were clear, but the colors were faded and blurry from the damp atmosphere. In the center of the stone floor was the round pit I had almost fallen into.

It was difficult to see these things due to my poor condition. I was now lying on my back, and a long strap held me in place atop a low, wooden platform. The bond wrapped around my limbs and body several times, and only my head and left arm were able to move; with great effort, I was able to feed myself when given food. To my horror, the water was gone, and I was consumed by an unbearable thirst. The food reeked of spices that would make me even more thirsty; removing the water was yet another method of torture.

Looking up, I inspected my prison’s ceiling. It was 30-40 feet high and built like the walls. My attention then focused on a single, painted panel; it showed the Grim Reaper, except – instead of a scythe – he held a picture of a huge pendulum like we see on antique clocks. There was something about the machine’s appearance that made me inspect it carefully. When I looked straight up at it – I realized it was moving. It moved in short, slow swings, and I watched it for several minutes – partly from fear, but mostly from curiosity. Finally, I grew tired of observing its dull movement and looked at the rest of my cell.

I heard a slight noise and looked down to see several enormous rats crossing the floor. They came out of the pit which I could see to my right. While I watched, dozens hurried out with ravenous eyes – attracted by the smell of meat. It required great effort to scare them away.

There was no way to track the time, but nearly an hour later, I looked up again. What I saw confused and amazed me. The pendulum was swinging nearly a yard wider at a greatly increased speed, but the fact that it had lowered was the most disturbing part. The end of the crescent-shaped glittering steel was roughly a foot long from point to point, and the bottom edge looked sharp as a razor. It seemed bulky and heavy, but higher up, it thinned and connected to a hefty brass rod that hissed as it swung through the air.

There were no more doubts that I faced the monk’s ingenious tortures. The inquisitors knew I discovered the pit – whose horrors are reserved for bold rebels such as myself; it is comparable to hell and regarded as the worst of all their punishments. Being trapped and ignorant of what is to come is an important part of the torture. I avoided falling into the hole by accident, and throwing me into the abyss would be no fun for the demons. Now, a different, milder death awaited me. Milder! I half-smiled at the word choice despite my agony.

For many long, long hours of indescribable horror, I counted the steel pendulum’s rushing swings. Inch by inch it slowly lowered – down and down it came! Days passed; it might have been many days – it swung so close, I could feel its pungent wind. The sharp steel’s smell forced itself into my nostrils, and I begged heaven for a quicker descent. I grew frantic with anger and struggled to force myself up – into the frightening blade’s path. Then, I suddenly calmed and lay smiling at the glittering blade – like a child smiles at a shiny object.

There was another brief period of delirium; upon waking, there was no noticeable descent in the pendulum, but it might have been longer. I knew the demons noticed my lapse of consciousness, and they could have easily stopped the blade. I felt indescribably sick and weak, as if I were starving. Even during the agony of that time, my body needed food. I painfully reached out as far as my bonds allowed and grabbed the small bit of food left by the rats. As I put it in my mouth, I realized something that made me happy – even hopeful. Yet what business did I have to hope? I felt joy and hope, but I also felt the happy thought vanish before it fully formed. I struggled in vain to remember it. My long suffering had nearly eliminated my ability to think clearly; I was an idiot.

The pendulum swung horizontally across my body – aimed to strike near my heart. First, it would slice into my robe, then, it would retreat and come back again… and again. Its swing now ranged thirty feet or more and would be strong enough to shred the iron walls, but the cutting of my robe would take several minutes. I paused at this thought – not daring to think of what would come next, but I considered it persistently as if that would stop the pendulum’s descent. I forced myself to think about the strange sensation and sound the blade would make as it passed across the robe; I thought about all these pointless things until my teeth were on edge.

It crept down steadily, and I took an erratic pleasure in comparing its descent with its velocity. To the right – to the left – far and wide – screaming at me like a cursed spirit with the stealthy pace of a tiger! I alternated between laughter and howling – depending which thought became my focus.

Down – unavoidably, relentlessly down! It swung within three inches of my chest! I struggled violently, furiously, to free my left arm; it was only loose from the elbow down. With great effort, I could reach the nearby plate and my mouth, but no farther. If I could have broken the bonds above my elbow, I would have attempted to stop the pendulum by catching it; I might as well have attempted to stop an avalanche!

Down still – consistently and inevitably down! I gasped, struggling and convulsing at every swing as my eyes followed it with a desperate eagerness; they reflexively closed at the descent, but death would have been a relief! Still, my whole body shook at the thought of how slight the descent would be that came before that first, glistening strike across my chest. Hope is what made my nerves quiver; the desperate kind that whispers to the condemned – even in the dungeons of the Inquisition.

In 10-12 more swings, the steel would connect with my robe. My soul was consumed with despair, but then, I realized the strap was the only thing holding me in place. The blade’s first strike would cut the bond – making it possible to free myself – though, the blade would be horrifically close. Any wrong movement would be deadly! Also, it seemed likely that the torturer’s minions had not considered or planned for the possibility! Was there a chance the strap was in the pendulum’s path? In my last, frustrated hope, I struggled to lift my head enough to see my chest. The strap wound tightly around my limbs and body in all directions except for where the blade would strike.

I dropped my head back, and an escape plan suddenly flashed through my mind. Earlier, I hinted that parts of one were beginning to form while I ate. Now, the plan was complete; it was weak, insane, and dangerous – but still complete. Though nervous and filled with doubt, I began immediately.

For many hours, the area around me had been swarming with rats. They were wild, brave, and starving; their red eyes glared at me as if they were only waiting for me to go still before attacking. “What food are they used to eating down here?” I thought.

Despite my greatest efforts to stop them, they ate almost all of my food. I was constantly waving my hand over the dish, but once they grew accustomed to the movement it stopped working; in their hunger, the vermin frequently bit my fingers. With the spices that remained, I thoroughly rubbed the strap wherever I could reach it; then, raising my hand away from the floor – I laid entirely still.

At first, the starving animals were startled and terrified at my sudden stillness. They retreated in alarm – many into the well – but only for a moment; I was right to depend on their hunger. Seeing that I remained motionless, a couple of the bravest jumped onto my platform and smelled the strap. This seemed to be the signal for the others to come forward. They rushed over in hordes – clinging to the wooden frame, and leaping onto me by the hundreds. The movement of the pendulum did not bother them at all; they avoided its swing as they focused on my tasty bonds. More and more swarmed over me in heaps, writhing on my throat, and their cold lips found my own. I was suffocating under their weight; the world has no word for the level of disgust that swelled within me, and my heart felt deeply chilled, almost clammy. Yet, I felt that the struggle would be over in a minute; the strap was noticeably loosened. It must have already been severed in multiple places. With inhuman determination, I continued laying still.

My calculations proved correct, and my efforts were not in vain. Finally, I was free; the shredded strap hung loosely from my body, but the pendulum’s swing had already cut into my chest. It had split the robe’s fabric and made two more passes – sending sharp shots of pain through every nerve – but it was time to escape. A wave of my hand scared the rats away; then, my movements were steady, cautious, and slow as I slid out of the straps and away from the blade. For the moment, I was free.

I was free from the blade but not from the Inquisition! I had barely stepped onto the prison’s stone floor when the hellish machine stopped moving, and some invisible force pulled it up into the ceiling. It was a lesson I took to heart; my every move was surely being watched. Free! I had only escaped one agonizing death to endure another – perhaps one even worse. At that thought, I nervously inspected the iron bars holding me prisoner and noticed something unusual – something I did not notice at first. For several minutes, I busied myself in vain with random assumptions, and – for the first time – realized where the yellow light was coming from. It came from a half-inch wide crack that extended around the entire cell at the bottom of the walls – which were completely separate from the floor. I struggled to look through the opening, but could not see anything.

As I rose from trying, I immediately understood the purpose of the chamber’s alterations. I saw the distinct outlines of figures, but their color was blurred and hard to describe. These colors were now intensely bright and gave them a menacing, ghoulish appearance that might have frightened someone with even stronger nerves than my own. Wild, ghastly, demonic eyes glared at me from a thousand directions, all gleaming with a fire I could not believe to be imaginary.

I could smell the vapors of heated iron, and the suffocating odor spread through the prison! A deeper glow settled into the eyes glaring at me, and I panted, gasping for breath; there was no doubt what my persistent, demonic tormentors planned now! I retreated to the center of the cell, away from the glowing metal. As I thought of the fiery end to come, I was relieved to remember the pit’s coldness. I rushed to its deadly edges and strained to see down below. The glare from the burning roof lit its darkest depths, but – for a wild moment – my eyes refused to understand what I saw. Finally, it wrestled its way into my soul until I could not deny logic any longer. Oh, what I would have given for a voice to speak! What horror! With a scream, I rushed away from the edge and buried my face in my hands, weeping bitterly.

The heat rose rapidly, and I looked up once again, shaking with fear. There had been a second change in the cell. Like before, I failed to understand what was happening at first, but I was not left wondering for long. The Inquisitor’s revenge had been rushed by my escape, and the King of Terrors would have no more delay. The room had been square; I saw that two of its iron angles were now small and the other two were large. The frightening difference quickly increased with a low, rumbling moan, and the room suddenly shifted into the shape of a diamond as the walls closed in. They did not stop there, and I did not want them to stop; I would have pulled those red walls to my chest like a blanket of eternal peace. “Death,” I said, “any death but the pit!” Fool! I should have known the burning walls’ purpose was to push me into the pit! Could I stand against its heat or pressure? The diamond grew flatter and flatter so fast that I had no time to think. The center fell just over the pit; I shrank back, but the closing walls pushed me forward. Finally, there was no foothold left on the prison floor for my burned and writhing body to stand. I stopped struggling, but the agony in my soul found comfort in one loud, long, and final scream of despair. I balanced on the edge and looked away—

There was a conflicting hum of human voices, a loud blast of trumpets, and a harsh grating like a thousand thunders! The fiery walls rushed back! An outstretched arm caught my own as I fell, fainting, into the abyss; it was General Lasalle. The French army had entered Toledo; the Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.

Classics Translated

Bluebeard

Charles Perrault, originally published 1697; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 


This story was adapted specially for Classics in the Rain with the wonderful Danie Dreadful. Enjoy Bluebeard in its full glory with this fantastic narration!

There was once a man who had fine houses, a great treasure, embroidered furniture, and gold-plated coaches, but this man was unlucky enough to have a blue beard; it made him so frightfully ugly that all the women ran away from him.

One of his neighbors – a highborn lady – had two daughters who were perfect beauties. He wanted to marry one of them and let her choose which it would be. Neither of the women would have him; they sent him back and forth from one to the other, unable to bear the thought of marrying a man with a blue beard. Adding to their aversion was the fact that he had already been married to several wives, and nobody knew what happened to them.

To win their affection, Bluebeard took them, their mother, and a few friends from the neighborhood to one of his country houses where they stayed for a whole week.

The time was filled with parties, hunting, fishing, dancing, and feasting. Nobody went to bed; they all spent the night celebrating and joking with each other. Everything went according to plan, and the youngest daughter began to think the man’s beard was not so blue after all, and that he was a very nice gentleman.

They were married as soon as they returned home. About a month later, Bluebeard needed to travel to the country for at least six weeks due to very important business matters. Not wanting his wife to be lonely, he suggested she take some friends to the country house and enjoy herself.

Original art I found

“Here are the keys to the two big rooms where my best furniture is stored. These keys are to the good silver, which are not for everyday use, and this one opens the safe containing my gold; these are for the jewelry cases, and this is the master key to all the apartments… Now – as for this little one here – it is the key to the ground floor closet at the end of the great hall. Open them all; go into each and every one of them – except for that closet. I forbid it. If you do open it – I will be greatly angered and resentful.” He said.

She promised to obey his exact wishes. Then, he hugged her, got into his coach, and left on his journey.

Her friends and neighbors did not wait to be invited; they were impatient to see the rich furniture, but they were too frightened of her husband’s blue beard to visit while he was there. They ran through all the rooms, and each was finer than the last.

Finally, they visited the two great rooms with the most expensive furniture. They could not sufficiently admire all the beautiful paintings, beds, couches, cabinets, tables, and full-length mirrors; some were framed with glass, others with silver, and they were the most magnificent they had ever seen.

In the meantime, the wife did not waste her time looking at all these fine things because she was impatient to open the closet on the ground floor. Her curiosity was so strong, she descended the black staircase with no thought to how rude it was to leave her guests, and – in her hurry – she nearly fell and broke her neck.

She paused at the closet door, thinking about her husband’s command and considering what the consequences might be if she disobeyed, but the temptation was too strong to resist. Trembling, she opened it with the little key, but it was too dark to see anything clearly. After a few minutes, her eyes began to adjust; the bodies of several dead women were laid against the walls, and the floor was covered with dried blood. These were all the previous wives of Bluebeard; he married and murdered them one after another. She thought she would die of fright, and the key fell from her hand.

She retrieved the key, locked the door, and went upstairs to recover in her room, but she was simply too frightened. Noticing the key was stained with blood, she tried to wipe it off, but it would not come out; she even tried to wash it with soap and sand, but that did not work either. The blood remained because it was a magical key, and she could never get it clean; when the blood was gone from one side, it reappeared on the other.

Bluebeard returned from his journey that same evening; he received letters on the road stating the business matters had ended well. His wife did all she could to convince him she was happy about his speedy return.

The next morning, he asked for the keys; her hand trembled so badly that he easily guessed what happened.

“Why is the key to my closet missing?” He asked.

“I must have left it on the table upstairs.” She said.

“Bring it to me at once.” Bluebeard demanded.

After several back and forths between them, she was forced to bring him the key. Bluebeard carefully examined it before asking, “Why is there blood on it?”

“I do not know!” The poor woman cried, paler than death.

“You do not know!” Exclaimed Bluebeard. “I know exactly what happened! You went into the closet, did you not? Very well, madam; you will go back and take your place among the ladies you saw there.”

At this, she threw herself at her husband’s feet and sincerely begged his forgiveness – vowing to never disobey again. She was so beautiful she could have melted a rock, but Bluebeard’s heart was harder than any rock!

“You must die at once, madam,” he said.

“If I must die, give me time to say my prayers.” She answered, her eyes bathed in tears.

“I will give you seven minutes, but not one second more.” Bluebeard replied.

When she was alone, she called to her sister, “Sister Anne, I beg you, go to the top of the tower, and see if my brothers are coming. They promised they would be here today; if you see them, give them a sign to hurry.”

Anne went to the top of the tower, and the poor wife cried out from time to time, “Anne, do you see anyone coming?”

“I see nothing but a cloud of dust, the sun, and the green grass.” Her sister replied.

Meanwhile Bluebeard held a great sword in his hand and called to his wife as loudly as he could, “Come down now, or I will come get you.”

“One moment longer, please,” his wife said; then, very softly, she cried out, “Sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?”

“I see nothing but a cloud of dust, the sun, and the green grass.” Anne answered.

“Come down quickly, or I will come get you.” Bluebeard cried.

“I am coming,” his wife answered; then she cried, “Sister Anne, you do not see anyone coming?”

“I see a great cloud of dust approaching.” Anne replied.

“Are they my brothers?”

“No, my dear sister, it is a flock of sheep.”

“Are you coming down?” Shouted Bluebeard.

“One moment longer,” his wife said; then she cried, “Sister Anne, do you see anyone coming?”

“I see two horsemen, but they are still far away.” She said.

“Thank God,” the poor wife replied joyfully. “It is my brothers; I will give them a sign to hurry.”

Then, Bluebeard yelled so loud, it shook the whole house. The frightened wife came down in tears, her hair in disarray, and threw herself at his feet.

“This means nothing; you must die!” Bluebeard said. Taking hold of her hair with one hand and lifting the sword in the other, he prepared to remove her head. The poor lady turned to him, and – with pleading eyes – asked for one final minute to compose herself.

“No, explain yourself to God,” he said, ready to strike.

At that moment, there was such a loud knocking at the gate that Bluebeard stopped suddenly. The gate was opened, and two horsemen entered. Drawing their swords, they ran directly to Bluebeard, and he knew they were his wife’s brothers; one was a soldier, and the other was a musketeer. He immediately ran to save himself, but the brothers captured him before he was off the porch. They ran their swords through his body and left him on the ground. The poor wife was almost as dead as her husband; she didn’t even have enough strength to stand and welcome her saviors.

Bluebeard had no heirs so his wife inherited everything. She used part of it to marry Anne to a young gentleman who loved her, and another part was used to buy captaincy commissions for her brothers. The rest she used to marry a very worthy gentleman who made her forget the bad time she had with Bluebeard.

Classics Translated

The Empty House

Algernon Blackwood, first published 1906; translated to Modern English, otherwise left exactly the same. 

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

Certain houses – like certain people – somehow manage to instantly announce themselves as evil. No single feature is to blame; someone might be charming and attractive, but after getting to know each other, you see something is drastically wrong with them. They reveal secret and wicked thoughts that make others avoid them like a plague.

Perhaps it is the same with houses, and the evil deeds committed under a single roof are what give us chills and raise our hair. Maybe some of the evil person’s hatred and their victim’s horror are left behind; it could affect the new occupant – making them feel nervous or frightened for no apparent reason.

Nothing about this particular house hinted at the horror that happened inside. It was neither lonely nor dirty. It stood on a crowded corner of the square and looked identical to the houses on either side. They all had the same number of windows, a balcony over the garden, and white steps leading up to a heavy, black front door. Even the number of chimneys, the angle of the eaves, and the height of the railings were the same. In the back was a narrow strip of green with brick borders running up the wall to separate it from the adjoining houses.

Yet, despite seeming so similar to its fifty ugly neighbors, this house was horribly different.

It is impossible to say exactly where this invisible difference is. It cannot be entirely the imagination because too many people have stayed there without knowing its history; even they claimed that certain rooms were so awful, they would rather die than return. The house’s very atmosphere created a feeling of genuine terror, and the innocent people who tried to live there were forced to leave with hardly any notice. The town practically considered it a scandal.

When Shorty arrived to pay a visit to his Aunt Julia at her little house by the sea, he found her bursting with excitement. He received a telegram from her that morning and expected the visit to be boring, but the moment he kissed her wrinkled cheek – he felt her energy like an electrical wave. The sensation grew when he learned there would be no other visitors; he was summoned for a very special reason.

Something was in the wind, and it would certainly prove useful. This spinster aunt had a passion for psychic research, brains, and willpower; she was known to accomplish her goal by any means necessary. The secret was revealed after tea, and Julia stood close to him as they slowly paced along the beach at dusk.

“I’ve got the keys,” she announced in a delighted, yet disbelieving way. “Got them till Monday!”

“The keys to the changing room, or—?” he asked innocently, looking from the sea to town. Nothing brought her to the point quicker than feigning stupidity.

“Neither,” she whispered. “I’ve got the keys to the haunted house in the square, and I’m going there tonight.”

Shorty felt a slight chill down his back and stopped joking. Something in her voice and behavior stunned him; she was serious. “But you can’t go alone—” he began.

“That’s why I sent for you,” she said confidently.

He turned and saw that her old, ugly, mysterious face was filled with happiness. There was a glow of genuine enthusiasm around it like a halo, and her eyes were shining brightly. He felt another wave of her excitement, and a second, stronger chill came with it.

“Thanks, Aunt Julia,” he said politely; “thanks so much…”

“I wouldn’t dare to go alone,” she raised her voice; “but I’ll enjoy it very much with you – you’re not afraid of anything.”

“Thanks so much,” he repeated. “Er – is it likely that anything will happen?”

“A great deal has already happened, though it’s been covered up very well. Three occupants have come and gone in the last few months, and it’s said the house will stay empty from now on.” She whispered.

In spite of himself, Shorty became interested. His aunt was deathly serious.

“The house is very old indeed,” she continued, “and the unpleasant story dates a long way back. It involves a murder committed by a jealous stableman who had an affair with a house servant. One night, he managed to sneak into the cellar; when everyone was asleep, he crept upstairs to the servants’ quarters, chased the girl down to the next landing, and – before anyone could help – threw her over the rail, into the hall below.”

“And the stableman—?”

“He was caught and hanged for murder, but it happened a century ago; I haven’t been able to get any more details.”

Shorty’s interest was now thoroughly peaked; while he was not particularly worried for himself, he was a little concerned for his aunt. “On one condition,” he said.

“Nothing will stop me from going,” she said firmly; “but I might as well hear your condition.”

“You must guarantee that you’ll be able to control yourself if anything really happens – that you’re sure you won’t get too frightened.”

“Jim, I’m not young and neither are my nerves, but with you – there’s nothing in the world for me to fear!” She said.

This, of course, settled it. Shorty had no hope of ever being more than an ordinary young man; any praise implying otherwise was irresistible. He agreed to go.

By sub-consciously preparing himself, he remained in control of his fear for the whole evening; he imagined packing up his emotions and locking them away. The process is difficult to describe, but wonderfully effective; all men who have lived through severe hardship will understand. Later, it served his reputation well.

It was 10:30 when they left the comfortably lit hallway of his aunt’s home, and Shorty had to hold back his fear for the first time. When the door was closed, he saw the silent, empty street bathed in white moonlight and realized that the real test would be dealing with two fears. He would need to carry his aunt’s as well as his own. Glancing down at her expression – which was difficult to interpret – he realized it would not become any easier in a rush of real terror; he could only be confident of one thing – his ability to stand firm against any shock that might come.

Slowly, they walked along the town’s empty streets; a bright, autumn moon painted the roofs silver and cast deep shadows all around. There was no wind, and the trees lining the beach watched in silence as they passed. Shorty did not reply to his aunt’s occasional remarks; he understood that she was mentally preparing – distracting herself from thinking unnatural thoughts. Few windows were lit, and smoke rose from even fewer chimneys. Shorty was already noticing these small details when they stopped at the corner to read the name on the house; without speaking, they turned into the square and walked to the side that lay in shadow.

“The house number is thirteen,” a voice whispered. Neither of them said more about the obvious reference; instead, they continued walking in silence.

Halfway across the square, Shorty felt an arm slip quietly but purposefully into his own, and he knew their adventure had truly begun. His aunt was already succumbing to the house’s influence; she needed support.

A few minutes later, they stopped in front of a narrow, ugly-shaped house that rose tall into the night and was painted a dingy white. The windows – which were missing their shutters and blinds – stared down on them, shining in the moonlight. There were weather streaks in the walls, cracks in the paint, and the balcony bulged out from the first floor unnaturally, but the pitiful appearance did nothing to warn of such an evil character.

Checking over their shoulders to ensure they were not followed, they ascended the steps with confidence and stood against the huge, foreboding black door. They were hit with a wave of nervousness, and Shorty fumbled with the key for a long time before getting it into the lock. For a moment, they both hoped it would not open; they felt various unpleasant emotions as they stood on the threshold of their ghostly adventure. Shorty – struggling with the key and hindered by the weight on his arm – felt the importance of the moment. It was as if the whole world were watching through his eyes and listening to that grating noise. A stray puff of wind wandered down the empty street and rustled the trees behind them – otherwise the rattling key was the only sound. Finally, it turned in the lock, and the heavy door swung open to reveal a large gulf of darkness.


With a last glance at the moonlit square, they quickly went inside, and the door slammed with a roar that echoed through the empty halls. Another sound was heard, and Aunt Julia suddenly leaned on her nephew hard enough to knock him off balance; he had to take a step back to avoid falling down.

A man had coughed right next to them in the darkness. Thinking it could be a prank, Shorty quickly swung his heavy stick toward the sound, but nothing was there. His aunt gave a little gasp. “There’s someone here, I heard him.” She whispered.

“Be quiet! It was only the front door.” He said sternly.

“Oh! Quick, get a light!” she added as he fumbled with a box of matches and opened it upside-down; they all fell to the stone floor with a rattle.

The sound was not repeated, and there was no evidence of retreating footsteps. Soon, they had a lit candle and the end of a cigar case as a holder; he held up the makeshift lamp and studied their surroundings. Everything about it was dreary; there is nothing more desolate than a dark, forsaken, empty house, yet it was also filled with memories of violence and evil.

They were standing in a wide hallway; on their left was the open door of a spacious dining-room and straight ahead, the hall narrowed into a long, dark passage that led to the top of the kitchen stairs. The staircase rose before them, draped in shadows – except for a spot halfway up where the moon shone through the window. Its light was surrounded by a faint glow, giving the objects it touched a misty outline that created a haunted atmosphere better than total darkness. As Shorty continued staring, he thought of the countless empty rooms upstairs, and he longed for the safety of the moonlit square or his aunt’s cozy home. Then, realizing those thoughts were dangerous, he locked them away again and focused all his concentration on the present.

“Aunt Julia, we must search the whole house thoroughly.” He said forcefully.

The echoes of his voice slowly died away, and in the intense silence that followed, he turned to look at her. In the candlelight, he saw that her face was ghastly pale, but she dropped his arm, stepped in close, and whispered. “I agree. First, we must be sure there’s no one hiding in here.” It took her some effort to speak, and he looked at her with admiration.

“Are you sure? It’s not too late—”

“I think so,” she whispered, her eyes shifting nervously to the shadows behind them. “Quite sure; there’s only one thing—”

“What’s that?”

“You must never leave me alone, not for an instant.”

“As long as you understand that anything we see or hear must be investigated immediately; hesitating would be the same as admitting we’re frightened, and that could be deadly.”

“Agreed,” she said shakily. “I’ll try.”

Arm in arm, Shorty held the dripping candle while Julia carried his cloak over her shoulders; they would have made a funny sight to anyone else as they began their search.

They entered the big dining-room first – walking on tip-toes and shielding the candle to avoid being seen through the windows. There was no furniture – only bare walls, ugly mantel-pieces and empty fireplaces. They felt like everything resented their intrusion and was watching them with hidden eyes. Whispers followed them; shadows darted around silently, and it always seemed as if something were standing right behind them – waiting for an opportunity to hurt them. There was a sense that whatever normally occurred in the empty room had been paused until they were out of the way again. The entire building’s dark interior seemed to become a malignant Presence; it rose up, warning them to mind their own business, and the strain on their nerves increased every moment.

From the gloomy dining-room, they passed through large, folding doors into a sort of library or smoking-room; it was equally as silent, dark, and dusty. From there they returned to the hall near the top of the back stairs.

Here, a pitch black tunnel opened into the lower regions, and they only hesitated for a minute. With the worst of the night still to come, it was essential to search every area. Aunt Julia stumbled on the top step; their descent was poorly lit by the flickering candle, and even Shorty almost tripped.

“Come on!” He demanded, voice echoing off into the dark, empty spaces below.

“I’m coming,” she faltered, grabbing his arm rougher than necessary.

They descended the stone steps unsteadily; the air was cold, damp, and smelly. The stairs led along a narrow passage and into a large kitchen with high ceilings. It had several doors – some belonged to closets with empty jars on the shelves, and others led to horrible, creepy offices – each colder and less inviting than the last. Black beetles scurried around, and when Shorty bumped against a table in the corner, something the size of a cat jumped down – scampering across the stone floor and into the darkness. There was a gloomy sadness everywhere, and a sense that someone had just been there.

Leaving the kitchen, they went towards the scullery (where the dishes and cleaning were once done). The door was slightly open, and as they pushed it wider, Aunt Julia screamed; she instantly tried to stifle it with a hand over her mouth. For a second, Shorty stood completely still, catching his breath. His spine felt as if it were hollowed out and filled with ice.

Standing directly across from the doorway – facing them – stood the figure of a woman. She had messy hair, wild, staring eyes, and her terrified face was white as death.

She stood motionless for a single second. Then the candle flickered, and she was gone; in the door was nothing but empty darkness.

“It was only the beastly candlelight jumping,” he said quickly, in a half-controlled voice that sounded like someone else’s. “Come on; there’s nothing there.”

He dragged her forward, and they tried to seem brave as they continued, but Shorty’s skin crawled as if covered in ants. He knew by the weight on his arm that he was supplying the strength for both of them. The scullery room was cold, bare, and empty; more like a large prison cell than anything else. They walked around it – trying the windows and the door to the yard – but they were all locked. His aunt moved like someone in a dream. Her eyes were squeezed shut, and she seemed to merely follow his arm; her courage amazed him. At the same time, he noticed an odd change had come over her face – a change which he could not quite define.

“There’s nothing here, aunty,” he quickly repeated. “Let’s go upstairs and see the rest of the house. Then we’ll choose a room to wait in.”

She followed him obediently – staying close as they locked the kitchen door behind them. It was a relief to go up again. The moon had traveled further downstairs, making the hall brighter than before. Carefully, they entered the dark vault of the upper floors with the boards creaking under their weight.

They found two large living-rooms, but a search of them revealed nothing. Again, there was no furniture or signs of recent occupation – nothing but dust, neglect, and shadows. They opened the big folding doors between the two rooms and came out onto the landing before continuing upstairs.

They had not gone more than a dozen steps when they both stopped to listen, looking anxiously at each other across the flickering candle. From the room they had just left came the sound of quietly closing doors. There was absolutely no question; they heard the booming noise the heavy doors made when shutting and the sharp sound of the latch catching.

“We must go back and see,” Shorty said in a low tone, turning to go. Somehow, she managed to drag after him, her feet catching in her dress and her face livid.

When they entered the front living-room, it was obvious the folding doors had been closed. Without hesitation, Shorty re-opened them. He almost expected to see someone facing him in the back room, but he was only met with darkness and cold air. They went through both rooms and found nothing unusual. They tried everything they could think of to make the doors close by themselves, but there was not even enough wind to disturb the candle flame. The doors would not move without a strong force, and it was undeniable that the rooms were empty, and the house was completely still.

“It’s beginning,” Shorty hardly recognized his aunt’s voice as she whispered at his elbow.

He nodded in agreement, checking his watch to note the time. It was fifteen minutes before midnight; he wrote exactly what happened in his notebook, setting the candle on the floor in order to do so; it only took a moment to balance it against the wall.

Aunt Julia always said she was not actually watching him at that moment; she had turned towards the inner room where she heard something moving, but both agreed they heard running footsteps – very fast and heavy. Then, the candle went out!

Only Shorty saw more than this, and he has always been grateful for that. As he rose from his stooping position of balancing the candle – but before it was actually extinguished – a face rushed forward so close to his own that he could have kissed it. The man’s face was filled with passion, had thick, dark features, and angry, savage eyes. It belonged to a common man, but it was bursting with intense, aggressive emotions; it wore a malignant and terrible expression.

The air was completely still – there was no movement aside from the muffled sound of running feet, the apparition’s face, and the extinguishing of the candle.

Shorty let out a cry, nearly losing his balance as his aunt clung to him with her full weight in a moment of terror. Fortunately, she had not seen the face and was able to regain control almost immediately; after he was able to get free, he struck a match.

The glare chased away the shadows on all sides as his aunt knelt to retrieve the cigar case with the precious candle. Then, they discovered that the candle had not been blown out at all – it had been crushed out. The wick was pressed down into the wax – which was flattened by something smooth and heavy.

How his companion overcame her terror so quickly, Shorty never properly understood, but his admiration for her increased tenfold and inspired his own courage; for that, he was undeniably grateful. The evidence of physical force they had just witnessed was equally unexplainable. He immediately suppressed memories of hearing about “physical mediums” and their dangerous phenomena; if those were true, and either himself or his aunt was unknowingly a medium – it meant they were helping to focus the forces of a haunted house already at full-charge. It was like carrying an open flame among uncovered supplies of gun-powder.

So, with almost no thought, he simply relit the candle and proceeded to the next floor. The arm in his trembled, and his own steps were uncertain, but they continued being thorough; after the search revealed nothing, they climbed the last flight of stairs to the top floor.

Here, they found a cluster of small servants’ rooms with broken furniture, dirty chairs, cracked mirrors, and decrepit bedsteads. The rooms had low, sloped ceilings, cobwebs, small windows, and badly painted walls; it was a depressing and dismal area they were glad to leave behind.

They entered a small room on the third floor at the stroke of midnight and prepared to make themselves comfortable for the night. It was totally empty and once used as a closet. It was said to be where the infuriated groom had caught his victim. Outside, across the narrow landing, began the stairs leading to the servants’ quarters where they had just searched.

Despite the cold outside, there was something in the air that cried for an open window, but there was more. Shorty could only describe it by saying that he felt less in control of himself here than in any other part of the house. There was something that preyed directly on the nerves, wearing down one’s resolve and weakening his will. It took less than five minutes in the room to realize this, and it was during that time he lost all of his energy, which – for him – was the worst scare of the whole experience.

They put the candle on the floor, leaving the door open a few inches so there was no glare to confuse their eyes and no shadows to dart around. Then, they spread a cloak on the floor and sat down to wait with their backs against the wall.

Shorty was within two feet of the door; he had a good view of the main staircase leading down into darkness and the start of the servants’ stairs going to the floor above. His heavy stick laid nearby within easy reach.

The moon was high above the house. Through the window, they could see the comforting stars like friendly eyes watching from the sky. One by one, the clocks in town struck midnight, and when the sounds died away, the deep silence of a windless night fell over everything. Only the far away boom of the sea was heard as hollow murmurs.

Inside, the silence was awful; any minute, it could be broken by terrifying sounds; the strain of waiting was harder on the nerves. They whispered when they talked – their voices sounding odd and unnatural. The chill in the room was not completely due to the night air, and it made them cold. Whatever was influencing them slowly stole their confidence and ability to make decisions; their self-control was declining, and the possibility of real fear took on a new and terrible meaning. Shorty trembled with worry for the elderly woman by his side; her stubbornness could only protect her against so much.

He heard the blood pumping in his veins. Sometimes, it was so loud, he thought it was preventing him from hearing other sounds coming from deeper within the house. Every time he focused his attention on these noises, they stopped instantly and never came any closer. He could not shake the idea that something was moving in the lower parts of the house. The living-room floor – where the doors were strangely closed – was too close; the sounds were further away than that. He thought of the kitchen, with its scurrying black beetles – and of the dismal scullery, – but they did not seem to come from there either. Surely they were not outside of the house!

Suddenly, he understood the truth, and – for an entire minute – he felt as if his blood had turned to ice. The sounds were not downstairs at all; they were upstairs – somewhere among those horrid, gloomy servants’ rooms with their broken furniture, low ceilings, and cramped windows – where the victim was first awakened and chased to her death!

The moment he realized where the sounds were coming from, he began to hear them more clearly. It was the sound of stealthy feet, walking along the passage overhead, through the rooms and around the furniture.

He turned quickly to peek at the motionless figure beside him to see if she had realized the same thing. The faint candlelight shining through the crack in the closet door illuminated her expressive face against the white wall, but it was something else that stole his breath and caused him to stare. She wore an extraordinary expression – it spread over her features like a mask and smoothed out the wrinkles; with the exception of her old eyes, she appeared quite young again.

He stared, speechless and amazed – an amazement that was dangerously close to horror. It was indeed his aunt’s face but from forty years ago; it was the blank, innocent face of a girl. He knew stories about the strange effect terror could have on someone – it consumes them, dominating all other emotions; Shorty never realized that it could be literal, or that it could mean anything as horrible as what he saw now. The dreadful signs of total fear were written all over her face, and when she felt his intense gaze – she turned to him, but he instinctively closed his eyes to avoid the sight.

When he regained control of his emotions and turned a minute later, he was relieved to see a different expression; his aunt was smiling, and though her face was deathly white – the awful veil was gone, and her normal look was returning.

“Anything wrong?” It was the only thing he could think to say, and the answer was persuasive.

“I feel cold and a little frightened,” she whispered.

He offered to close the window, but she grabbed him and begged him not to leave her side even for an instant.

“It’s upstairs, I know,” she whispered, with an odd laugh; “but I can’t possibly go up.”

Shorty thought otherwise; he knew taking action was their best hope of maintaining self-control. He poured a glass of brandy from his flask – it was strong enough to help anybody through anything, and she swallowed it with a shiver. Now, his only plan was to get out of the house before her inevitable collapse, but they could not safely run away. Doing nothing was no longer an option; he was losing more composure every minute, and it became necessary to use desperate, aggressive measures without further delay. It was unavoidable, and they would need to show great confidence when facing the enemy. He could do it now, but in ten minutes he might not have the strength left!

Upstairs, the sounds were growing louder and closer, accompanied by the occasional creaking floorboards. Someone was sneaking around and bumping into the furniture.

Waiting for the numerous spirits to finish their work, Shorty stood quietly and said in a determined voice, “Now, Aunt Julia, we’ll go upstairs and find out what’s making all this noise. You must come too; it’s what we agreed.”

He picked up his stick and fetched the candle. A limp figure rose shakily beside him – breathing hard and very faint, she said, “ready.” The woman’s courage amazed him; it was much greater than his own. They moved forward with the dripping candle, and this trembling, white-faced, old woman was the true source of his courage. It held something that both shamed him and supported him; without it – he would have failed long before.

They crossed the dark landing, averting their eyes from the deep, black space over the handrails. Then, they ascended the narrow staircase to locate the sounds which were still growing louder and nearer. Halfway up the stairs, Aunt Julia stumbled, and Shorty caught her by the arm. At that moment, there was a loud crash in the servants’ corridor above. It was immediately followed by a shrill, agonized scream that sounded like a cry of terror and a plea for help mixed together.

Before they could move aside or go down a single step, someone came rushing towards them from above, taking the stairs three at a time. The steps were light and uncertain, but close behind them was the sound of a heavier person walking, and it shook the whole staircase.

Shorty and his companion had just enough time to flatten themselves against the wall when the jumble of flying feet reached their location, and two people dashed through the tiny gap between them at full speed. It was a midnight whirlwind of sounds crashing through the empty building.

The two runners kept going and were already racing across the creaking boards below, but Shorty and his aunt saw absolutely nothing – not a hand, arm, face, or even a shred of clothing.

There was a pause before the one being chased ran into the room which Shorty and his aunt had just left. The heavier one followed, and there was a scuffling sound with smothered screaming; then came the step of a single, heavy person on the landing.

A dead silence followed for half of a minute before they heard the sound of rushing air. It was followed by a dull, crashing thud on the lower floors of the house.

It was total silence after; nothing moved. The candle’s flame was steady, and the air was undisturbed. Filled with terror, Aunt Julia began fumbling her way downstairs without waiting for her nephew; she was crying softly to herself, and when Shorty put his arm around her – he could feel her shaking like a leaf. He retrieved the cloak from the little room’s floor, and they marched down the three flights of steps very slowly, without speaking or turning.

They saw nothing in the hall, but the whole way down, they were aware that someone was following them; when they went faster, it was left behind, and when they went slower, it caught up. Never once did they look back; at each turn on the staircase, they lowered their eyes to avoid the horror they might see above.

With trembling hands, Shorty opened the front door; they walked out into the moonlight and breathed in the cool, night air blowing in from the sea.

Horror Fiction

Infinity Game Confessions (Pt. 4)

 As always, Danie Dreadful has done a phenomenal narration of this story. If you want the full experience please hop over and check it out. Don’t forget to subscribe, she also narrates our Classics in the Rain and many other amazing tales!

I owe a huge thank you to Cat Lionheart (link to his steam and twitch). He has helped me with the actual Wiccan details I lacked, and is also a fantastic writer himself. I highly recommend checking him out; you can find his books on Amazon with this link. If you notice a few discrepancies with the finer details of the supernatural, they were changed for story purposes. Cat’s information is always incredibly fascinating and reliable. That’s why the Librarian is named after him and based on his personality.

The CreepyPasta

Romulus is voiced by the beautiful and talented Emmy, Princess of Dread.

Hey Everyone,

I’m sorry for disappearing on you again, but this is my first day off from the new Library job; the place I was working fired me when I stopped going. The list of stuff I need to tell you is getting out of hand, and it feels like I’ll never catch up. I’m not complaining; I appreciate the hell out of you guys for reading these – but the real world is becoming as dangerous as Mirward so my time is stretched thinner than ever. Can we just dive in?

Let’s start with why I mentioned a stalker in the other post. The first time I noticed people staring at me was one week after playing my Infinity Game. Even then, it took a few more weeks to recognize the same handful of people; one person won’t appear two days in a row, and the same person never visits too many different places. That being said, none of them had approached me at that point, so I never did more than passively acknowledge their existence. For now, just be aware this is stewing in the background; it’s going to come up again in a big way.

I’m not allowed to talk about where the Library is located, what it looks like on the outside, or how to enter, but after catching up with Romulus and giving him all those treats, it was time for work. Cat (the Librarian, not Rom-Tom) showed me to a table where she was nice enough to have gathered the books I needed… though she claimed it was only so I wouldn’t make a mess doing it myself. She always says fun, snarky things like that, but it’s just her way of showing affection; if she genuinely hated me, I would already be dead… or in the dungeon like that guy who spilled his coffee.

Romulus joined me with a loud “Mrowr”, and we worked undisturbed until noon when my alarm reminded me to eat. Hoping Cat would entertain a few questions during lunch, I returned to the ground floor and hovered nearby as she typed at her computer. With a quick glance over the rim of her glasses, the Librarian said, “no” before returning her attention to the monitor.

“Yes ma’am, thank you.” I was walking away when the clacking of the keyboard suddenly stopped, and I turned back hopefully.

“Are you going to the observatory? Don’t. The floors were just waxed.” Cat resumed typing before she finished speaking.

“Yes ma’am…” Hopes crushed, I turned back in the direction of my table. The observatory is located at the top of a tower, and it has a wide, spiral walkway instead of stairs aren. I love lying on a table to look at the sky through its domed, glass ceiling while I eat, but disobeying the Librarian isn’t something to joke about.

Most of my lunch was shared with Romulus, but afterwards, we worked another three hours before a loud thud and sharp cry echoed through the enormous building. Worried for Cat, I followed the sound back to her desk and towards the observatory. When closer, I could hear her deep, gasping breaths and feared the worst. Sprinting the last stretch, I turned a corner to find a crumpled Librarian lying at the base of the observatory ramp, hands covering her face – laughing hysterically.

“And I warned you not to go up there!” Her leg was broken; I don’t know how the hell she wasn’t screaming, but if she used magic I need to learn that spell ASAP.

Her only options all involved accepting my help; I’m sure that was torture. Apparently, there are doctors who specifically care for not-always-fully-human clients, and I got to call one! While we waited, I found a rolling-cart and wheeled Cat to the closest lounge area.

The doctor arrived within twenty minutes, though I’m not sure if it was a man or woman… They were in their 60’s, had a neutral voice, and rounded torso. Cat made me leave for the exam, and the legitimately concerning medical questions regarding my parentage were once again placed on hold. It would be nice to know if I should avoid hospitals; if I get rushed to the ER, will I be at risk of dissection? I need to know these things!

When the doc finally came out an hour later, they said Cat was asking for me. I rushed in without asking my question – which I learned was the intention when a very stoned Librarian exploded with laughter. “That’s one way to avoid your questions! Hey, Romulus was looking for you! Drop some food and scoop his litter while you’re there, would you?” She pushed herself to a sitting position and tried to catch her breath.

“I did that hours ago; do you need anything else? Food or something?” I couldn’t very well ask any questions after that.

“Did you really?” She seemed surprised.

“Well he sure can’t do it himself!” An accidental stomp of irritation slid past my wall of composure.

Whether her decision was drug induced or some combination of guilt and pity – I’m not sure, but Cat thanked me; more importantly, she offered to answer one question. I was speechless; there were too many choices to pick just one, but if I didn’t hurry she could change her mind… or pass out. That is exactly the kind of pressure I crack under.

“Do I have any special powers?” Damnit; the word vomit left an embarrassing taste in my mouth as I waited for her to laugh and shoo me away.

“Probably. Couldn’t know for sure without a few tests… Or you could just try a bunch of stuff and see if anything works.” She shrugged – brow furrowed in concentration, her slur barely noticeable.

She seemed to be giving the answer serious thought, and I was afraid to break the magical moment by speaking; especially if there was a chance I actually did have powers! “Whatever you do, don’t try to fly; that’s the last one you wanna figure out by trial and error!” She added, bursting into another round of laughter.

When I asked what would be ok, all I got was, “Romulus likes a fresh blanket before bed; they’re in the bottom drawer. If you want to come back tomorrow, I suppose that would be fine. Goodnight.”

It was best to quit while ahead. As you know, I’ll eventually lose my job and working at the Library will become official, but that pales in comparison to the other things I need to tell you so we probably won’t go into that too much more today.


All my spare time in the Library was dedicated to Infinity Game research – including the Game Genie. Guys, I was right – there’s a way to cheat time and a few other things, but I’m still in the process of translating how! There’s also a Co-op Mode, but I’m struggling with how to utilize the information. I’m sure you remember the horrible examples that clearly warn against having multiple players in one game. Well, there’s actually two ways around this. One is a sanctioned two-player option the Boss added, and the other is a loophole he can’t really do anything about.

If you want to play a single game with two people, you will only need one additional person to guard your mirrors in the real world. The pentagram will need to be a little larger to accommodate the extra participant, otherwise the setup remains the same. When ready to begin, the two main players should stand back-to-back in the center – each facing their own reflection; it’s best if their steps are synchronized to enter simultaneously.

Once inside, the watcher must immediately step between the mirrors; one person is enough to block the way for both. From the Lobby, the players will see two mirrors side-by-side, and it’s vital they only exit through the one they entered. Aside from these points, everything else is the same. If both teammates make it to the Boss, they each get a wish.

Now for the multiplayer oversight. Technically this will let you play with an unlimited number of people – well, as many as you can convince to try, at least. It might be easier to give you an example with this one, but I want to start by saying this should never ever be combined with the official two-player method… ever

Let’s say you have twenty people in a huge, empty warehouse. They would draw ten pentagrams and split into teams of two for ten individual games. Each player who enters the Lobby will be alone with the usual setup, but once they exit into Mirward, they’ll all be in the same place; the rest of the game will proceed as normal and survivors are welcome to make their wish.

My problem with this being a possibility is the fact I don’t trust anyone else enough to play with them. Sure – there’s Jess – but I refuse to get her killed. I don’t think she would want to go, but that’s not a risk I’m willing to take. There’s no point in mentioning it to her unless we meet someone else worth considering.

While we’re on Mirward updates, I’ll add what I’ve learned from new conversations with Casey. I haven’t been able to talk to her as much as I’d like, but it’s better than nothing. Now that I’m aware of the strict time limit, I try to focus on the most important questions. The thing you guys have pointed out most is the fact Casey seemed perfectly eager to sell me out in the beginning; she still tried to manipulate Jess and only helped me when all her efforts failed. That’s obviously a very good point and probably my largest source of distrust. Below was her response, and it sounded honest to me, but please, formulate your own opinions.

Casey’s Reply:

Of course I had evil intentions! I wanted the whole life for myself just like everyone else; I’ve never pretended to be a saint. Although, when that wasn’t possible, I decided on a long con – like you suspected; if I couldn’t get you in the first game, I probably could have by the third… Then I realized how much better our real plan would work if we actually did it. What we’ve put together is genius – much better than anything one of us could do alone! Let’s not be like those idiots who double-cross each other at the very end and lose it all – let’s just fucking win!

See what I mean? She has a fair point. Did it make me trust her? No. But I think there’s a legitimate chance she could be telling the truth, and – at the very least – she’d need to behave until the end.

Oh, and I know this isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme, but for the record – it’s confirmed; the armband doesn’t need to be red. Though I recommend bright, flamboyant colors.

You’ll remember the next question from last time; when we were discussing the unfortunate living conditions in Mirward, it seemed like the reflections of poor people would live in luxury, but that turned out to be wrong. Their homes are physically nicer, and that’s about it. There’s no such thing as a safe neighborhood or happy family; they don’t have laws or governments. Their world is policed by power, and demons – or Infitialis, as they’re called over there – often have the most.

Learning these things was enough to make me stop playing; the Library can teach me all I want to know without ever being in danger. I was even trying to think of a way to tell all of you, but then I found out what happens to the souls taken by the Boss – as in what happened to my mother’s. Quitting isn’t an option, guys.

Did you know reincarnation is real? There’s no time to go over the hundred scenarios that could develop under different circumstances between life and rebirth, but that’s how the process usually ends. There’s very few exceptions to the rule, but since the one requirement for being reborn is a soul – you can see how selling one might cause a hiccup in the system.

It’s not like she ceased to exist – that dipshit owns her, like a dog taken from the streets! I’m not sure exactly what I thought happened to her, but it revolved around being eaten; it seemed like souls were a food source for demons. Well, technically, I suppose they are, but it’s different than how our own bodies take in nourishment – there’s no waste to expel. Imagine if it were possible to swallow a chicken whole, and it stayed alive inside of you… Okay, that’s admittedly not the best metaphor, but that is the actual concept. The animal would basically act as a battery for your energy or – in the demon’s case – powers.

My mother is his unwilling puppet; the list of possibilities went on for an entire chapter and were too depressing to finish in one sitting. By owning a soul that belongs to our world, he can do all sorts of things – even lead unsuspecting victims to their doom. You’ve probably heard stories where cries for help lure people into an abandoned home or a forest; though Skin Walkers are blamed for the bulk of forest incidents in America – the Demon’s Lure is much more common.

Most of you probably know the true story behind Anabelle – the possessed doll; two roommates thought they were allowing a child to enter the vessel – but surprise! That’s actually a pretty common trick. The Boss can’t just visit our world on a whim; he’s bound by the same rules we are. I wonder if he has a reflection… I’ll have to add that to my list of questions.

After my third day at the Library, Cat offered to answer one more question. This time, I was prepared. “How do I save Mom’s soul?”

She didn’t laugh at that one. “You can’t, I’m sorry.” She really was, too.

“Why? Demons can take souls, and I’m half of that, aren’t I?”

With a sad sigh she adjusted her glasses and sat up. “Yes… but what do you think a soul is? You can’t touch one; it won’t be laying around for the taking. They must be bound to an object – like a crystal – and that takes a vast amount of energy. Even full-fledged demons barely have enough power to negate death and bind the soul… Look, I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but if there was a way to do it, I would tell you.”

“Let’s pretend I have that energy and a bag of crystals; what would be my next step?” I had tunnel vision, nothing could sway my focus.

“Any powers you might have don’t apply to this situation; they’re like muscles, and you’ve never used yours. On the extremely rare chance you possess the potential for those abilities… I don’t know where to begin… the years it would take to condition your mind and body alone are incalculable. Not to mention the fact you would be killed immediately upon trying to steal a soul from a demon. How about you ask a different question?” She was trying to be gentle, but I didn’t want to push my luck.

“What exercises can I do to help that particular muscle grow?” Of everything Cat said, it seemed like step one would be figuring out if I have any special abilities to begin with. It doesn’t matter how long it takes; if I need to spend the next twenty years meditating four hours every day, that’s what I’ll do, and – believe me – I’ve been meditating.

This time her sigh was much longer before she began. “Come here, and give me your hand.”

“Neat! Are you going to read my palm?” Her eye-roll said no, but I’m not sure what else to call it.

“I need silence,” and that’s exactly what she got; she only looked at my open palm for a few seconds before placing her own directly above it and closing her eyes.

I had to bite my tongue when a look of shock, confusion, or fear (I’m not sure which) crossed her face; it was gone almost immediately, and she pretended it didn’t happen when I asked about it. What she did say wasn’t much and created a list of new questions. “Did your mother cast any spells on you as a child? Did you ever take part in or witness any kind of ritual she may have performed? Think very carefully.”

The sudden seriousness to her tone was concerning, but the number or actual rituals I was involved with before the Infinity Game could be counted on one hand. I only went with Mom if it was something basic, and she couldn’t find a babysitter. Cat waved the idea off – she was fishing for something specific, I just don’t know what yet.

“Come back tomorrow, I want to run a few tests before saying anything for certain.” Well, my curiosity was successfully peaked. I wanted nothing more than to race home and return with the sunrise, but as always – fate had other things in mind.


It’s time to talk about the stalkers again; there are five routes I use to get between work and home. Since I can’t drive straight to the Library – each day involves parking my car at a different location and utilizing public transportation for the rest of the way. I assigned each route a number, and – to keep it random – I let the die (geez, that’s the singular for dice?!) decide which way to go. Sixes are rolled again, but five-sided dice aren’t really a thing. On this particular day, I rolled a three and turned south.

Route 3 isn’t too bad; it’s no Route 5, that’s for damn sure. From the Library to the subway is four blocks, and there aren’t many people on those particular streets at night. I usually feel safer once I lay eyes on the current stalker; it makes me feel better to keep track of them, but I didn’t see anyone on the first two blocks. By this point they were basically a permanent fixture; if I didn’t see them, it wasn’t because they weren’t there. The idea they could be getting smarter was terrifying.

When a greyhound bus passed by, I broke into a run and crossed the street behind it. If the stalker was close, they would need to hurry. I went in the opposite direction hoping their concern with my deviation would outweigh caution, and it worked a little too well. Once around the corner, I came to an abrupt halt and turned back to watch the street. It appeared within seconds, but I couldn’t see a face, and what I did see didn’t look human. It was a short, sickly thin figure shrouded in a black veil; only the shape of skeletal legs could be discerned beneath, and one bony finger was lifted, pointing in my direction. When it noticed me looking that way, it suddenly became blurry – like I was seeing a VHS recording – and when it was clear again, there was a suddenly woman standing in its place. That’s new.

A car I hadn’t noticed passed between us and I took the opportunity to run. I went down three more blocks, taking random turns through back alleyways before stopping to check my location. My train left in five minutes, but there was no way to get there in time. It was already dark, and my car was at least an hour away; I felt exposed standing in the open and resumed walking to contemplate my options. I couldn’t call Dad, or Jess; they weren’t exactly in the area, and I also didn’t want them near me if my stalkers weren’t even human.

I’ve always considered myself a cautious person because it sounds better than paranoid, but there’s no sugarcoating how it felt out there; every person could have been another one of those ghoul things, and that’s exactly how I treated them. I must have looked insane, but that’s something I’ve grown used to over the years. The alleyways all had looming shadows at their entrance, but the dark spaces between the cars parked along the curb were just as sinister; I stayed in the center of the sidewalk with my eyes darting each way and my arms tucked in like someone was waiting to drag me away.

It wasn’t too long before I ducked inside a Chinese restaurant and sat myself in the back corner. No one else came in during the time it took to eat an order of honey chicken, and I could finally think straight again. Luckily, there was still time to catch the next train – why that notion never occurred to me originally I can only blame on pure panic.

My anxiety tried to spike when I was back outside, but it was nothing like before. When the subway station was in sight, I could have cried with relief, but the feeling was short-lived. Leaning over the rail, pretending to look at his watch, was the first stalker I had ever noticed. I froze in place, not knowing if I should keep going or turn back – both options sounded horrible, but there would be more people on the subway. The moment I resumed walking, the man casually descended before me. I almost ran away then, but I felt a horrible certainty he would be right behind me either way; at least on the subway, I was guaranteed a few witnesses.

The platform was crowded; the stalker was standing against the wall with his face in a newspaper, but it was him. The train before mine came, and people poured out in a wave as the next bunch climbed in. Had I noticed how empty the platform would be, I would have hopped on and taken my chances with its destination; instead, I was stuck there with a stalker and one very old lady with shopping bags looped around her walker. It would be fifteen minutes until my ride came, and I decided waiting on the street would be safer than a nearly empty subway station.

The moment I tried to leave, a heavy thud made me jump, and I looked back to see one of the old lady’s bags had fallen. Cans were rolling across the platform, and she had a look of utter anguish on her face as she worked to position herself around the walker. When I looked towards the man, he surprised me by maintaining eye contact instead of looking away; he gave one firm shake of his head before nodding towards the stairway – as if saying “don’t help; go up to the street.”

The problem with this entire incident is that I didn’t have time to think; it was happening too fast. The old lady was bracing herself to retrieve the first can, and it was sad as hell; the only explanation I could think of for the stalker’s behavior was that he might want to eat her – how should I know what ghouls do for their jollies? She certainly seemed like an easy target… so yea, I helped her, and I chose fucking poorly.

“I’ll get it ma’am!” I jogged over, keeping one eye on the man as the lady thanked me and launched into a dialogue about her grandson not having time to do her shopping that week. I smiled and nodded politely while gathering her cans, but she herself held none of my attention. I never reacted until the man lunged forward, and by then it was almost too late. I didn’t wait to see his intentions – I dove forward on sheer instinct as if my body was being controlled by someone else.

The instant I turned to look for the stalker, a gray blur was flying at me, and I was back on the ground, struggling for breath as my vision blurred from the impact. I could see well enough to know the old lady was the one strangling me, but she was much stronger than she looked. Her fingers were ice-cold bars of steel as I tried to pry them from my neck, and her weight was crushing my chest. We couldn’t have been that way more than a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity.

When she was suddenly removed, I began choking for air, and my throat was on fire; frantically wiping the tears from my eyes, I crawled backwards – away from the two blurry figures who were still fighting. I was more confused than ever; the old lady was in full ghoul-form, and the man wasn’t completely human either. He definitely didn’t resemble the others; I couldn’t see clearly enough to give an accurate description, but he was much larger. They were moving so fast my eyes couldn’t keep track, but it ended with the man grabbing the ghoul’s throat in one hand, and with the other, he hooked his fingers beneath her jaw-bone – ripping off her head. The creature disintegrated into a black smoke cloud and evaporated as a new crowd of people came downstairs.

They were flooding the platform, but not one person seemed to suspect anything unusual had occurred. Suddenly, the man was standing over me with his hand outstretched; he was tall with short, black hair and resembled Robert Downey Jr a little. For some reason, I took his hand; the moment we made contact, time froze and the world faded away. We were no longer on the subway but in a small, white room with a table and two chairs.

“Don’t worry, we didn’t really go anywhere; this is so we can talk privately; when we’re finished, no time will have passed out there.” He took a seat and the second chair slid away from the table for me to do the same.

“Are you telling me we’re communicating telepathically? While frozen in the instant you were helping me to my feet?” I can’t begin to describe the thoughts racing through my mind; there was too much to process.

“Yes, very good. I’m sorry about your mother, by the way. She was a wonderful woman.” His smile seemed sincere, but I still didn’t know who or what he was.

“Right… and how did you know Sandra?” I tried to sound casual and probably didn’t.

“If you’re going to test someone, try to do so with information that isn’t available to the public. Had I done the research to know your mother is dead, I would certainly know her name was Elle; would you like to try something else?” He didn’t say it in a demeaning way – it sounded like a genuine offer.

“I’d still like to know how you knew her.”

“This may be hard for you to hear, but technically, I’m your father.”

“Shut the fuck up!” I accidentally spit the words out in a disbelieving laugh. “I mean… that’s a little hard to believe.”

He wasn’t phased by my outburst, but he looked at me the exact same way I look at puzzles, and that was slightly unnerving. “There’s a lot of her in you. Yes, I suspected it would be difficult for you if we met before you were ready, but I had little choice. I even waited to see if you could handle it alone, but I think you would have died without help.

My hand went to my face and the burning sensation was rekindled as I felt bloody, inflamed scratch-marks trailing from my cheek down to my neck. “I guess so, but why? Why are they after me? Why do you suddenly care?”

“You’re asking questions that don’t have simple answers, but simple is all we have time for. I can only hold this state for so long in your world so listen carefully. The entity you call ‘the Boss’ has known exactly what you are since your visit to… ugh, what do you call it? Mirward?” I nodded and he continued, “once he has a Halfling’s scent it’s a simple matter to identify their Sire; unfortunately for you, he and I have a rather sordid past.”

“I’m sorry, what?” I was torn on whether or not to believe a word of it.

“To be fair, you made it much worse by playing his game. I’m impressed you’ve done as well as you have, but by our standards you’re still in diapers. Those things were only keeping an eye on you at first, but now that you’ve been spending time at the Library and having those little chats with your reflection – they’re kicking things up a notch.” He was talking faster; it was everything I could do to keep up with his words.

“They know about the Library and Casey?” I’m not sure why those were the items to stick out, but they were.

“Yes, Page, the extremely powerful demons are aware of the extremely powerful witches.” He was beginning to doubt my intelligence. “We need to get moving, but don’t trust strangers for any reason; they can only assume the appearance they had in life, and demons can only appear as the souls they own. Pack some bags to take with you tomorrow, and use the shortest route; I’ll be watching. Don’t leave the Library again until I give you a signal; it’s the only place you’ll be safe while I handle things with that little troll directly.”

“Does the Library have a magical protection like Hogwarts?” I asked louder than intended.

“Uh, well… yes, but more importantly the Librarian is the only one around with enough power to keep you alive in my absence.” He stood, reaching his hand to me.

“A witch can be that powerful?! With a broken leg?!”

A look of shock crossed over his face. “She’s not just a witch… and I seriously doubt she… you know what, never mind. Yes, she’s that powerful – even with a broken leg. Let’s go.”

I didn’t have a choice; he reached across and grabbed my hand before I understood what he was doing. We were suddenly back in the subway, and I was being pulled to my feet. Everything was how we left it, and we boarded the train a few minutes later. He wouldn’t answer anymore questions – not even when I asked his name. He only said one more thing before leaving me at my car; “You’re lucky; if you were human those scratches would have already dissolved your face. Tomorrow, ask the Librarian for a tonic.” Then he vanished before my eyes.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I met my biological father.


Holy crap it’s getting late… ok, I know you guys require a certain level of flow and elegance with your stories, and you’re a top tier audience of fine people who deserve nothing less, but I really can’t stress how desperate I am to convey this last part before I have to post and run. One day – if I live through all of this – I swear I’ll make it up to you with one full length saga of all the little details I missed. Until then, I’m going for ‘get the information out before I’m murdered.’

After a very paranoid, sleepless night, I packed a few bags and had a wonderfully boring trip to the Library. It took an insanely long time to explain everything to Cat, but her only reaction was, “might as well work you full-time then.”

She wouldn’t answer any questions about her own abilities, but her leg was snapped in half, yet she was good as new in less than two weeks; there’s definitely a story in there. As for me, I spent the majority of that day being used like a lab rat while she poked and poisoned me. I drank foul liquids, had my blood drawn, and performed dozens of odd tasks. That Librarian has a brutal poker face; I could never tell if the results were good or bad, and she never gave any indication before moving on to the next.

I’m not sure what I expected… maybe a list of powers I would develop and how to use them, but that was naive even for me. What I actually learned was surprising nevertheless. Growing up, I was taught demons are entities born from vast quantities of pain, rage, and hatred; that’s it – end of story, but apparently there are higher level Daemons that have always existed. My father happens to be one of those.

They aren’t well known in our world; they normally operate on a much larger scale than possessions or “hauntings” for lack of a better word. If these guys are involved, it’s because something huge is in the works – like the Holocaust. They don’t waste their time planning or creating tragedies, (humans can manage that part just fine) but they’re drawn to it and can influence those involved – sometimes worsening and prolonging the situation.

It’s extremely rare for them to reproduce, and when they do, it’s always with a human. There are less than ten of us known throughout history, but most are killed before maturing because our blood is… let’s just say it’s valuable; not by itself, though… so don’t get any ideas. The point is – that’s the reason we’re hidden here. The parent doesn’t traditionally reveal their identity until they’re forced; my situation was particularly unique, but normally it happens because humans eventually notice when someone stops aging.

When the Age of Maturity is reached, we’re expected to “come home”. At that time, there is a complex ritual to “shed our human half”. I’m not going to lie – I was excited about everything until that point. I don’t care if Demons have a bad reputation; I’m not evil – I don’t want anyone to suffer – I just want superpowers! I’m so afraid of Karma, I was thinking about doing a weekend vigilante type thing, but there’s no way I’m going to that place. Unfortunately, there are no records of anyone finding a way around it… except for the ones that died, obviously.

The bright side is that I should have years to figure it out; I shouldn’t stop aging until my thirties. In the meantime, there are more immediate problems at hand. I still need to save Mom’s soul above all else, and I’ve put off Mirward for too long. The next trip won’t be about visiting the Boss; it’s more like a scavenger hunt. The plan is to visit their Library; Cat and I are interested to see if there are differences in the actual books. There’s a locked section I’m not allowed into where the most powerful Light Magic books are located. There’s a chance Mirward’s section might contain new information regarding the Darkest Magic… or it could be a rat’s nest of shredded paper in a condemned building – there’s no way to know without looking.

Alright guys, I’m out of time. Hopefully, I’ll be making the trip Mirward this weekend; I’ll do my best to get an update to you faster, but no promises. Since I still can’t leave the Library, Cat is going to be my guard. There’s a special room in the basement for dangerous rituals, so theoretically, I shouldn’t have to go outside after the Lobby. The hope is to go directly from the basement to the restricted area and back – before anything “wakes up”.

That should do it for this one; at least we got through the basics. Oh, and in case you weren’t aware – that Danie Dreadful chick narrated my second and third updates as well. They sound really cool; if you wanna check them out, the links have been added to their respective posts, and I suppose that means she’ll read this one, too. Huh… so… that kinda means I have the power to make her say anything, doesn’t it? Damn… I wish I would’ve realized sooner. I’ll try to remember for next time, until then, be safe out there; sometimes they really are out to get you!

Classics Translated

The Tell-Tale Heart

Edgar Allen Poe, originally published January 1843; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

Who’s ready to hear another phenomenal narration by my amazing friend, Danie Dreadful? YouTube
Illustration by Harry Clarke

It is true! I had been – and am – very, dreadfully nervous, but why would you say that I am crazy? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed or dulled them. Above all was the acute hearing; I heard all things in the heavens and on the earth, and I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I crazy? Listen! and observe how sanely – how calmly – I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my mind, but once it was there – it haunted me day and night. It was not because of an objective or hatred; I loved the old man. He had never wronged or insulted me; I had no desire for his gold. I think it was his eye! Yes, that was it! One of his eyes was like a vulture’s; it was pale blue and covered with film. Whenever it fell on me, my blood ran cold; very gradually, I made up my mind to take his life and be rid of the eye forever.

Now, this is the point where you think I am crazy. Madmen know nothing, but you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded with caution and foresight; no one could have guessed my intentions when I went to work! I had never been kinder to the old man than the week before I killed him. Every night – around midnight – I turned his doorknob and opened it very gently! When I had an opening big enough, I put in a dark, closed lantern before sticking in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I stuck it in! I moved very, very slowly, so the old man would not wake. It took an hour to place my head in far enough to see him lying on his bed. Ha! Would a madman have been this smart? Then, when my head was in the room, I opened the lantern with extreme caution to avoid the creaking hinges; I did it just enough for a single, thin ray to fall upon the vulture’s eye. I did this for seven long nights, but the eye was always closed, making it impossible to do the job; it was not the old man who irritated me but his Evil Eye. Every morning, I went into his room with confidence and spoke to him fearlessly – calling him by name in a friendly tone, and asking how his night was. He would have been very insightful to suspect that every night – just at twelve – I watched him sleep.

On the eighth night, I was even more cautious than usual when opening the door. A clock’s minute hand moves faster than mine did. Never before had I felt the extent of my own power and wisdom. I could hardly contain my feelings of victory. There I was, opening the door little by little, and he had no clue of my secret actions or thoughts. I laughed at the idea, and he may have heard me; he moved suddenly, as if startled. You may think that I withdrew – but no. His room was pitch black; the shutters were closed for fear of robbers, and – knowing he could not see the open door – I kept pushing on it steadily.

My head was in, and I was about to open the lantern when my thumb slipped on the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up, crying out. “Who’s there?”

I stayed quite still and said nothing. I did not move a muscle for a whole hour, and I did not hear him lie down. He was sitting up in the bed, listening – exactly as I have done night after night – listening to the signs of imminent death.

Then, I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief – oh, no! It was the low, muffled sound that comes from the bottom of the soul when it is filled with anguish; I knew the sound well. Many nights – at midnight – when all the world slept, it came from my own chest; it deepened with dreadful echoes and distracting fears. I knew what the old man felt and pitied him, although I laughed in my heart. He had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise when he rolled in the bed, and his fear had been growing ever since. He tried to convince himself it was nothing, but he could not; he tried thinking, “It is only the wind in the chimney, or a mouse crossing the floor, or a cricket chirping.”

He tried to comfort himself with these thoughts, but his efforts were in vain. All in vain, because Death’s black shadow had already consumed its victim, and it was the sorrowful influence of the unseen shadow that caused him to feel my presence in the room.

When I had waited patiently for a long time without hearing him lie down, I decided to open a very thin slit in the lantern. You cannot imagine how stealthily I opened it until a single, dim ray – like a spider’s web – shot out from the crack and fell upon the vulture eye.

It was wide open, and I grew furious at the sight. I saw it perfectly – a dull blue, covered with a hideous film that chilled me to be bone; I could see nothing else of the old man since the ray of light fell directly on that damned spot.

Did I not say that you would mistake acute senses for madness? Then, I heard a low, quick sound – like a watch makes when wrapped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the old man’s heart beating. It increased my fury just as the beating of a drum inspired a soldier’s courage.

Even then, I remained motionless, scarcely breathing. I held the lantern steady, keeping the ray of light trained on the eye. Meanwhile, the hellish beating of his heart increased, growing quicker and louder every second. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder every moment! Do you understand? I have told you that I am nervous, and I am. At that late hour of the night – among the dreadful silence in that old house – this noise drove me to complete terror. I stood still for several more minutes, but the beating grew louder! I thought his heart would burst, and a new worry gripped me; the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s time had come; with a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leapt into the room! He only shrieked once; in an instant, I dragged him to the floor and pulled the heavy bed over him. Then I smiled happily, glad the deed was done, but – for many minutes – the heart continued its muffled beat. This, however, did not bother me; it would not be heard through the wall. Eventually, it stopped; the old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, cold dead. I placed my hand on the heart and held it there for several minutes. There was no pulse; he was dead, and his eye would no longer trouble me.

If you still believe I am crazy, you will not think so after I describe the wise precautions I took when hiding the body. As the night wore on, I worked hastily but in silence. First of all, I dismembered the corpse by cutting off the head, arms, and legs.

Then, I removed three planks from the living room floor and deposited everything between the joists. Next, I replaced the boards so perfectly that no human eye – not even his – could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash – no stains or blood whatsoever. I had been too cautious for that; all was done in the tub – haha!

When I finished these chores, it was four o ‘clock and still dark as midnight. As the bell announced the hour, there was a knock at the door. I went down to open it with a light heart – after all, what was there to fear now? Three men entered and introduced themselves as police officers. During the night, a shriek was heard by a neighbor, and there was suspicion of foul play. A report was filed at the police station, and the officers were sent to search the premises.

I smiled; what was there to worry about? I welcomed the gentlemen, saying the shriek had been my own – caused by a dream – and I mentioned the old man was visiting the countryside. I took my visitors all over the house, telling them to search well. I led them to his chamber and showed them his valuables – secure and undisturbed. In the excitement of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room – inviting them to rest – and placed my own seat directly above the hidden corpse.

The officers were satisfied; my demeanor had convinced them, and I was completely at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerfully, they chatted about familiar things. Though, before long, I felt myself getting pale and wished they would leave. My head ached, and there was a ringing in my ears, but still they remained. The ringing became more distinct as it continued – and I talked more to be rid of the feeling – but it persisted and grew louder. Finally, I realized the noise was not in my mind.

There is no doubt I grew very pale, but I talked faster with a louder voice. Still, the sound increased – and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound – very close to the sound a watch makes when wrapped in cotton. I gasped for breath, yet the officers did not hear it. I talked faster – more intensely, but the noise steadily increased. I stood, arguing insignificant matters in a high voice with wild gestures, but the noise increased. Why would they not leave? I paced with heavy strides – as if infuriated by the men’s observations, but the noise continued increasing. Oh God! What could I do? I ranted, raved, and swore! I threw my chair, and it struck the boards, but the noise rose above it all and still increased. It grew louder, louder, and louder, but still the men chatted – smiling pleasantly. Was it possible they did not hear it?… Almighty God!… No, no!… They heard!… They suspected!… They knew!… They were mocking my terror!… This is what I thought, and what I still think, but anything was better than that agony! Anything was more tolerable than their ridicule! I could not bear those hypocritical smiles any longer! It felt like I must scream or die! Now – again!… Listen! Louder, louder, louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “mock me no more! I admit it! Tear up the planks! Here, here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Classics Translated

The Phantom Coach

Amelia B. Edwards, originally published 1864; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

1

What I am about to tell you is the truth. It happened to me, and I remember it like yesterday despite the fact twenty years have passed since that night. In all this time, I have only told the story to one other person. Even now, it is difficult to overcome my reluctance to share it. I must ask that you avoid forcing your own conclusions onto me; I want no arguments or explanations. My mind is already made up on this subject; I prefer to believe what I saw with my own eyes.

Well! It was twenty years ago, and a day or two after the end of grouse hunting in December. I was on a cold moor in northern England with an east wind, and I became lost after being out with my gun all day. It was an unpleasant place to lose one’s way; the first flakes of a snowstorm were falling, and the sun was beginning to set. I shaded my eyes and stared anxiously into the darkness; a range of low hills were 10-12 miles away. There was nothing to see in any direction – not so much as a fence or sheep’s track. All I could do was continue walking and hope to find shelter along the way. I had been going since breakfast and eaten nothing since; shouldering my gun, I pushed forward.

Meanwhile, the wind was blowing, and it snowed with ominous persistence. The cold became more intense, and the night was rapidly approaching. My hopes darkened with the sky, and my heart grew heavy as I thought of my troubled wife sitting at the window – watching for my return. We had been married four months and spent autumn in the Highlands; for the winter, we traveled to a small, remote village near the great English moorlands. We were very much in love; when we parted that morning, she begged me to return before dusk, and I promised to do just that. I would have given anything to keep my word!

2

As tired as I was, I thought it might be possible to return before midnight with a little food and rest if I could find shelter or a guide. The snow fell and thickened; I stopped to shout occasionally, but my yells only made the silence feel deeper. A vague sense of uneasiness came over me, and I recalled stories about travelers who walked in the snow until they collapsed dead from exhaustion. I wondered if it would be possible for me to keep walking through the night; eventually, my legs would fail along with my resolution, and I would die.

I shuddered; it would be very hard to die when my whole life still lay ahead! It would be hard for my darling – she has such a loving heart – but I could not think of that. To distract myself, I shouted again – louder and longer – then listened eagerly. Was my call answered, or did I only imagine a far-off cry? I yelled again… and the echo followed once more.

Then, a wavering speck of light suddenly came out of the darkness – it was bobbing – getting closer and brighter. Running towards it at full speed, I found myself face to face with an old man and a lantern. “Thank God!” I exclaimed involuntarily.

Blinking and frowning, he lifted his lantern and peered into my face. “What for?” He growled, sulkily.

“Well… for you. I was beginning to worry I would be lost in the snow.”

“Oh, folks do get lost here from time to time; what’s stopping you from being lost as well if that’s what the Lord intended?”

3

“Friend, if the Lord intends for you and I to be lost together, then so be it, but I won’t be alone. How far am I from Dwolding?” I asked.

“A good twenty miles, more or less.”

“And the nearest village?”

“The nearest village is Wyke, and it’s twelve miles the other way.”

“Where do you live, then?”

“Over that way,” he said, vaguely pointing with the lantern.

“You’re going home, I assume?”

“Maybe I am.”

“Then I’m going with you.”

The old man shook his head and scratched his nose with the lantern’s handle. “It’s no use; he won’t let you in… not him.” He growled.

“We’ll see about that; who is He?” I replied, briskly.

“The master.”

“Who is the master?”

“That’s none of your business.” He replied abruptly.

“Well, then; you lead the way, and I assure you that the master will give me shelter and dinner tonight.”

“Oh, you can try him!” my reluctant guide muttered; still shaking his head, he hobbled away like a gnome through the falling snow. Suddenly, a large structure appeared in the darkness, and a huge dog rushed forward, barking furiously.

“Is this the house?” I asked.

“Yea, it’s the house. Down, Bey!” He fumbled in his pocket for the key.

4

I stood close behind him – determined not to lose my chance at entry – and in the lantern’s light, I saw that the door was studded with iron nails – like the doors of a prison. In another minute he turned the key, and I pushed past him into the house.

Once inside, I looked around curiously and found myself in a raftered hall – which apparently had a variety of uses. One end had corn piled to the roof, and the other had flour-sacks, farm tools, and lumber. Rows of meat and dried herbs hung from the rafters for winter use, and in the center of the floor was a huge object covered in a dingy blanket that extended halfway to the ceiling. Lifting a corner of the cloth, I was surprised to see a telescope mounted on a crude, mobile platform with four small wheels. The tube was made of painted wood and wrapped in bands of rough metal, and the reflective glass was at least fifteen inches in diameter. While I was still examining the instrument, a loud bell rang.

“That’s for you,” my guide said with a malicious grin. “His room is over there.”

He pointed to a low, black door at the opposite side of the hall. I crossed over, knocked somewhat loudly, and entered without waiting for an invitation. A huge, white-haired old man rose from a table covered with books and papers, confronting me sternly.

“Who are you? How did you get here? What do you want?” He demanded.

“James Murray, attorney-at-law. Across the moor on foot. Meat, drink, and sleep.”

His bushy eyebrows bent into an ominous frown.

5

“This is not a boarding house,” he said, disdainfully. “Jacob, how dare you let this stranger in?”

“I didn’t,” the old man grumbled. “He followed me over the moor, and forced his way in before me. I’m no match for someone six foot two.”

“Excuse me, sir, but what gave you the right to force your way into my house?”

“The same right I would have to cling to your boat if I were drowning – the right of self-preservation.”

“Self-preservation?”

“There’s already an inch of snow on the ground, and it would be deep enough to bury me before dawn.” I replied.

He pulled aside a heavy black curtain and looked out the window. “It is true. You can stay till morning if you choose. Jacob, serve supper.”

With this he waved me to a seat, and sat down to resume the studies I interrupted.

Placing my gun in a corner, I pulled a chair to the fireplace and leisurely examined this new room. Though it was smaller and decorated more normally than the hall, it contained many curious things. There was no carpet on the floor, and strange diagrams were drawn on the white walls; shelves were filled with dingy books and scientific instruments I couldn’t even identify. Beside the fire was a small piano – wonderfully painted with medieval saints and devils. Inside the half-opened cupboard at the far end of the room was a large display of special rocks, surgical tools, crucibles, beakers, and chemicals; next to me – on the mantle – was a model of the solar system, a small battery, and a microscope. Every chair was filled with more items, and books were stacked high in every corner; the very floor was littered with maps, carvings, and papers. My amazement increased with each new object I saw; I had never seen such a strange room – especially not in a farmhouse on a wild, secluded moor!

6

I looked at my host, asking myself who and what he could be. His mind was remarkably sharp, but it was more of a poet’s mind than a philosopher’s. His broad temple protruding over his eyes and abundance of rough, white hair made him look like Beethoven; he had the same furrowing brow and deep lines around his mouth that gave him an appearance of deep concentration. The door opened while I was still watching him, and Jacob brought in dinner. His master then closed his book and invited me to the table with the most courtesy he had shown yet.

A plate of ham and eggs, a loaf of brown bread, and a nice bottle of sherry were placed before me.

“I only have the dinner of a poor farmer to offer you, but I trust your appetite will make up for the lack in taste.

I had already begun eating and excitedly announced that I’d never had anything so delicious.

He bowed stiffly and sat down to his own dinner which mostly consisted of milk and porridge. We ate in silence, and when we were finished, Jacob removed the dishes. I moved my chair back to the fireplace, and – surprisingly – my host did the same; abruptly turning towards me, he said, “I have lived here in retirement for 23 years. During that time, I have not seen many strange faces, and I have not read a single newspaper. You are the first stranger to cross my threshold in over four years. Will you tell me information about the world I have been away from for so long?”

7


“Absolutely! Ask away; I’m happy to be of service.” I replied.

He nodded and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees; staring into the fire, he began to question me. He mostly wanted to know about new scientific advancement and how it affects daily life; he was completely ignorant of such matters. I answered as best as my limited knowledge allowed, but it was not easy; I was very relieved when the interrogation ended, and he began discussing his own conclusions. I listened intently as he talked until seeming to forget my presence; I have still never heard anything else like it. His subtle analysis and bold generalizations spilled forth uninterrupted as he drifted from topic to topic. From science to philosophy and from the greatest doctors to the greatest artists – he seamlessly transitioned from one subject to the next. I have forgotten how he linked each point together, but it went beyond what any man could know for fact. He spoke of souls, psychics, ghosts, and prophecies – of things that skeptics say cannot exist.

He said, “the world grows more skeptical by the hour, and our scientists have a fatal habit. Anything they can’t prove with an experiment or dissect in a laboratory is disregarded as a myth. What superstition causes them to be so stubborn about the possibility of ghosts? Show me any fact in physics, history, or archaeology that has such a wide variety of testimonials. There are witnesses of all ages from every culture around the world, yet the supernatural is treated like a nursery rhyme by the philosophers of our century. Circumstantial evidence carries no weight in the matter; regardless of how valuable cause and effect might be in physical science – it’s worthless here. A reliable witness – despite being conclusive in a court of law – counts for nothing, either. A moment’s pause before speaking is considered a sign of lying, and believers are called fools.”

8

He spoke with bitterness and sat silently for several minutes before raising his head. With an indifferent tone, he added, “I investigated and believed; I was not ashamed to state my convictions to the world. I was also labeled as a visionary, ridiculed by my peers, and laughed out of the industry where I spent the best years of my life. These things happened just 23 years ago. Since then, I have lived like this, and the world has forgotten me – as I have forgotten it; that is my history.”

“It is a very sad one,” I murmured, not knowing what to say.

“It is a very common one; I have only suffered for the truth – just as so many others before me.” He rose – as if wishing to end the conversation – and went over to the window. “It has stopped snowing.” He observed, dropping the curtain and returning to the fireplace.

“Stopped!” I exclaimed, eagerly jumping to my feet. “Oh, if it were only possible – but no; it’s hopeless! Even if I found my way across the moor, I couldn’t walk twenty miles tonight.”

“Walk twenty miles tonight?” My host repeated. “What are you thinking?”

“Of my wife,” I replied, impatiently. “She doesn’t know I got lost; right now – her heart is breaking with worry and terror.”

“Where is she?”

“In Dwolding, twenty miles away.”

“Dwolding,” he echoed, thoughtfully. “Yes, it is twenty miles, but… are you truly that desperate to save just 6-8 hours?”

9

“Yes! I would pay a fortune for a guide and a horse!”

“Your wish can be granted at a lower price,” he smiled. “The night-mail changes horses at Dwolding and passes within five miles of here; it is due to arrive at the crossroad in an hour. If Jacob were to take you across the moor to the old coach road – could you find your way to where it connects with the new one?”

“Easily – and gladly!”

He smiled, rang the bell, and gave the old servant his instructions. Taking a bottle of whisky and a wine-glass from the cupboard, he said, “The snow is deep; it will be difficult to walk on the moor. Would you like a drink before you go?”

I would have declined, but he insisted so I drank it. It went down like a liquid flame and almost took my breath away.

“It is strong, but it will help keep you warm. Now, there’s no time to spare; goodnight!” He said.

I thanked him for his hospitality and would have shaken hands, but he turned away before I could finish my sentence. Outside, Jacob locked the outer door behind me, and we were once again on the wide, white moor.

Although the wind had fallen, it was still bitterly cold. Not a single star shined in the black sky overhead, and there was no sound to disturb the heavy stillness of night except for the crunching of snow beneath our feet. Jacob – unhappy with his mission – stumbled ahead with his lantern in sullen silence. I followed with my gun over my shoulder – not wanting to chat any more than him – and day-dreaming as I mused over my experiences. Thoughts of the old man filled my mind – I could still hear his voice, and his words had captured my imagination; my over-excited brain retained almost every detail exactly as he relayed them.

10

At the end, Jacob came to a sudden stop. “That’s your road. Keep the stone fence to your right, and you can’t get lost.”

“Then, this is the old coach road?”

“Yes, it is.”

“How far is it until I reach the crossroads?”

“About three miles.”

I pulled out my wallet, and he became more helpful.

“The road’s good enough for walking, but it’s too steep and narrow for the carriages. Be careful near the sign-post where the bridge is broken; it’s never been repaired since the accident.” He said.

“What accident?”

“The night-mail fell into the valley below; the drop is a good fifty feet or more. It’s the worst stretch of road in the whole county.”

“That’s horrible! Were many lives lost?”

“Four were found dead, and the other two died the next morning.”

“How long ago did this happen?”

“Just nine years.”

“Near the sign-post, you say? I will keep it in mind; goodnight.”

“Goodnight, sir, and thank you.” Jacob pocketed his money, lazily tipped his hat in farewell, and walked away.

I watched the light of his lantern until it disappeared, and then turned to go my own way. This was now a simple matter; despite the darkness, the stone fence was easily seen against the pale, gleaming snow. Only my footsteps broke the silence, and a strange, unpleasant feeling of loneliness consumed me. I walked faster, humming a random tune or adding large numbers in my head; I did anything I could to forget the startling claims I heard that night, and – to an extent – I succeeded.

11

Meanwhile the night air grew colder and colder, and though I walked fast, it was impossible to stay warm. My feet were frozen, and my hands went numb as I clung to my gun. Breathing also became difficult; it felt as if I were scaling a mountain instead of walking along a quiet road. It became so distressing, I had to stop and lean against the stone fence for a few minutes. As I did, I happened to look back up the road, and – to my immense relief – I saw the faraway light of an approaching lantern. At first, I thought Jacob had returned to follow me, but then I saw a second light next to it – moving at the same speed. I quickly realized they must be the lamps of a private carriage, though it seemed strange that someone would take their own vehicle down such a disused and dangerous road.

However, there was no doubt the lamps grew larger and brighter every moment, and I could even see the dark outline of the carriage between them. It was coming very quickly and quietly, and the snow was nearly a foot deep under its wheels.

Then, the body of the coach became visible behind the lamps, and it looked unusually tall. I suddenly became paranoid that I had passed the crossroads in the dark without noticing the sign-post, and wondered if this was the coach I had come to meet.

I didn’t need to wonder long; it came around the curve with a guard, a driver, one outside passenger, and four gray horses – all wrapped in a soft haze of light which made the lamps blaze like a pair of fiery meteors.

Apparently this story has been added to numerous collections, but I think this is from the original.

12

I jumped forward, waving my hat and shouting. The carriage came at full speed and passed me. I feared they had not seen me, but only for a moment. The driver pulled over, and the guard – wrapped to the eyes in blankets – was apparently sound asleep because he failed to answer me or make room; the outside passenger did not even turn his head. I opened the door and looked inside; there were only three travelers so I got in, slid into the empty corner, and congratulated myself on my good fortune.

The air inside the coach seemed colder than outside and was filled with a foul, wet smell. I looked around at my fellow-passengers; all three were men and all were silent. They did not seem to be asleep – but absorbed in their own thoughts. I attempted to start a conversation. “It’s intensely cold tonight!” I said to the man across from me.

He lifted his head and looked at me, but made no reply.

“The winter seems to have begun in earnest.” I added. He was staring at me, but he never said a word; it was so dim in his corner, I could not see his features clearly.

Any other time, I would have felt – and probably shown – my annoyance, but at that moment I felt too sick to do either. The icy coldness of the night air chilled me to my bones, and the strange smell inside the coach was making me terribly nauseous. I shivered from head to toe and asked the neighbor on my left if he objected to an open window.

13

He didn’t move or speak.

I repeated the question louder but with the same result. Then I lost patience and pulled the strap to open it. As I did so, the leather strap broke in my hand, and I saw the glass was covered with a thick coat of mildew that appeared to have been accumulating for years. This drew my attention to the coach’s condition; with the faint lamplight, I could see that it was in the last stages of ruin. Every part of it was beyond repair; it was actually decaying. The straps splintered at the touch, the leather fittings were crusted over with mold, and the floor was almost crumbling beneath my feet. The whole thing smelled putrid – like it had been dragged from an outhouse after being left to rot for years.

I turned to the third passenger and tried one more question. “This coach is in horrible condition. Is the regular mail-coach being repaired?”

He turned his head slowly and looked me in the eyes without saying a word. I will never forget that look for as long as I live; it made my heart turn cold – and still does even now. His eyes held an unnatural, fiery glow, his face was as pale as a corpse, and his bloodless lips were drawn back to reveal clenched, gleaming teeth as if he were in the process of suffering a painful death.

My next words died on my lips, and I was consumed by a dreadful fear. My eyes had adjusted to the gloominess of the coach, and I could see much better. I turned to the man sitting across from me; he was looking at me with the same startling paleness and stony glow in his eyes. Wiping my hand across my brow, I turned to the passenger next to me and saw— oh Heaven! How will I describe it?

He was no living man; none of them were! A low, glowing light reflected upon their awful faces, and their hair was still damp with the dew from their graves. Their clothes were stained and falling to pieces, and their hands were those of corpses long buried. Only their malicious eyes were alive, and they were all staring directly at me!

14

I screamed a wild, unintelligible cry for help as I flung myself against the door and struggled in vain to open it. In that one brief and vivid instant – I saw the moon shining down through a gap in the stormy clouds, the ghastly sign-post, the broken bridge, the plunging horses, and the black gulf below. Then, the coach lurched like a ship at sea followed by a mighty crash – a sense of crushing pain – and finally, darkness.

It seemed as if years had passed when I awoke from a deep sleep and found my wife sitting at my bedside. I will skip that scene and tell you the story she told through thankful tears. I had fallen over a ledge near the intersection of the old coach road and the new one; I was only saved from certain death by landing in a deep snowdrift at the bottom. I was discovered there at daybreak when a couple of shepherds carried me to the nearest shelter and fetched a surgeon. The doctor found me raving deliriously with a broken arm and a compound fracture of the skull. The papers in my wallet revealed my name and address, and my wife was notified. Thanks to youth and a healthy lifestyle, I was able to pull through. It goes without saying that I fell precisely where that frightful accident occurred nine years before.

I never told my wife these terrifying events; I told the surgeon who helped me, but he treated the whole adventure as a delusion. We discussed it over and over until we lost our patience, and then we dropped it. Others may form whatever conclusions they wish; I know that twenty years ago – I was the fourth passenger in that Phantom Coach.

Classics Translated

The Pale Man

Julius Long, first published in Weird Tales magazine, September 1934; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 



If you would prefer to hear this tale narrated, my very good friend, Danie Dreadful did another amazing job with this one! Here’s the Youtube link, and if you enjoy scary stories don’t forget to subscribe and check out her other videos!
Cover of Weird Tales September 1934 issue

An odd little tale, about the eccentric behavior of a strange guest in a country hotel

I have not met the man in room 212. I don’t even know his name. He never visits the hotel restaurant, and he does not use the lobby. The three times we passed each other, we did not speak, but we nodded politely. I would really like to meet him; it is lonely in this depressing place. With the exception of the old lady down the hall, the only permanent guests are the man in 212 and myself. However, I should not complain; this complete silence is exactly what the doctor prescribed.

I wonder if the man in 212 also came here to rest. He is very pale, but I do not think it is from an illness; overall, he seems rather healthy. He is tall, has excellent posture, and a brisk, athletic stride. His paleness must be hereditary, or he would tan under this burning, summer sun.

He must have driven here; I am certain he was not on the train that brought me, and he checked-in shortly after myself. After a brief rest in my room, I was walking downstairs when he was coming up. It is odd the bell-boy did not escort him.

With so many vacant rooms, it is also odd that he chose 212 at the far end. The building is long, narrow, and three stories high; the rooms are all on the east side since the west wall is flush with an old business. The dull corridor – with its stiff, bloated wallpaper – smells musty, and the dim light bulbs make it feel like a tomb. Disgusted by this hallway, I insisted on having room 201; it is located at the front and has a southern entrance. The clerk – a disagreeable man with a Hitler mustache – was reluctant because it is usually reserved for his more profitable short-term clients. Unfortunately, my stubbornness has made him an enemy.

If only I had been as assertive thirty years ago! I would be a full-fledged professor instead of a broken-down assistant. The casual way the president of the university recommended my vacation still hurts. There is no doubt he acted in my best interests; the people controlling my poor life always do.

Oh well, the summer’s rest will probably benefit me considerably; it is nice to be away from the university. There is something very satisfying about the absence of graduate students. If only it were not so lonely! I must find a way to meet the pale man in 212. Perhaps the clerk can make arrangements.

I have been here exactly one week, and if there is a friendly soul in this miserable little town, we did not meet. Although businesses eagerly accept my money, they deliberately avoid even the most casual conversation. I fear I will never be accepted by them unless I can arrange to have my ancestors recognized as local residents for the last hundred and fifty years.

Despite my cold reception, I go out frequently – secretly hoping to encounter the pale man. I wonder why he left 212; surely there cannot be much gained by moving one door closer to the front. I noticed the change yesterday when I saw him exiting his new room.

We nodded again, and this time I thought I detected a sinister satisfaction in his gloomy, black eyes. He must know that I am eager to speak with him, yet his demeanor discourages introductions. If he wants me to do all of the work – he can forget it; I am not the type to chase after anybody. The surly clerk’s shyness has been enough to stop me from questioning him about the mysterious guest.

I wonder where the pale man gets his meals. Instead of dining at the hotel, I have been going to restaurants in town. At each one, I asked questions about the man in 210, but no one remembered serving him. Perhaps he knows people living in this town, or he may have found a boarding-house; I must learn if there is one nearby.

The pale man must be difficult to please – he changed rooms again; I am baffled by his behavior. If he is so desperate for a more conveniently placed room, why not move to 202? It is the closest to the front they have available.

Perhaps I can use his relocations as an excuse to start a conversation. I might casually say something like, “I see we are closer neighbors now”… but that is too obvious; I must wait for a better opportunity.

He did it again; he is now in room 209. I am intrigued by his little game; I waste hours trying to understand the point. What possible motive could he have? It must be annoying for the hotel staff; I wonder how our combination bell-hop/maid feels about preparing four rooms for a single guest. If he were not totally dense, I would ask him – but for now, I am too exhausted to attempt such a draining conversation.

I am tremendously interested in the pale man’s next move. He must either skip a room or stay where he is because the old lady lives in 208. She has not budged from her room since I have been here, and I doubt she plans to.

I wonder what the pale man will do; I await his decision with the nervous excitement of a race-track junkie the night before a big race. After all, there is nothing else to do.

Well, the mysterious guest was not forced to remain in 209, nor did he skip a room. The lady in 208 simplified matters by conveniently dying. No one knows the cause of her death, but the general assumption is that she died of old age. She was buried this morning, and I was among the curious few who attended her funeral. Upon returning home from the mortuary, I saw the pale man leaving her room; he had already moved in.

He favored me with a smile, and I have tried in vain to decipher its meaning – it must have some significance. He acted as if there were a secret meaning that I failed to appreciate; though, perhaps his smile was meaningless after all, and only ambiguous by chance – like the Mona Lisa’s.

My man of mystery now resides in 207, and I am not surprised in the least. I would have been astonished if he had missed his scheduled move; I have almost given up trying to understand his eccentric behavior. I do not know a single thing more about him than I knew the day he arrived. I wonder where he came from – there is something indescribably foreign about him. I am curious to hear his voice; I like to imagine that he speaks the language of some far-away country. If only there were some way to trick him into a conversation! I wish I possessed the abundant confidence of a college boy – one capable of introducing himself to distinguished people without hesitation; it is no wonder that I am only an assistant professor.

I am worried; this morning, I woke up lying flat on the floor – fully clothed. I must have collapsed from exhaustion after returning to my room; I wonder if my condition is more serious than suspected. Until now, I have ignored the fears of loved ones. For the first time, I remember the prolonged handshake of the president when we said good-bye at the university; he obviously never expected to see me alive again.

Of course, I am not that sick; nevertheless, I must be more careful. Thank heaven I have no children to worry about; there is not even a wife since I was never willing to exchange a bachelor’s loneliness for a husband’s loneliness.

I can sincerely say that the prospect of death does not frighten me; speculating about life beyond the grave has always bored me. Whatever it is – or is not – I’ll try to get along.

I have been so preoccupied with the sudden turn in my own life that I neglected to make note of an extraordinary incident; the pale man has done something astounding! He skipped three rooms and moved all the way to 203. We are now very close neighbors and will meet more often; my chances for an introduction are much better.

I have confined myself to bed during the last few days and my food has been delivered. I even called a local doctor, though I suspect he is a quack. He looked me over with professional indifference and told me not to leave my room; for some reason he doesn’t want me to climb stairs. This bit of information cost a ten-dollar bill which he fished out of my coat pocket as instructed; a pickpocket could not have done it better.

The doctor was not gone long when the clerk visited; he feigned a show of kindly concern while suggesting I go to the hospital. It is supposedly very modern and all that. With more firmness than I have been able to muster in a long time – I told him that I intended to stay, and his posture stiffened as he departed with a gloomy frown. The doctor must have paused long enough to tell him a pretty story. Obviously, he is afraid I will die in his best room.

The pale man is up to his old tricks. Last night, when I walked down the hall, the door of 202 was open. Without thinking, I looked inside; the pale man sat in a rocking-chair, idly smoking a cigarette. He looked into my eyes and smiled that peculiar, ambiguous smile that has so deeply puzzled me. I moved on down the corridor, not so much mystified as annoyed. The whole mystery of the man’s behavior is beginning to irritate me; it is all so silly and pointless. I feel that I will never meet the pale man, but – at the very least – I am going to learn his identity. Tomorrow, I will ask for the clerk and interrogate him.

I know now… I know the identity of the pale man and the meaning of his smile. Early this afternoon, I summoned the clerk to my bedside. “Please tell me who the man in 202 is!” I asked abruptly.

The clerk stared, tired and confused. “You must be mistaken; that room is empty.”

“But I saw him only two nights ago! He is a tall, handsome fellow with dark eyes and hair; he is unusually pale and checked-in the same day as myself.” I snapped in irritation.

The hotel man regarded me doubtfully, as if I were trying to play a joke. “But I assure you there is no such person here. As for his checking-in when you did – you were the only guest registered that day.”

“What? I’ve seen him twenty times! First he had room 212 at the end of the corridor. Then he kept moving toward the front, and now, he’s next door in 202.”

The room clerk threw up his hands. “You’re crazy!” He exclaimed, and I saw that he meant it.

I immediately shut up and dismissed him. After he left, I heard him rattling the knob of the pale man’s door. There is no doubt that he believes the room to be empty.

That is how I came to understand what happened over the past few – including the significance of the death in 207; I even feel partly responsible for the old lady’s passing. After all, I brought the pale man with me, but it was not I who set his path. I cannot explain the mystery of why he chose to approach me room after room through the length of this dreary hotel, nor why he chose to visit the old woman.

I suppose I should have guessed his identity when he skipped the three rooms on the night of my collapse. In a single night, he advanced until he was almost at my door. He will be coming to inhabit this room – his ultimate goal – soon. When he comes, at least I will be able to return his smile of grim recognition.

Meanwhile, I must only wait behind my locked door.

The door slowly swings open…

Classics Translated

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Washington Irving, first published in 1819 in a collection of 34 essays titled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

FOUND AMONG THE PAPERS OF THE LATE DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER…

On the eastern shore of the Hudson, at the heart of a spacious cove near the Tappan Zee bridge, there lies a small rural port; it is properly known as Tarry Town, but some call it Greensburgh. It was named by the housewives of sailors who lingered in the Tavern on market days. Two miles away, there is a little valley among high hills which is the quietest place in the world. A small brook runs through it just gently enough to lull one to sleep; quail and woodpeckers are almost the only sounds to break the perfect tranquility.

As a child, my first time squirrel hunting was in a grove of walnut trees that shaded one side of the valley. I wandered in at noon, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and was startled by the roar of my own gun breaking the perfect stillness. If I ever wish to leave my troubling life and world of distractions, there is no better place than this little valley.

For those qualities and for the strange character of its inhabitants – who are descended from the original Dutch settlers – the glen became known as Sleepy Hollow; the wild children living there were called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout the neighboring countries. A drowsy, dreamy influence hangs over the land, spreading through the atmosphere. Some say the place was cursed by a German witch-doctor during the early days of settlement; others, that an old Indian chief held powwows there before the land was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. It is certain that some spell still holds power over the minds of the good people, causing them to remain lost in fantasy. They have all kinds of marvelous beliefs; they are prone to trances, strange visions, and hearing music or voices. The neighborhood is filled with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; shooting stars and meteors race across the valley more often than anywhere in the country. It seems to be a favorite trick of evil spirits.

The ghost that commands the most power is the apparition of a headless man on horseback. Some claim he is the ghost of a Hessian soldier who was beheaded by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War. Now, the country folk see him hurrying along in the gloom of night as if carried by the wind. He is not confined to the valley, and often extends his haunts to the connecting roads – especially to the nearby church. Respected historians who have carefully studied these stories claim that the soldier’s body is buried in the churchyard, and that his ghost rides to the scene of battle in a nightly search for his head. The rushing speeds at which he passes through the Hollow are attributed to his hurry to reach the church before sunrise.

This is the event that many of the region’s scary stories are based on; the specter is known as the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. These visions are not exclusive to the valley’s natives, but affect anyone who resides there for a time. However aware they are when entering that sleepy region, they eventually succumb to the witching influence and begin seeing apparitions.

I mention this peaceful spot with all possible praise; it is in such valleys that population, manners, and customs remain fixed while the outside world passes by unnoticed. They are like little nooks of still water bordering a rapid stream, undisturbed by the passing currents. Though many years have passed since I walked the drowsy lanes of Sleepy Hollow, nothing has changed.

Some thirty years ago, a man named Ichabod Crane came to Sleepy Hollow in order to teach the children. He was from Connecticut – a state which supplied the Union with pioneers for the mind as well as the forest; each year they sent woodsmen and teachers throughout the country. The name “Crane” fit his appearance; he was tall and lanky with narrow shoulders, long limbs, and feet like shovels. His head was small but flat on top with huge ears, green glassy eyes, and a long nose; from a distance, one could mistake him for a famine victim or scarecrow.

His log schoolhouse was a low building with one large room, and the windows were half glazed – half stuffed with leaves. When vacant, it was locked with a flexible twig twisted in the door handle and stakes set against the shutters. The school was built in a secluded but pleasant location at the foot of a wooded hill, next to an impressive birch tree and brook. From there, one might hear the low murmur of students studying their lessons – often interrupted by their teacher’s commanding tone as he urged the lazier children along the path of knowledge. He was a conscientious man, and always remembered the golden rule, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Ichabod Crane’s students were not spoiled.

He was not cruel, he did not enjoy disciplining them; his punishments were dealt with discrimination. The weak were not stricken with the same force as the strong, disrespectful brats who sulked and squirmed beneath the paddle. Ichabod called this “doing his duty by their parents”; he never administered spankings without reassuring the students they “would appreciate the gesture as adults.”

When school ended, he was even a friend to the older boys. On holiday afternoons, he escorted the younger children home if they had pretty sisters or mothers who might feed him as thanks. It benefited him to stay on good terms with his students. The salary from his school was scarcely enough to buy daily bread. Though skinny, he possessed the consumption powers of an anaconda; it was customary in those parts for the children’s parents to house their teacher. With that assistance, he survived week to week – making his rounds through the neighborhood with all his worldly possessions tied in a cotton handkerchief.

To prevent things from being too inconvenient on his host’s wallet – who often considered him a grievous burden – he had various ways to make himself useful. He occasionally assisted farmers in their lighter chores – making hay, mending fences, watering horses, driving cows from pasture, and cutting wood. Ichabod laid aside the dominant ego which he lorded in his schoolhouse empire – becoming wholly gentle and kind. He found favor with the mothers by coddling the youngest children; he would sit with one child on his knee while rocking a cradle with his foot for hours at a time.

In addition to his other skills, he was the best singer in the neighborhood and often earned extra money by teaching the young children hymns. On Sundays, Ichabod proudly gathered his chosen singers to stand in front of the church, where – in his mind – he completely stole the show from the pastor. It is certain his voice was the best of the congregation, and – to this day – his student’s descendants can still be heard singing on Sunday mornings. It was by these clever strategies the worthy teacher got along and was thought to have an easy life.

In the rural neighborhoods, women generally regarded the schoolmasters as important men with superior tastes and accomplishments when compared to laborers. When they come to dinner, special desserts are made, and the fine silver is used. Ichabod, therefore, was particularly happy in the country women’s company; in the churchyard on Sundays, he visited with each lady – gathering grapes and reciting poetry as his country bumpkin counterparts envied his elegance from a distance.

Thanks to his well-traveled lifestyle, Ichabod was also a walking gossip factory which meant his arrival was always met with satisfaction. Women respected him as an intelligent man for the many books he read, and he was an expert on Cotton Mather’s History of New England Witchcraft – in which he firmly believed.

He was actually an odd mixture of shrewdness and gullibility. His hunger for the extraordinary and ability to understand it were equally remarkable – and heightened by this spellbound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his curiosity; after school, he often laid in the clover-patches nearby and read old Mather’s scary stories until it was too dark to see the words. Then, at the witching hour, he made his way past the swamp, stream, and awful woodland to the farm where he was currently staying; every sound of nature excited his imagination from the moaning whippoorwills to the foreboding cry of the tree toads. The fireflies sparkled vividly in the darkest places, startling Ichabod when they shot across his path; if a large beetle surprised him, he thought it came from a witch. His way to combat the evil spirits was to sing hymns; the people of Sleepy Hollow were often filled with awe at hearing his nasal melody floating along the dusky road.

In the winter months, he enjoyed sitting by the fire as wives roasted apples and tended their needlework because they shared stories of the local haunts and Headless Horseman. In return, he delighted them with witchy anecdotes, dreadful omens, and old, Connecticut legends; though, they were frightened by his speculations of comets and meteors – especially coupled with the knowledge our world sits at an angle— rotating!

On his subsequent walks home, he paid for these pleasures in terror. Frightening shapes and shadows haunted his path in the dim glow of snowy nights. He eyed every trembling ray of light that reflected from distant windows. Several times along his route, he mistook the snow-covered shrubs for ghosts or shrank with fright at the sound of his own steps on the frosty ground; he could not look over his shoulder for fear of what he might see, and he was often dismayed by blasts of wind howling through the trees – believing it was the Galloping Hessian on his nightly ride!

However, these were merely terrors created by the mind; though Ichabod had seen many ghosts, daylight brought an end to all of these evils. He would still have led a pleasant life despite the devil’s work had he not crossed paths with an entity far worse than ghosts, goblins, or the whole race of witches combined— a woman.

Once a week, Ichabod gave music lessons, and one of his students was Katrina Van Tassel – the only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a beautiful, flirty eighteen-year-old with rosy cheeks and was adored by all. Her charms were perfectly accented by a mixture of old and modern fashions; she often wore a short petticoat and gold jewelry which her great-great-grandmother brought over from Saardam.

Ichabod Crane had a soft spot for women, and it is no surprise he favored Katrina. Her father, old Baltus Van Tassel, was a thriving, content, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom thought of anything beyond his happy, comfortable farm; he was satisfied with his wealth and did not spend it frivolously. His home was in one of those green, sheltered nooks on the Hudson, beneath the branches of a great elm tree. At the bottom was a spring of the sweetest sparkling well water which ran through the grass to a neighboring brook. Next to the farmhouse was a spacious barn big enough for a church. Every window and corner were filled with the farmer’s prized tools; swallows flew around the eaves, and rows of pigeons enjoyed the sunshine atop the roof. Heavy, grunting pigs ran about their large pens while squadrons of snowy geese swam in a connecting pond with ducks, and turkeys gobbled through the yard; a crowing rooster dug into the dirt and crowed called his family to enjoy the delicious worms.

The teacher’s mouth watered as he imagined the delicious holiday feasts. He pictured every pig already roasted with an apple in its mouth and a side of bacon carved out. The pigeons were put in pies and covered in crust. The geese swam in their own gravy and the ducks in onion sauce; around the turkey’s neck hung a necklace of savory sausages, and even the rooster lay sprawling as a side-dish.

Ichabod liked all of these, and then he saw the fields of wheat, rye, buckwheat, and corn; the orchards surrounding Van Tassel’s home were overflowing with fruit, and his heart yearned for the lady who would inherit them. He dreamed of selling them quickly so he might purchase large tracts of wild land to build upon. His busy imagination already realized his hopes and included Katrina with a whole family loaded in a wagon with all the household trimmings; then he included himself atop a pacing mare with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky or Tennessee.

Once he entered the house, Katrina’s hold on his heart was complete. It was spacious with sloping roofs, and built in the style learned from the first Dutch settlers; the low hanging eaves form a porch along the front that is capable of being closed up in bad weather. It is where the flails, harnesses and fishing nets were kept; a spinning wheel sat at one end, and a churn at the other. Benches were built along the sides for summer use, and from there, Ichabod entered the hall, which was the heart of the mansion. Rows of impressive pewter dazzled his eyes. In one corner stood a bag of wool ready to be spun, and in the other was a pile fresh off the loom; ears of corn and strings of dried apples hung along the wall with red peppers. Through an open door he saw into the parlor where claw-footed chairs and mahogany tables shone like mirrors; the fireplace irons glistened, and conch shells decorated the mantle while colorful eggs were strung above it. A great ostrich egg hung in the center of the room, and an open cupboard displayed old silver and china.

From the moment Ichabod saw these delights, he focused his efforts on gaining Katrina’s affection. For this endeavor, he imagined himself as a knight storming the castle gates to rescue the captive princess, but reality proved more challenging. He had to win the heart of a vibrant, clever woman while engaging in cut-throat competition against other suitors.

His most formidable adversary was a strong, burly man named Abraham who was considered a local hero for his amazing strength. He was broad-shouldered with short, curly black hair and a pleasant face; his Herculean strength earned him the nickname, Brom Bones, and he was famous for his skill with horses. As the strongest man in a country town, he settled all disputes with a tone of finality that left no room for argument. He would fight if necessary, but his heart was filled with more mischief than cruelty; beneath his rugged exterior was a great sense of humor. He had three or four friends who looked up to him as a role model and followed him around on his travels. During the winter months, he was recognized by his fox-tailed fur hat. Sometimes, his group would ride through town in the middle of the night, laughing and cheering; their neighbors woke with a mixture of awe, admiration, and goodwill. When any prank or brawl occurred in the vicinity, all shook their heads knowing Brom Bones was behind it.

Though this unruly hero displayed his affections for Katrina in rude, lustful ways, it was said she did not reject his company. His advances were meant to discourage rivals; when his horse was tied outside Van Tassel’s home on Sunday nights, all other suitors passed by in despair.

Ichabod was dealing with a formidable foe; a stouter man would have backed down from the competition, and a wiser man would have worried, but Ichabod possessed a happy mixture of flexibility and perseverance in his nature. He was yielding but tough, and though he bent – he never broke; he may have bowed beneath the slightest pressure, but when it was gone, he walked away with his head held high as ever.

To face his rival head on would have been madness; Brom was not a man to be thwarted. Therefore, Ichabod’s advances were smooth and subtle. He visited the farmhouse frequently as a singing instructor, but not much was gained in those visits; her meddlesome parents were quite the hurtle. Balt Van Tassel was an indulgent soul and always nearby, enjoying his pipe; he loved his daughter even more than his tobacco and spoiled her greatly. His wife was always busy with her housework but never far away. Meanwhile, Ichabod would carry on with their daughter by the spring under the great elm or walking along in the twilight hours.

I confess to not knowing how women’s hearts are won; to me, they are matters of riddle and admiration. Some seem to have only one way to win their affection while others have a thousand. It is a great triumph to gain the former, but it is an even greater victory to maintain a relationship with the latter because the man must face all types of rivals. This was certainly not the case with Brom Bones; from the moment Ichabod made advances – Brom’s interest declined. His horse was no longer seen at the farmhouse on Sunday nights, and a deadly feud gradually arose between him and the teacher.

If Brom had it his way, the matter would be solved with a duel, but Ichabod was too smart to fight when he was at a clear disadvantage. He had overheard the brute bragging that he would lay the teacher out in his own school, and Mr. Crane was careful not to give the man an opportunity. His tactics were infuriating to Brom; he and his goons were left with no choice but to waste money on pranks. They made loud noises outside his home, smoked out his schoolhouse by blocking the chimney off, and ransacked his classroom so he might blame witches. What the teacher found most annoying was being ridiculed in Katrina’s presence; the brute even trained his dog to whimper during their singing lessons.

Things went on this way for a long time without either man making progress. On one fine autumn afternoon, a pensive Ichabod watched over the students from his high stool – holding a scepter made of birch; it was a source of fear for all misbehaved children. On his desk were numerous items of contraband – everything from munched apples to pop guns. His dark mood had the children intently reading their books, and if they whispered to a friend – it was with one eye on their teacher. Class was suddenly interrupted by a dark-skinned man in old clothes; he was riding a half-wild colt with a rope instead of a halter. The stranger clambered up to the door with an invitation for Ichabod to attend a party at the Van Tassel home; after delivering his message, the visitor dashed over the brook and up the hollow – off to his next mission.

Now, everything was done quickly as the students were rushed through lessons without pause. Those who were quick-witted skipped more than half without fear of punishment while slower children were encouraged with a smack on the rear. Books were flung aside, inkstands were overturned, benches were knocked down, and school was dismissed an hour early.

Ichabod spent an extra half hour grooming and dressing; his only suit was a rusty black color, and his only mirror hung on the wall in broken shards. To make a grand entrance, he borrowed a friend’s horse and set out for the party. The animal named Gunpowder was a broken-down plow horse that had outlived everything but his viciousness. He was thin and shaggy with a head like a hammer; his hair was tangled, and one eye had lost its pupil while the other still had the devil in it. The steed’s master was the choleric Van Ripper, and some say he infused part of his own spirit into the animal; there was more of a lurking devil in him than any filly in the country.

Ichabod rode with short stirrups which brought his knees close to the pommel; his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers, and he carried his whip like a scepter. As the horse jogged on, his arms resembled flapping wings; a small wool hat rested atop his nose, covering his small forehead, and the tail of his black coat flapped on the breeze as they left the property of Hans Van Ripper.

It was a fine autumn day, and the sky was clear; some trees were already nipped with frost and turning brilliant colors of orange and scarlet. Wild ducks flew in file, barking squirrels were heard from the hickory groves, and quail whistled pensively from the fields. Small birds were preparing to fly south for the winter as they fluttered and chirped from bush to bush.

As Ichabod rode slowly on his way, he enjoyed every one of these jolly sights. Apples were all around him; some still in trees, some already placed in baskets. Farther on, he passed golden ears of corn, yellow pumpkin patches, fragrant buckwheat fields, and beehives; there he fantasized of being fed delicious pancakes by his lovely Katrina. It was with those sweet thoughts he traveled along the hills overlooking the mighty Hudson as the sun gradually made its way west. The wide Tappan Zee bridge prolonged the blue shadow of the distant mountain, and a few amber clouds floated in the windless sky. A small boat lingered in the distance, dropping with the tide while her sail hung uselessly against the mast, and the sky reflected off the still waters, causing the vessel to appear as if it were floating.

It was evening when Ichabod arrived at the castle of Heer Van Tassel. Old farmers appeared with leather faces, homespun clothes, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles; their wives wore small hats, long gowns, and homespun petticoats. The daughters were dressed almost the same way except for the occasional fine ribbon or white frock; the sons had short square-skirted coats with rows of brass buttons, and their hair cut to the fashion of the era. Brom Bones came to the gathering on his favorite steed. It was as mischievous as its master; no one else could handle the fierce horse. The man had a reputation for preferring vicious animals that could break the rider’s neck.

Inside the mansion were the charms of a genuine Dutch country tea table stacked with platters of delectable dishes, cakes, and pies; Ichabod patiently spent ample time with each dish. He was a kind, thankful man whose cheer grew in proportion with his filled stomach as some men’s do with drink. He could not help searching the room with his eyes and chuckling at the notion he might one day be the lord of such luxury. Then, he thought of how fast he would abandon the schoolhouse – snapping his fingers at Hans Van Ripper and any other who would dare call him comrade!

Old Baltus Van Tassel cheerfully visited with his guests; his attentions were brief but sincere whether it was a handshake or invitation to make oneself at home. When the music began, so did the dancing; the musician was an elderly dark-skinned man who had been performing in the area for over fifty years; he bobbed his head and stomped his feet with every note.

Ichabod was as proud of his dancing as he was his singing. To see his loose frame in full swing was like watching a Lord of Dance move about the room; not a single part of his body remained idle. Every child from the poor neighborhoods gathered at the windows, eyes wide with delight and grinning ear to ear. Katrina smiled graciously in reply to Ichabod’s lustful stares as they danced, and Brom Bones sat brooding alone in the corner – seething with jealousy. When the party ended, Mr. Crane joined the older folks who sat smoking and gossiping about the war with old Van Tassel.

There was the story of Doffue Martling, a large, blue-bearded Dutchman who almost stole a British frigate with nothing more than a gun, but it burst on his sixth shot. Then, there was a wealthy gentleman who shall remain nameless; in the Battle of White Plains, he parried a bullet with a small sword and felt it ricochet off the hilt. He was always ready to show the dent it left as proof. Many more fought equally well, but these tales were nothing compared to the ghost stories that followed; the neighborhood is rich in those treasures.

Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these secluded towns, but the cause for spooky stories in this region was Sleepy Hollow. There was something in the air that blew from that haunted place; it gave life to an atmosphere of dreams and fantasies that spread throughout the land. Several locals from the Hollow attended Van Tassel’s gathering and told the wild legends as usual. Very dismal stories were told about funeral processions and mourning cries occurring near the great tree where the unfortunate Major Andre was killed. They also mentioned the woman in white who haunts the dark glen at Raven Rock; she died there, in the snow, and is often heard screaming on winter nights before a storm. The most interesting stories, however, centered around the Headless Horseman. His patrols were heard more frequently in the past months.

The secluded church is a favorite haunt of the troubled spirits. It sits on a hill with its white walls shining through the elms. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water surrounded by high trees – beyond which are the blue hills of the Hudson. On one side of the church is a large brook running through a wooded hollow. In the past, a wooden bridge stretched over a deep, black part of the stream; due to the overhanging trees, it and the road leading to it were gloomy even in the day, but at night, it was a frightening darkness. This was a favorite haunt for the Headless Horseman, and where he was most often encountered. Old Brouwer – a hardcore skeptic – told of how he met the horseman when returning home to Sleepy Hollow and was forced to ride behind him. They galloped over bushes, hills, and swampland until they reached the bridge; then, the horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton, and threw old Brouwer into the brook before leaping over the treetops with a clap of thunder.

This story was immediately outdone by Brom Bones who mocked the galloping Hessian as a jockey. One night, when returning from a nearby town – he was overtaken by the midnight rider and challenged him to a race; he claimed his own steed defeated the goblin horse, but as they arrived at the bridge, the Hessian vanished in a flash of fire.

These tales were always told in the same, drowsy undertone, and the listeners only nodded with polite interest, but Ichabod hung on every word. He repaid them with long excerpts from his favorite author, Cotton Mather, and added extra events that took place in his native state of Connecticut or on his nightly walks around Sleepy Hollow.

The party gradually broke up. The old farmers loaded into their wagons, and for a long time, they could be heard rattling along the Hollow’s roads. Some of the ladies mounted behind their lovers, and their light-hearted laughter echoed along the silent woodlands. Ichabod stayed behind to have a moment with Katrina, now fully convinced he was on the road to success. I do not know what was said, but something must have gone wrong; when he left, he was noticeably crestfallen. Could the girl have been at her flirty tricks? Was her encouragement all a ruse to secure her conquest of his rival? Heaven only knows! The disappointed teacher marched out the door and straight to the stable where he roughly woke his horse from slumber.

It was the witching hour when Ichabod made his way home alongside the lofty hills. Far below him, a small boat sailed quietly down the river. In the complete silence of midnight, he could even hear the dogs barking on the opposite shores of the Hudson, but it was faint. There were no signs of life near him except the occasional cricket or frog.

All the spooky tales he heard that afternoon now came to mind, and the night grew darker as clouds covered the stars. Never had he felt so dismally alone, and to make matters worse, he was approaching the place where so many of those ghost stories took place. An enormous tulip tree stood in the center of the road, high above all the others, and acted as a landmark in the area. Its limbs were the size of ordinary tree trunks, twisting down towards the ground before rising back up. Being connected to the downfall of the Hessian, it became known as Major Andre’s tree. The people regard it with a mixture of respect and superstition; partly out of sympathy for its tragic namesake, and partly from the unfortunate tales told about it.

Ichabod began to whistle as he approached this fearful tree, and – for a moment – thought it answered him, but it was only a sharp blast of wind blowing through the dry branches. As he came closer, he saw something white hanging in the tree; he paused, but upon closer inspection – it was only scorched by lightning. Suddenly, he heard a groan; his teeth chattered and his knees struck the saddle, but it was only two branches rubbing together in the breeze. He passed the tree safely, but new dangers lay before him.

Two hundred yards away, a small brook crossed the road and ran into a marshy, wooded glen known as Wiley’s swamp. A few rough logs bundled together served as a bridge over the stream. To the side – where the brook entered the forest – a group of thick oaks and chestnuts cast gloomy shadows over it. Passing this bridge was the severest trial. That is where Andre was captured after soldiers ambushed him from the grove. Ever since, the stream has been considered haunted, and every child is afraid to cross it alone at night.

As the teacher approached the bridge, his heart began to pound, but he summoned all of his courage. Urging the horse into a run, he attempted to dash across the bridge, but instead of going forward, old Gunpowder turned away. Fear increasing with the delay, Ichabod jerked on the reins and heartily kicked the animal to turn him around, but it was all in vain; his steed only plunged into a thicket of brambles on the opposite side of the road. He resorted to using his whip on the poor horse who then dashed forward – snorting angrily – but came to a sudden halt that nearly threw off his rider. At this moment a splashing by the bridge caught Ichabod’s ear. In the dark shadow of the grove, he saw something huge, misshapen, black, and towering. It did not move, but seemed to meld with the darkness – like a gigantic monster waiting to leap out at the traveler.

The teacher’s hair stood straight up with terror. What was he to do? It was too late to run away; besides, there was no chance he could outrun a ghost – not one as fast as the wind. Summoning his courage he stammered, “Who are you?” But there was no answer. He repeated his demand in an even more agitated voice, and still received no reply. Once more he kicked poor Gunpowder in the sides, and with his eyes squeezed shut, he burst into song. Just then, the shadowy figure moved, and with one giant leap, it was suddenly standing in the road. The night was dark and dismal, but it was now possible to identify the unknown form. It was a large horseman, mounted on a black, muscular steed. He did not stop to speak but kept running along the road.

I hope this is some of the original artwork, but it was harder to figure out with this story.

Ichabod did not enjoy this strange midnight companion, and – thinking of the story Brom Bones told – spurred his horse in hopes of leaving him behind; however, the stranger sped up to match his pace. The teacher slowed to a walk in hopes of falling back, but the other did the same. His heart sank; he tried to resume singing, but his dry tongue clung to the roof of his mouth. His companion’s ominous silence was mysterious and appalling. On the next hilltop, the gigantic traveler was silhouetted in the sky, and Ichabod was horrified to see he was headless! He was even more frightened upon noticing the head was carried on the saddle’s pommel. His terror turned to desperation, and he kicked at Gunpowder hoping to escape, but the specter lunged forward as well. They raced along, stones flying and sparks flashing at every turn. Ichabod’s baggy clothes fluttered in the wind as he stretched his long body flat, over the horse’s head.

They had now reached the road which veers off to Sleepy Hollow, but Gunpowder – as if possessed – turned, plunging downhill. This road leads through a sandy hollow, shaded by trees; it crosses the bridge mentioned in the ghost stories, and just beyond is the whitewashed church atop the green hills.

For a moment, the steed’s panic appeared to give its unskilled rider an advantage in the chase, but the saddle girths came loose halfway through the hollow. Ichabod felt it sliding and seized the pommel – struggling to hold on – but his efforts were in vain; the saddle fell to the ground – trampled by his pursuer – but he managed to grab Gunpowder’s neck at the last moment. For a brief instant, the teacher dreaded Hans Van Ripper’s wrath because it was his best saddle, but this was no time for petty worries. The horseman was hot on his heels, and he was a poor rider before the added challenge of riding bare-back; he feared the high ridge of the horse’s spine would split him in half.

An opening in the trees gave him hope the church’s bridge was near. A reflection in the brook confirmed his suspicion; the church walls dimly glared under the trees beyond. He remembered that’s where Brom Bones’ ghostly competitor disappeared, and thought he would be safe if he reached the bridge. Just then, he heard the black steed snorting close behind and even felt his hot breath. With another convulsive kick in the ribs, Gunpowder sprang onto the bridge. He thundered over the reverberating planks, and looked back to see if his pursuer would vanish in a flash of fire and brimstone as the legends claimed. Instead, he witnessed the specter rising in his stirrups – preparing to throw his head at him. Ichabod tried to dodge the horrible missile, but he was too late. It crashed into his head, knocking him face-first into the dirt; Gunpowder, the black steed, and Headless Horseman passed by like a whirlwind.

The next morning, the old horse was found eating grass at his master’s gate – without a saddle – and his bridle was under his feet. Ichabod did not appear at breakfast or dinner. The boys gathered at the schoolhouse and strolled along the brook, but there was no schoolmaster. Hans Van Ripper began to feel uneasy about Ichabod and his saddle; an investigation began, and they soon found traces of his passage. The trampled saddle was in the road before the church, and the horses’ deep tracks led to the bridge. Once across, Ichabod’s hat was discovered lying near the brook – next to a shattered pumpkin.

The brook was searched, but the teacher’s body was not found. As the executor of his estate, Hans Van Ripper examined the only sack of possessions he owned; it contained clothes, a rusty razor, a worn hymnal, and a broken pitch pipe. Everything in the schoolhouse belonged to the community except for Cotton Mather’s History of Witchcraft, a New England Almanac, and a book about dreams and fortune telling. Folded inside the last was a scrap of paper filled with several fruitless attempts at love poetry dedicated to Katrina. Hans immediately burned both books and the poems, deciding his children would never go to school again; he never understood what use reading or writing could serve. Any money the teacher possessed must have been in his pockets.

The mysterious event caused much speculation at church on the following Sunday. Clusters of people gathered to gossip in the churchyard, at the bridge, and where the shattered pumpkin was found. The current circumstances were compared to the stories of Brouwer, Bones, and all the others; it was soon concluded that Ichabod was carried off by the galloping Hessian. Since he was a bachelor who didn’t owe any debts, no one worried any more about it. The school was relocated to a different corner of the hollow, and a new teacher was assigned.

An old farmer visited New York several years later, and returned with gossip that Ichabod Crane was still alive. It was said he left the neighborhood partly for fear of the Hessian and Hans; partly from shame at Katrina’s sudden dismissal. He moved across the country, studied law, was admitted to the bar, became an elected politician, wrote for newspapers, and was finally made a Court Justice. Brom Bones married Katrina shortly after his rival’s disappearance, and the way he laughed when anyone mentioned the pumpkin incident led many to believe he knew more about the matter than he admitted.

The old country wives, however, – who are the best judges in these matters – maintain Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; it is a favorite tale told often around the winter fires. The bridge was feared by the superstitious more than ever; in later years, the road was altered to approach the church by the millpond. The deserted schoolhouse soon fell into decay, and was rumored to be haunted by the unfortunate teacher; the plowboy sometimes claimed to hear a distant voice singing hymns on his evening walks home along the tranquil roads of Sleepy Hollow.


POSTSCRIPT

FOUND IN THE HANDWRITING OF MR. KNICKERBOCKER

The above tale is written almost exactly as I heard it at a corporate meeting in Manhattan where many of its most illustrious citizens were present. The narrator was a pleasant, shabby, old fellow in salt-and-pepper clothes with a sadly humorous face; he made such efforts to be entertaining – I strongly suspected was poor. When his story ended, there was much laughter and praise – particularly from the aldermen who slept for most of the time. There was one tall old gentleman with knitted eyebrows who maintained a grave and severe face throughout – sometimes folding his arms or looking at the floor as if contemplating doubts. He was one of those wary men who never laugh unless it is completely proper. When the cheers subsided and silence was restored, he leaned forward, one arm stretched high, and demanded to know the moral of the story.

The narrator – who was just taking a sip of wine – paused to look at the other man with an air of infinite deference, and lowered his glass to the table. “That there is no situation in life without its advantages and pleasures if we can take our jokes where we find them. Therefore, he who races ghostly troopers is likely to have a hard time of it. Ergo, for a country teacher to be refused the hand of a Dutch heiress is a certain step towards popularity.”

The cautious old gentleman knit his brows even closer in confusion at the extremely literal explanation while the storyteller eyed him with a triumphant leer. He observed that all of this was very well, but he thought the story a little extravagant; there were a couple points on which he had doubts.

“As to that matter, sir, I don’t believe half of it myself,” replied the storyteller.