Horror Fiction

Do Not Explore the Alaskan Wilderness

🚨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 - available on YouTube or Podcast. 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,

My friends call me Ray, but I’m changing the names of everyone else involved. We lived in Texas until last year when we moved to Alaska. There isn’t much I can say about my job without giving away the company, but – needless to say – my time is spent outdoors. Two years ago, my wife (Hailey) was involved in a car accident, and we fell on some fairly hard times. We also have two kids, so when it seemed like we were being offered an opportunity to get back on track – I could hardly say no. While we didn’t expect to love it out here, we thought it would be bearable long enough to pay off some debts… but no amount of research could have prepared us for this place…


It took over a year for my wife to physically recover, but she still suffers from PTSD. Working from home and not traveling on interstates fit into our new lifestyle nicely, though there are plenty of downsides. The fact that an ocean now separates us from the rest of our family is what bothers me the most. The kids didn’t want to leave their friends, but luckily they haven’t hit their teen years yet, or the resistance would have been much worse; Jason is only ten and Jenny is seven. Surprisingly, they’ve adjusted better than we could have dreamed.

The strange day and night cycles aren’t split into six month cycles like we had always heard; there’s a couple of occasions where it’s one or the other, but it’s mostly just long summer days and winter nights. The kids were happy to discover what a novelty it all was to everyone back home; during the first two weeks, they practically lived on FaceTime. It made us feel like everything would be ok – which was a big deal considering how poorly Hailey and I were coping.

The overall stress was unbelievable; moving to a new city is a major undertaking, but this was a different league entirely. We failed to appreciate the fact that Alaska is very cold; obviously, we knew it was something to prepare for in terms of buying the necessary supplies, but those who have never experienced a true winter simply can’t grasp how drastically it changes your daily life. We couldn’t afford four entirely new wardrobes on top of new tires and the countless other items we didn’t consider. Thankfully, our families were able to help; I don’t know what we would have done without them.

Our house is far nicer than what we had in Texas which was another plus for the kids if not slightly ironic. Normally, it’s more expensive to live in the city than in the country, but that’s not true here. We got a great deal on our house thanks to my company, but everything else is nearly double the price. We almost sold our vehicles rather than pay to have them brought over, but thank goodness we didn’t. Had we understood my drastically higher salary was to cover basic living expenses – I’m not sure we would have moved.

Our only neighbor (Odette) lives across the road; she and her husband bought their home over forty years ago, but sadly, he passed away last spring. She doesn’t get out often, but she’s very kind. The day we moved in, she came over with a delicious casserole; there’s nothing like a free meal after a long, hard day – especially when that day involved your first glimpse at the grocery store’s outrageous pricing.

Odette accepted our invitation to stay for dinner; she may be in her late sixties, but she can keep up with the best of us. She has a thousand stories, and the kids would have listened all night if we let them. Once they were finally in bed, the rest of us had coffee in the den… That’s when Odette’s stories started to get a little weird.

The light-hearted tone in her voice suddenly turned very grave, and her gaze dropped to the floor. “When you bought this house, did Allan tell you about any of the local legends we have around here?” Her words ran together as she blurted them out.

“Uh… nope; none that I can remember.” I was certain because there had been almost no contact with the actual owner; I looked to Hailey for confirmation, and she was also shaking her head. The drastic change in our neighbor’s demeanor made us feel like she was about to deliver terrible news – like one of the previous owners slaughtered his family or a serial killer was loose in the area – something dangerous.

“I had a feeling…” she sipped her coffee and took a deep breath before continuing. “Did you know Alaska has its very own Bermuda Triangle?”

We most certainly had not – but she told us all about it. Something like five out of every thousand people go missing around here, and most of them happen in that area. I was surprised but not necessarily frightened. A vast amount of the state is uninhabited; it wasn’t a stretch to assume people might go out, lose their way, and succumb to wildlife or the elements.

It was like Odette could hear the thought forming; that’s when she explained the Kushtaka legends. Apparently, Kushtaka are Otter-men. I remember hearing a few Bigfoot stories in the past, but nothing we dreamed could be real. Even as we listened to her describe the eight-foot-tall shapeshifters, I couldn’t create a serious mental image of a giant, man-like otter walking around on two legs – at least, not in a malicious way.

Our neighbor went on to describe how they would sometimes take the appearance of a loved one to lure their victims into the woods. There’s no shortage of people willing to give firsthand accounts of their own experience, though witness testimony doesn’t mean much to me. It seemed like the Kushkata were Alaska’s version of cow-tipping; just because something is impossible doesn’t stop everyone and their brother from saying it happened.

Even though these creatures usually lure victims to their doom – Odette claimed they sometimes appear in human form to approach those who are lost or injured. They pretend to offer the victim aid, but in reality, they intend to lead them deeper into the forest where they will turn the human into one of their own. I’m still unclear as to what that process entails, but I admittedly didn’t try very hard to learn. Even now it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around this.

When I asked Odette why she was telling us these things, she said it was because several years ago, her son (Cam) hired a Kentucky boy to work on his crew. From day one, they warned Kyle of the various dangers, but he thought they were “hazing the newbie”. When his aggravation began affecting his job performance, Odette invited the whole crew to a barbecue in hopes the boy would take her words more seriously… Unfortunately, he chose not to attend.

Then, at roughly 3:00pm the following Tuesday, Kyle signaled a bathroom break to his supervisor and stepped away; he was never seen again. No one expected him to actually vanish in the middle of a shift, but concerns grew rapidly when twenty minutes passed without his return. Initially, they hoped he was only trying to scare them for revenge; Cam and three others searched for him while the rest continued working. Formal searches were conducted over the following weeks, but there was simply no trace.

There’s nothing Odette could have done, but she clearly feels a deep remorse for his loss. Our hearts ached for the poor woman; Hailey and I found ourselves “believing” in the Kushtaka purely to ease her mind, but after she left, we began discussing it between ourselves. As someone who wasn’t raised with Otter-man lore, it was extremely difficult to take seriously, so what did we do? We turned to YouTube, and we discovered Alaska is known for many creepy cryptids, and Kushtaka stories are definitely among them.

The History channel has a great show called Missing in Alaska, and episode ten has what we were looking for. It told of a writer who came down to research the legend for a book, but he vanished, too! That’s insane! I won’t go through the whole video, but while it was enjoyable – it didn’t convince us Otter-men existed. We believed the locals truly believed in them, and that was good enough – we decided to humor the legend as a show of respect. Honestly, it encourages safer practices in the wilderness, and that can only be a good thing.


Overall, our strategy worked well, though I was admittedly nervous starting the new job when I learned some of our work would take us through the Triangle. My coworkers’ stories didn’t help, but after the first month passed without incident – things got easier. The days began to bleed together as life moved on in a beautifully mundane blur, and eventually, I forgot about the legends completely… until late February.

The job should have been simple; clear some land, do some digging, and get home before something gets frostbite. It was the same routine as any other day except for one thing – Jason’s birthday. He was disappointed I had to work and didn’t want to open his presents without me. We FaceTimed long enough for him to rip some paper, but the signal dropped. Luckily, Hailey had the foresight to give him the iPad first, and I felt less guilty about his decision to wait for the rest.

I worked like a machine; I didn’t even stop for lunch. My mind was laser focused on getting the job done and making it home. That evening, in the gray light of dusk, we packed up and made the short hike back to our trucks. It had been a long day, and no one lingered to chat. I was 5-10 minutes down the road when I realized my phone was back at the site. I had propped it up in a tree when talking to Jason and forgot to grab it when my hands were free again. If it had been anything else, I would have left it for the next day, but not my phone.

No thoughts of danger entered my mind; why would it? I was just going back to a place I knew well, and it would only take a moment to walk in, get my phone, and be back on the road. I drove as close to the site as safely possible and found myself running the rest of the way; I don’t understand why I felt so rushed. There was no doubt Jason had been fully engrossed in his new tablet all day – his other presents weren’t going anywhere – yet there I was – running through the wilderness like a total fool.

It was almost completely dark when I reached my phone. I hadn’t thought to grab a light so I’m not sure what I would have done if it had gotten dark first. As I stood there trying to turn on the phone’s flashlight, I heard what sounded like a fox crying out. A friend had recently found one trapped in an old hunter’s snare, and I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving if the same thing happened again.

I rushed off with my light pointed at the ground ahead. It made me nervous to leave the trail, but the cries sounded close by. I continued straight for twenty yards without seeing any sign of the fox. No matter how far I walked, it always seemed like it would be past the next shrub, but it never appeared. I must have walked 50-60 yards when the noise was immediately cut off – like someone pressed stop – and it suddenly began to snow. The weather out here is completely unpredictable, but that instance was strange even by Alaskan standards.

The howling wind was the only sound in the forest, and I had to move quickly. It doesn’t take long for flurries to become full-on snowstorms, and I didn’t want to think about what that could mean for me. I turned back the way I came as the snowfall increased, and the light began reflecting back into my eyes. The temperature was dropping rapidly, and my truck was the only shelter for miles. I opened the phone’s compass to ensure I maintained a straight line, but no matter which direction I pointed – it wouldn’t spin.

Hoping to use GPS, I hunched down against a tree and turned off the light while trying to open Google Maps, but there was no signal – not even to send a text. To make matters worse, I only had 48% battery remaining, and I was now surrounded by solid, white walls of snow. It’s a miracle I didn’t lay down to die on the spot; if I weren’t a father, things might have gone differently… I don’t know. Forcing myself to leave the tree’s illusion of safety was extremely difficult; I was practically crawling when I continued my desperate search for the path.

The wind tore into me from the right; my beanie doubled as a face-mask, and thankfully, I developed a habit of putting my gloves in a coat pocket, or they’d be in the truck with my boots and earmuffs. The body loses the most heat through its ears and feet. The added layer of my coat’s thick hood helped protect my head, but I feared the worst for my numb toes. No expense is spared when it comes to the boots we wear out here. They’re knee-high, insulated, and clunky as hell – perfect for the job, but awful for the roads. Like most of the guys – I change into something lighter at the end of the day, and that’s why I was out there in a pair of regular Red Wings.

Even though my feet were too cold to feel it, I knew each step forward was filling my boots with more snow as their rims dipped beneath the surface. If nothing else, the sheer weight increase was enough to be sure. My mind was overrun with daydreams of a life on disability after losing my feet; I would become an alcoholic, Hailey would leave me, the kids would hate me, and I would move in with my parents. It was as clear as the air was white as I realized my hands were also going numb from clawing myself forward against the worst gusts of wind. I would have cried, but I’m fairly certain my tear ducts were frozen shut. My… ‘snow-balls’… were lodged somewhere between my lungs, but I’m trying to keep this PG.

I was on the verge of digging a hole behind the next tree I stumbled into when I froze in place at the sound of a familiar voice calling my name. It was faint over the storm – I thought I imagined it, but then I heard it again, slightly louder. It was my boss, Brian. I screamed so loud, my raw throat felt like it was cracking open, but I wasn’t going to waste my chance at survival.

My heart swelled with overwhelming relief when he answered my cries, and I pulled myself upright while impatiently waiting for rescue. The wind calmed slightly, allowing me to hear his footsteps; the sound was both beautiful and terrifying. He was approaching from my left – that meant I had been going the wrong way. My sense of relief was tainted with horror as my brain entertained several what if’s in the short seconds it took for Brian to come into view. A fierce gust of wind stopped him roughly thirty feet away, and he shouted, “follow me” before turning to lead us back.

The thought of reaching my truck – mostly the heater – pushed away the flood of worst-case-scenarios; there would be plenty of nightmares and therapy bills for those later. Staying low, I hurried forward to close the gap between myself and Brian, but he was picking up speed as well. That was fine with me, the faster we got out the better, but I was so focused on trying to catch up that I failed to notice we still hadn’t reached the path. Even worse, I was moving at a dangerous speed with only a dim light pointed ahead of my feet. Any misstep could have easily twisted my ankle or worse.

Eventually, common sense took control over mindless panic. “Brian, wait!” I shouted as loudly as my raw throat would allow, but he didn’t seem to hear me. I tried again and again as we continued to speed through denser foliage. My feet were getting tangled in vines, thorny branches were tearing my coat, and I knew something was wrong… I should have known much sooner. Finally, I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around, and resumed moving as fast as I dared – fully aware I would not survive a fall.

My encounter with the… figure I called Brian played through my mind in a split-screen fashion alongside Odette’s warnings of Kushtaka taking on the appearance of friends to lure victims deeper into the forest. The only thing capable of pulling me from those thoughts was the horrifying sound of Brian’s voice calling out. “What are you doing? That’s the wrong way!”

I know it’s always a mistake to look back, but that’s exactly what I did. On the first glance I only saw an enormous, black shape dart past a tree and vanish from sight. My heart skipped at least three beats before I could force myself to move; the shape I saw was a minimum eight feet high, and there was a dark undertone in the voice that yelled, “come back, we’re trying to help you!”

It sounded so close when it spoke that I stumbled and couldn’t help casting a quick glance to my right. I didn’t think it was possible to feel more frightened than I already was, but the image of a giant, hairy, disfigured face was seared into my mind as I struggled to regain my footing. It was poking its enormous head from behind a tree; I can still see it clearly now, and there is little to no hope of forgetting in the future.

I’m not sure how long I ran, but it felt like an eternity. All I can say for certain is that I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and, eventually, I heard several voices calling my name from multiple directions in the distance. To say I was skeptical would be a vast understatement, but I didn’t know what to do. Every move felt fatal. What if they’re Kushtaka – or one of the several other cryptids I’ve heard about? What if they’re real people, but I run away? What if the first monster catches up while I’m standing here?

Hoping it was reasonable to assume monsters wouldn’t have flashlights – I decided to shout a tentative cry for help and run towards the first light I saw. Unfortunately, that cry turned into the high-pitched squeal of a teenage girl when a branch snapped directly behind me – in complete darkness. I surged forward – not sure if the snag at the bottom of my coat was real or imagined – and a dozen shouts rang out in reply. In seconds, spotlights were pointed in my direction, and the sound of weapons being prepared to fire was sweet, sweet music to my ears. I screamed, “it’s behind me” several times before collapsing, but I didn’t need to say more; everyone understood my meaning perfectly.

I was later told the Kushtaka probably left when it heard all the other people. As I thought, Hailey called Brian when I didn’t come home, and he took care of the rest. They all raced back to search for me; apparently there’s no point in wasting time with police in those weather conditions, and I’m grateful they didn’t. There’s no doubt I was close to the end.

After I collapsed, they zipped me into a sleeping bag Tommy had the foresight to bring from his truck, and basically carried me out of there like it was a body bag. I wasn’t too far off in the direction I was traveling, but I wouldn’t have found the trail. Even without the possible Kushtaka encounter or psychotic break – whichever you choose to believe – there’s no doubt I would have died out there if they hadn’t found me.

I had to spend a little time in the hospital because of the frostbite. It’s a very difficult healing process, but, miraculously, I’ve gotten to keep all my fingers and toes! I’m mostly ok now – but my sense of touch isn’t quite what it used to be in the worst places. There’s absolutely no circumstance that will ever get me to step foot into the wilderness alone again. In our original budget, we planned to live here for 4-5 years, but that increased with the unexpected living costs. I’m not sure if I can last that long…

Hailey and I have decided to call our families tomorrow in order to discuss possible options. If we could find jobs beforehand and arrange a place to stay while we look for a new house – it may be possible to leave sooner. We don’t plan to tell them about the Triangle – they would be deeply concerned for our mental health. We’re extremely unhappy, and I regularly work near dangerous wildlife; those are facts. I’m sure there are more, but those are enough.

I’m ashamed of how stupid it was to put myself in that situation at all, and it must be obvious to others. I can guarantee every person in our tiny town heard what happened that same day, but not one has questioned me about it. I don’t think I could say all of this if they did – not face-to-face – and I’m sure they know that, too, but writing it out like this… I don’t know, I kinda do feel a little better.


Well, that’s really all I have to say besides – thanks for doing what you do. Even if you don’t use this for your channel, I just appreciate that you took the time to read it. If I wasn’t trying to move away from this frozen wasteland, I would definitely be supporting you with more than likes and shares. Keep up the great work, and best wishes to you and your family!

Classics Translated

Chickamauga

Ambrose Bierce, first published in 1891; translated to modern English, otherwise left exactly the same.




Hi there readers! This one is really dark. A young boy is lost in the forest during the aftermath of a Civil War battle. I simply want to give fair warning to any who may wish to avoid gore and child endangerment. If either of these topics bother you, please Google a quick description this story before proceeding. Otherwise, thanks for being here, and I hope you know how amazing you are!

One sunny, autumn afternoon, a child strayed away from its home and entered the forest unnoticed. The boy came from a long line of adventurers and conquerors; he was happy for the chance to explore. From their earliest generations, his ancestors made their way over two continents, across the great sea, and into a third; war was their heritage.

The child was six-years-old and the son of a poor farmer. His father had been a soldier when he was a younger man; he fought against naked savages and followed his country’s flag south into civilized cities. He loved military books and still possessed a warrior’s spirit. The boy understood enough to make himself a wooden sword that he carried proudly – even if it was hardly identifiable to others. He often practiced with it in a sunny clearing while defeating invisible enemies, and this day, he found himself on the edge of a wide, shallow stream. The rapid waters blocked his advance against a foe that somehow flew across with ease, but the inspiring warrior would not be defeated. Instead, he found a place where the boulders were grouped close enough to jump across; then, he was finally able to defeat the enemy. With the battle won, protocol demanded returning to base, but like many great conquerors, he could not deny his lust for war.

Continuing from the creek, he suddenly found himself facing an even stronger enemy. A rabbit appeared on the path; it sat upright with its ears at attention, causing the child to scream and flee in an unknown direction. He yelled for his mother – crying and stumbling as his tender skin was torn by the cruel foliage. His little heart raced in terror; he was breathless, blind with tears, and lost in the forest! For more than an hour, he wandered through the tangled undergrowth until he was too tired to continue. A few yards from the stream, he laid down in a narrow space between two rocks and sobbed himself to sleep while still grasping his toy sword; it was no longer a weapon, but a companion. The birds sang merrily above his head, the squirrels ran from tree to tree, and somewhere far away was the sound of strange, muffled thunder. Back at the little plantation, men were hastily searching the fields, and a mother’s heart was breaking for her missing child.


Hours later, the boy woke at dusk and rose to his feet. He felt the evening chill in his bones, and he was frightened but no longer cried. After struggling through the undergrowth, he came to a more open area; on his right was the creek, and on his left was a gentle slope decorated with sporadic trees. A thin, ghostly mist spread along the water, and it scared him away. Instead of crossing back over the stream, he ran toward the dark, gloomy forest.

Suddenly, he saw a strange object moving ahead of him and mistook it for a large animal; he was not sure what kind, but thought it might be a bear. He had only seen pictures of them, and – being unaware of how dangerous they are – he vaguely wished to meet one. Then, something in the object’s shape or the way it moved told him it was not a bear after all, and his curiosity turned into fear. The boy remained still as it slowly came closer, and he grew braver when he saw the thing did not have long, menacing, rabbit ears. It is possible his mind was half-conscious of something familiar in the way it struggled along awkwardly, but before it was close enough to positively identify – he saw that others were following it.

There were many more approaching from both sides; the whole area was covered with them – all heading toward the stream. They were men, and they were crawling; some only used their hands as they dragged their legs along, and some only used their knees as their arms hung limply at their sides. Some tried to stand but fell back down; they did nothing the normal way, and the only thing they did have in common was the direction they traveled.

Some were alone while others were in pairs or small groups; they came through the gloom – occasionally pausing while others crept past. They came by the hundreds from as far as he could see, and the infinite forest was black behind them; the very ground seemed to be moving toward the creek. Occasionally, some men that paused would die, and some made strange hand gestures, grabbed their heads, or raised their palms to the sky like men do in church.

The child did not notice all of this, but it is what an adult would have observed; the boy only saw men crawling like babies. He was not frightened of them, but they were dressed in strange clothes. He walked among them freely, going from one to another and looking into their faces with childish curiosity. Each one was remarkably white, and many were streaked with red. Their color – and perhaps their disturbing behavior – reminded him of a clown he saw at the circus last summer, and he laughed as he watched them. These maimed and bleeding men crept along as ignorant of him as he was to their ghastly situation. To the boy, it was a merry spectacle. He had seen his father’s slaves do similar things while pretending to be horses for his amusement. Next, he approached one of the crawling men from behind, and jumped on his back.

The man fell flat to the ground, struggled to rise, and violently threw the small child to the ground. Then, he turned to show the boy his missing lower jaw; there was a great, red gap fringed with hanging shreds of flesh and splintered bone between his upper teeth and throat. His unnaturally shaped nose, absent chin, and fierce eyes made this man resemble a vulture covered in the blood of its food. He rose to his knees and shook his fist at the boy; terrified at last, the child ran to a nearby tree, climbed up, and looked at the situation more seriously. As he watched, the mass continued forward like a swarm of black beetles – dragging themselves slowly and painfully down the slope in absolute silence.

The haunted landscape began to brighten. Beyond the stream, a strange red light was shining, but the trees blocked out the view of its source. The eerie glow gave the creeping men monstrous shadows that imitated their movements on the grass, made the metal in their clothing sparkle, and tinted their faces with a red hue that highlighted their horrible injuries. The child instinctively turned toward the growing spectacle and moved down the slope with his mangled companions. He easily passed them in just a few moments, and – wooden sword still in hand – positioned himself in the lead where he solemnly directed the march; slowing to match their pace, he occasionally turned to ensure his soldiers did not fall behind. Surely, such a leader has never before had such followers.


As they marched closer to the water, they began to see various items scattered on the ground, but the boy did not think they were important. There were tightly rolled blankets bound with string, heavy knapsacks, broken rifles, and other things retreating troops often leave behind. The lowlands near the creek were trampled into mud by men and horses, and an older, more observant person would have noticed these footprints pointed in both directions; the ground had been passed over twice.

A few hours before – thousands of these desperate, wounded men and their more fortunate comrades had charged into the forest. They divided into battalions and swarmed past the sleeping child on every side; some had almost ran him over, but their loud noises did not wake him. They fought a battle very close to where he lay, yet he never heard the roar of their muskets or the captain shouting commands. He slept through it all, holding his little, wooden sword tight, but he was completely ignorant of the great struggle happening around him as countless sacrificed themselves for victory.

The fire beyond the tree-line on the other side of the creek was spreading, and the ground beneath its canopy of smoke glowed eerily. It turned the thin line of mist over the stream into golden vapors while the boulders gleamed with streaks of blood; those with less serious injuries had stained them when previously crossing, and the child crossed them eagerly as he continued toward the fire.

Standing on the opposite bank, he turned around to look at his marching companions. The stronger ones were already swimming across – pushing themselves to the limit with their faces plunged into the water. Three or four lay motionless and appeared to be headless; the boy’s eyes widened in wonder – even his naive ignorance could not accept such a situation. In reality, they had drowned; after drinking their fill – the men did not have enough strength to lift their heads out of the stream. Behind those, the open areas of the forest showed the child as many figures in his grim army as he started with, but not nearly as many were moving. He waved his cap for encouragement, and smiling, he pointed his weapon at a pillar of fire’s guiding light.

Confident of his forces, the boy entered the tree-line, easily passed through the red light, climbed a fence, and ran across a field – occasionally turning back to check his soldiers’ progress as he approached the burning ruins of a house. Everything was destroyed! Not one living thing could be seen, but he did not care about that. He enjoyed the spectacle and happily danced along with the wavering flames. He ran around collecting fuel, but every object was too heavy for him to throw, and the heat prevented him from getting closer. Frustrated, he flung his sword into the fire as an act of surrender to nature’s superior forces; his military career was finished.

When he turned away, he saw some buildings that looked oddly familiar – as if he had seen them in a dream. He was staring at them in wonder when the entire plantation and surrounding forest seemed to pivot. His little world spun, and he recognized the burning building as his own home!

For a moment, he stood frozen in shock at the realization, then he ran stumbling halfway around the ruin. There, easily seen by the light of the fire, was a dead woman; her white face was turned upward, her hands were clutching fistfuls of grass, her clothes were torn, and her long, dark hair was tangled with clotted blood. Most of her forehead was torn away, and her gray brain was protruding from a jagged hole in her temple that overflowed with frothy, crimson bubbles; it was the work of a shell.

The child moved his little hands in wild, uncertain gestures. He uttered a series of gibberish and indescribable cries that sounded like a cross between a chattering ape and a gobbling turkey; it was a startling, unholy sound. The boy, who was a deaf mute, stood motionless – his lips quivering as he looked down at the wreckage.

Classics Translated

Dagon

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

Considering I will die tonight – I am writing this under significant distress. I am broke and at the end of my drug supply; it is the only thing that makes life bearable. I cannot stand this torture any longer; I will jump out of this attic window and into the dirty street below. Do not think I am weak or a degenerate just because of my addiction to morphine. When you have read these hastily scrawled words, you might begin to see why my only options are to forget or to die, but you will never be able to fully understand.

Our cargo ship was attacked by a German sea-raider on one of the most secluded parts of the Pacific. It was at the beginning of the Great War, and the Hun’s naval forces were still at full strength. Our ship was a noteworthy prize, and the crew were treated with fairness and consideration as war prisoners. Our captors soon grew too comfortable, and five days later, I managed to escape in a small boat with enough food and water to last a good a while.

When I was finally free, I had no idea where I was; I have never been a good navigator. Based on the sun and stars, I guessed that I was somewhat south of the equator, but I did not know the longitude, and there was no island or coast in sight. The weather was fair, and I drifted aimlessly under the scorching sun for countless days while waiting to see land or a ship, but neither appeared. I became depressed as I floated alone across the endless, blue sea.

The change happened while I slept, but I will never know how; though my sleep was filled with troubled dreams, it was uninterrupted. When I finally woke, it was to find myself half-sucked into a slimy swampland of hellish, black sludge that extended as far as I could see, and my boat was grounded in the distance.

Though one might expect my first reaction to be shock at the extremely surprising change of scenery, I was actually more terrified than anything; there was a sinister quality in the air and putrid soil that chilled me to the very core. The ground was littered with rotting fish and indescribable things that stuck out from the nasty mud. Mere words cannot express the unspeakable horrors found in the absolute silence of vast, empty spaces. There was nothing to see or hear except for an endless sea of black slime, yet the landscape’s monotony and total stillness filled me with a nauseating fear.

The sun was blazing, and the cruel, cloudless sky was almost black – as if it were reflecting the inky ground. As I crawled into my stranded boat, I realized there was only one theory that could explain my situation. Through some kind of volcanic eruption, a portion of the ocean floor must have been thrown to the surface – exposing areas that had remained hidden for millions of years. The new land was so large that I could not hear the surging ocean no matter how hard I listened. There were no birds eating the dead things, either.

I sat in the boat thinking and sulking for several hours; now that it was laid on its side, the boat offered some shade from the sun. As the day progressed, the ground became less sticky and seemed like it would dry enough to travel for a short time. I slept little that night, and the next day, I packed my food and water in preparation for a journey; I planned to set out on foot in search of the missing sea and possible rescue.

On the third morning, the soil was dry enough to walk easily. The stench of the fish was maddening, but I had much bigger concerns and boldly continued my adventure. All day, I marched west using the highest mound on the rolling landscape as my guide. That night, I made camp, and the following day, I continued walking toward the mound; it hardly seemed any closer than on day one. By the fourth evening, I made it to the bottom and realized the mound was much taller than it appeared from a distance. Too exhausted to climb up – I slept in the hill’s shadow.

I do not know why my dreams were so wild that night, but I woke in a cold sweat when the half-full moon was high above the eastern plain. I decided to stay awake; the things I saw were too horrible to relive, and in the moon’s glow, I realized how unwise it had been to travel by day. Without the parching sun’s glare, my journey would have cost less energy; now, I felt quite able to make the climb that discouraged me at sunset. Retrieving my pack, I started up the mound.

I have said the unbroken monotony of the rolling plain was horrifying, but I was even more frightened when I reached the summit. Down the other side, I saw an immeasurable pit, but the moon was not yet high enough to light up its black crevices. It felt like I was on the edge of the world – looking over the rim and into an infinite chaos of eternal night. Mixed in with my terror were odd memories of Paradise Lost and Satan’s hideous climb through the realms of darkness.

As the moon rose higher, I began to see the valley’s slopes were not quite as perpendicular as I imagined. Ledges and rock protrusions provided fairly easy foot-holds for climbing down, and after a few hundred feet, the drop lessened gradually. Urged on by an impulse I cannot explain, I scrambled down the rocks and stood on the gentler slope beneath – gazing into the black depths where the light had yet to reach.

Suddenly, I noticed a huge object on the steep slope opposite of my position, and it gleamed white in the moon’s rays. I assured myself it was only a gigantic piece of stone, but I was aware that its shape and location were not Nature’s doing. A closer inspection filled me with sensations I cannot express. Despite its enormous size and the fact it sat at the bottom of the sea since the world was young – I knew without a doubt it was a statue; living and thinking creatures had worked on – and perhaps even worshiped – the massive object.

Though dazed and frightened, I still felt a certain thrill of scientific delight as I examined my surroundings more closely. The moon – now near its highest point – shined weirdly and vividly above the towering peaks surrounding the valley; it revealed a body of water flowing at the bottom – winding out of sight in both directions and almost lapping my feet on the slope. Across the chasm, the waves washed the base of the ancient statue, and I could see traces of inscriptions and crude sculptures. The hieroglyphics were unknown to me, and unlike anything I had ever seen in books; they mostly consisted of conventional aquatic symbols such as fish, eels, octopi, crustaceans, mollusks, and whales. Several characters obviously represented marine-life unknown to the modern world, but I witnessed many of their decomposing bodies along my journey.

Thanks to their enormous size, a group of statues were plainly visible on the other side of the valley. I think these things were meant to resemble men; the creatures appeared to be worshiping some kind of monolithic shrine that was also beneath the waves. I dare not speak of their features in detail; the mere thought of it makes me feel faint. They were more grotesque than even Poe could imagine; their general shapes were unquestionably human despite having webbed hands and feet, wide, flabby lips, bulging eyes, and other unpleasant features. They were also carved out of proportion with their background; one of the creatures was in the process of killing a whale that was only a little larger than himself.

After a moment’s thought, I decided they must be the imaginary gods of some primitive tribe – one whose last descendant died ages before the first Neanderthal was born. This unexpected glimpse into the past was far beyond what any anthropologist could dare to imagine. I stood there contemplating this while the moon cast strange reflections on the silent waters before me.

Then, I suddenly saw something giant and repulsive emerge from the dark waters. Only a slight ripple indicated its rise to the surface. The nightmarish monster darted to the monolith and flung its enormous, scaly arms around it while bowing its hideous head and crying; I think I went mad.

I do not remember much of my frantic climb up the slope or delirious journey back to the boat. I believe I sang a lot and laughed when I was unable to sing. I have partial memories of a big storm happening at some point after reaching the boat; I know I heard thunder and the other sounds seemed to also be from bad weather.

The next time I woke, I was in a San Francisco hospital; I had been brought there by the captain of an American ship that found my boat in the middle of the ocean. I said many things in my delirious state, but no one paid any attention to my words. The people who rescued me knew nothing about the landmass in the Pacific, and I decided not to bother them with it. Eventually, I asked a respected professor who specialized in ancient societies a few questions about the Philistine legend of Dagon, the Fish-God – but I gave up soon after his conservative beliefs became obvious.

At night, especially when the moon is half-full, I still see that thing. I tried morphine, but it only provides temporary relief, and it has turned me into a hopeless slave. Now that I have written a full account to inform or amuse my fellow man, I will end it all. I often ask myself if it could have been pure fantasy – a heat-stroke induced hallucination as I laid raving in the boat after my escape – but I always see the same hideously vivid vision in reply. I cannot think of the deep sea without shivering at the nameless things that may be crawling on its slimy bottom – worshiping their ancient stone idols and carving their own disgusting images on giant slabs of submerged granite. I dream of a day when they might rise above the waters to drag the puny remnants of mankind down in their horrible talons— of a day when the land will sink, and the dark ocean floor will rise among universal chaos.

The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as if some giant, slippery body is moving against it. It will not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!

Classics Translated

The Room in the Tower

E.F. Benson, first published in 1912; translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

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

It is probable that every lucid dreamer has had at least one dream come true. In my opinion, it would be more strange if it did not happen occasionally; our dreams involve people we know, places we are familiar with, and events that naturally occur anyway. It is true they might include impossible or absurd details, but – based purely on statistics – it is not unlikely for some to come true. For example, not long ago, one of my unremarkable dreams came true. I will tell you what happened.

A friend of mine who lives abroad is kind enough to write to me every couple of weeks. When that much time has passed, I know to expect a letter soon. One night last week, I dreamed that I was going upstairs to dress for dinner when the mailman knocked on the door; I went downstairs and among my other letters was one from my friend. After that is when the absurd part happened; when I opened it, there was an ace of diamonds inside and written on it was, “I am sending you this for safe keeping. You know it is risky to keep aces in Italy.”

The next evening – just as I was preparing to go upstairs and dress for dinner – I heard the mailman’s knock and did precisely as I had in my dream. Among the letters was one from my friend, but it did not contain the ace of diamonds. If it had, I would have been more impressed, but this was a perfectly ordinary coincidence. Obviously, I consciously or subconsciously expected a letter from him which is what influenced my dream in the first place. Also, the fact my friend had not written for two weeks influenced him to do so in the same way. Although, sometimes it is much harder to explain, and for the following story, I can find no explanation at all. It came out of the dark, and into the dark it has gone again.

All my life I have been a lucid dreamer; I spend my nights in a series of long, dazzling adventures. They are almost always pleasant, though most are trivial. The story I am about to share is a rare exception.


I was about sixteen the first time I had the dream. It started with me at the door of a big, red-brick house. The servant who greeted me said tea was being served in the garden, and he led me through a low, dark hall with a large fireplace to a cheerful green lawn with flower beds. A small gathering was grouped around the tea-table, but I only knew one person; he was an old classmate named Jack Stone, and his father owned the house. He introduced me to his parents and two sisters, and I was somewhat surprised. I hardly knew the boy and rather disliked what little I did know; plus, he quit school the previous year. The afternoon was stifling hot, and the yard was bordered by a red-brick wall with an iron gate in the center, and a walnut tree beyond it. We sat in the house’s shadow across from a row of windows, and inside, I could see a table glimmering with glass and silver. The front of the house was very long, and at one end was a three-story tower that looked much older than the rest of the building.

Soon, Mrs. Stone – who had sat in absolute silence like everyone else – said, “Jack will show you to your room at the top of the tower.”

For some inexplicable reason, my heart sank at her words. It was like I had already known I would get that room, and there was something important yet dreadful about it. Jack got up instantly, and I knew I had to follow him. We passed through the hall in silence and went up a great oak staircase with many corners before arriving at a small two-door landing. He pushed one open and closed it behind me; then, I knew my suspicion was correct. Something awful was in the room, and my fear grew quickly until I woke in a fit of terror.

I experienced variations of that dream at random intervals for fifteen years, but it usually happened exactly as I said. After arriving, tea is served in the silent garden before that one, terrible sentence is spoken. Jack Stone always guides me through the horrifying tower, and the nightmare ends with some unseen terror in my room. Other times, it is a variation of the same thing. Occasionally, we would be eating in the dining-room, but it remained silent with the same suffocating dread no matter where we were. The silence would always be broken by Mrs. Stone saying, “Jack will show you to your room at the top of the tower.”

Then, I would follow him up the square staircase and enter the place I feared more and more each time I dreamed of it. Otherwise, I would find myself playing cards in the silent den lit with enormous, blinding chandeliers. I have no idea what the game was; I only remember feeling miserably anxious that Mrs. Stone would send me to the tower soon. The den was next to the brightly lit dining-room, but the rest of the house was dim and full of shadows. Despite the bright lights, I often had a hard time seeing the cards that were dealt to me. Their colors were strange; there were no red suits – only black – and some cards were completely black all over. I hated and dreaded those.

As this dream continued to recur, I became familiar with most of the house. Beyond the den, there was a smoking-room with a green door at the end of the hall. It was always very dark, and I would pass somebody I could not see as they were coming out. Over the years, characters in the dream aged as people might in real life. When I first saw Mrs. Stone, she had black-hair and moved briskly, but now, she was gray and feeble. Jack grew into a rather sickly young man with a brown mustache, and one of the sisters stopped appearing when she married.

Then, I did not have the dream for six months or more; I began to hope they were over with, but one night after this break, I found myself being escorted onto the lawn for tea once again. Mrs. Stone was not there, and the others were all dressed in black. I guessed the reason immediately, and my heart leapt at the thought that I would not have to sleep in the tower room. Though we normally sat in silence, the sense of relief made me talk and laugh as I never had before, but even then it was uncomfortable; no one else spoke – they only shared secret glances with each other. Soon, my foolish talk ran dry, and as the light slowly faded, I grew more anxious than on any previous visit.

Suddenly, a familiar voice broke the silence; it was Mrs. Stone saying, “Jack will show you to your room at the top of the tower.” It seemed to come from somewhere near the gate, and when I looked up, the yard was covered in gravestones. They glowed with a strange, grayish light, and the grave closest to me read, “In evil memory of Julia Stone.” As usual, I followed Jack through the hall and up the squared staircase. This time, it was darker than usual, and when I entered the room, I could only see the furniture. There was also a dreadful smell of decay, and I woke up screaming.

The dream continued to occur at random intervals for fifteen years. Sometimes, I would have it two or three nights in a row; aside from the six month break – it happened roughly once a month on average. It always ended with the same awful terror, and each experience frightened me as badly as the first. There was also a strange and dreadful consistency to it. The characters aged regularly, there were deaths and marriages in the silent family, and after Mrs. Stone died, I never saw her again – but it was still her voice that spoke to me. I could always see her gravestone just outside the iron gate. It was the same with the married daughter; usually, she was not present, but once or twice she returned with a man I thought to be her husband. He, too, was always silent, but due to the constant repetition of the dream, I stopped thinking that was significant. I never met Jack Stone again, nor did I ever see a dark house that resembled the one in my dream. Then, something happened.


This year, I was in London until the end of July. During the first week of August, I left to stay with a friend; he had rented a summer house in the Ashdown Forest district of Sussex. John Clinton planned to meet me at Forest Row Station, and we spent the day golfing before he drove us to his house at roughly 5:00 that evening. Since it was still so early, we waited to have tea at home instead of having it at the club house. The weather had been hot and wonderfully fresh that day, but it became stagnant and oppressive during our drive. I felt that indescribable sense of ominous anxiety that I get before a storm. John, however, did not share my concerns; he blamed my attitude on the fact that I lost both the matches. Regardless, I turned out to be right, but I do not think that night’s thunderstorm was the only cause of my depression.

Our road ran through a deep valley, and I fell asleep quickly; I only woke when the motor stopped. Partly frightened but mostly curious, I found myself standing in front of my dream house. I wondered if I was dreaming at that moment when we walked through a low, oak-paneled hall and out to the lawn. Tea was being served in the house’s shadow. It was surrounded by flower beds and a gated red-brick wall; beyond that was an area with rough grass and a walnut tree. The front of the house was very long, and one end had a three-story tower that was noticeably older than the rest.

It was no longer like the dream; there was no silent and terrible family. Instead, there was a large group of very cheerful people, and I knew them all. I did not feel frightened in real life like I normally did in the dream, but I was very curious about what would happen.

We drank tea, and before long Mrs. Clinton stood up. At that moment, I knew what she was going to say. She told me, “John will show you to your room in the tower.”

For half a second, the horror from my dreams consumed me again but quickly passed, and the intense curiosity returned; it did not take long to satisfy.

John turned to me. “It’s at the top of the house, but I think you’ll be comfortable; the other rooms are already taken. Would you like to see it now?” He looked up as he said this. “My goodness, I believe you’re right; there’s going to be a thunderstorm. It has gotten quite dark.” He added.

I rose and followed him as we passed through the hall and up the perfectly familiar staircase. I entered when he opened the door and was immediately struck with another wave of sheer terror. Suddenly, I remembered my fear of Mrs. Stone and her grave’s sinister inscription, “In evil memory.” I saw it often in my sleep – just past the lawn beneath my window. Then, once again, the fear passed, and I was left sane and sober inside the tower room – the very same one from my dream.

I looked around with a sense of familiarity and found that nothing had been changed from the dream version. The bed was angled along the wall to the left of the door; next to it was the fireplace and a small bookcase. Across from the door were two lattice-paned windows with a vanity between them. On the fourth wall was the washing-stand and a big cupboard. My luggage was already unpacked; my night clothes were laid neatly on the wash-stand, and my dinner clothes were spread out atop the bed. With a sudden jolt of dismay, I saw two things I had never seen in my dreams. One was a life-sized oil painting of Mrs. Stone hanging next to the bed, and the other was a black-and-white sketch of Jack Stone as he had appeared in my dreams a week before – a secretive, evil-looking man of about thirty. His picture hung between the windows, staring straight across the room at the other portrait. I also looked at it, and once again, I was filled with the horror from my nightmares.

It showed Mrs. Stone as I had last seen her in my dreams – old, withered, and white-haired. Despite her obviously feeble body, a dreadful vitality was beneath her fleshy shell – a malignant excitement radiated unimaginable evil from her narrow, leering eyes; it laughed with a demon-like mouth. Her face expressed an appalling humor, and her hands – clasped together on her knee – shook with joy. I also saw it was signed in the bottom left corner and wondered who the artist could be; looking closer, I read the inscription, “Julia Stone by Julia Stone.”

There was a knock at the door, and John Clinton entered. “Got everything you want?” he asked.

“Rather more than I want.” I said, pointing to the picture.

He laughed. “Hard-featured old lady. She was alone, too, I remember. Anyhow, she sure didn’t flatter herself much.”

“But don’t you see?” I said. “It’s hardly a human face at all. It’s the face of some witch or devil.”

He took a closer look. “Yes; it isn’t very pleasant. Especially not next to the bed, eh? Yes; I’d probably have a nightmare if I slept with that nearby. I’ll have it removed if you like.”

“I really wish you would.” I said.

He rang the bell, and a servant helped us remove the picture; it was taken out onto the landing and left facing the wall.

“My goodness, the old lady is heavy; I wonder if she had something on her mind.” John said, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

I had also noticed the picture’s extraordinary weight; I was about to reply when I saw a considerable amount of blood covering my palm. “I’ve cut myself somehow.” I said.

John was slightly startled. “Huh, I have too.” He said, cleaning the blood from his own hand with a handkerchief.

John and I returned to the tower room and washed the blood off, but neither of us had any trace of a scratch or cut. Once we realized this, we made an unspoken agreement not to mention it again. Then, something occurred to me that I did not want to think about. It was only a theory, but somehow, I knew John thought the same thing.


The air grew hotter and thicker after dinner; a storm was brewing, and most of us were sitting outside on the lawn where we had tea. The night was completely dark; no light from the stars or moon could penetrate the ominous clouds covering the sky. Our group slowly dispersed; the women went to bed, men retired to the smoking-room, and by 11:00, John and I were the only two left. All evening, I had thought there was something on his mind, and now that we were alone, he confirmed it.

“Did you notice the man who helped us with the picture also had blood on his hand? Just now, I asked him if he cut himself, and he supposed he had, but he could not find an actual wound. So, where did that blood come from?” He said.

Up to that point, I had succeeded in not thinking about it, and I especially did not want to be reminded of it at bedtime. “I don’t know, and I don’t really care as long as the picture of Mrs. Stone is gone.” I said.

He stood. “But it’s odd. Ha! Now you’ll see another odd thing.”

His Irish terrier came outside as we talked. The hall door was open behind us; its bright light shined across the yard and beyond the iron gate to the walnut tree. The dog’s hackles were raised, bristling with fear and rage; his lips were curled back as he growled, ready to pounce. He did not notice John or myself as he stiffly walked across the lawn to the gate. He stood there, growling and looking through the bars until he seemed to lose his nerve. With one long howl, he cowered and hurried back to the house.

“He does that half-a-dozen times a day. He sees something he both hates and fears.” John said.

I walked to the gate and looked over it. Something in the grass was moving, and there was a sound I could not immediately identify, but I soon realized it was only a purring cat. I lit a match and saw the big, blue Persian prancing around excitedly just outside the gate. Its tail was raised proudly, and its eyes shined brightly as it occasionally sniffed at the grass.

I laughed. “I’m afraid that’s the end of the mystery. Here’s a large cat having a party all alone.”

“Yes, that’s Darius; he spends half the day and all night there, but that’s not the end of the dog mystery. He and Toby are best friends – this is only the beginning of the cat mystery. What’s the cat doing there? Why is it that Darius is happy, but Toby is terrified?” John said.

At that moment, I remembered the horrible part of my dream where I see through the gate. The cat was standing exactly where the white tombstone with the sinister inscription is normally located. Before I could speak, it suddenly began raining like someone turned on a faucet. The big cat squeezed through the bars and ran into the house for shelter where it sat in the doorway, eagerly looking out into the darkness. When John pushed it back in order to close the door, it hissed and scratched at him.

With Julia Stone’s picture in the hallway, the tower room did not frighten me. Feeling very sleepy, I went to bed with only a mild interest in the strange occurrences of our bleeding hands and the pets’ behavior. The last thing I saw was the square, empty space where the portrait had been; there, the wallpaper was its original dark, red color, but it was faded everywhere else. After blowing out my candle, I fell asleep instantly.


My waking was equally instantaneous; I sat straight up thinking a bright light had been flashed in my face, but all was pitch black. I knew I was in the room from my terrifying dreams, but the fear I felt in those did not come close to the horror that now consumed me. Thunder cracked above the house immediately after the flash, but knowing it was probably lightning that woke me did not calm my racing heart. I knew something was in the room with me; instinctively, I reached for the wall with my right hand and touched the edge of a picture-frame.

I leapt out of bed, bumping the small table beside it, and I heard my watch, candle, and matches clatter to the floor. A blinding flash erupted from the clouds to show me the picture of Mrs. Stone was once again hanging on the wall, and the room instantly returned to blackness. In that flash, I also saw a figure leaning over the end of my bed – watching me. Its tight, white garment was spotted with mold, and its face matched the one from the portrait.

Overhead, the thunder roared, and when it stopped, all was deathly still. I heard a rustling as something moved closer, and even worse, there was a rotten stench of decay. That is when a hand was laid on the side of my neck, and I heard quick, eager breaths next to my ear. Even though this thing could be touched, smelled, seen, and heard, I knew it was not of this earth; it was something that left the body and had the power to manifest itself. Then, a familiar voice spoke.

“I knew you would come to the room in the tower; I have been waiting for a long time. At last, you have come. Tonight, I will feast, and soon, we will feast together.” It said as the quick breathing came close enough to feel on my neck.

The terror had temporarily paralyzed me, but now a wild instinct of self-preservation took control. I flailed both arms wildly while kicking my legs, and I heard a small animal-squeal as something soft dropped beside me with a thud. I took a few steps forward, nearly tripping over whatever lay there, and – by sheer luck – I found the exit. In another second, I ran out onto the landing and slammed the door behind me. At almost the same moment, another door opened somewhere below me, and John Clinton came running upstairs with a candle in hand.

“What is it?” He asked. “I sleep below you and heard a noise as if— Good heavens! There’s blood on your shoulder.”

Afterwards, he said I stood swaying from side to side – white as a sheet, with a bloody handprint stained on my shoulder. “She’s in there,” I said, pointing. “The portrait is hanging where we took it from, too.”

He laughed at that. “My dear fellow, it was only a nightmare.” He pushed by me and opened the door as I stood frozen in terror – unable to stop him or move.

“Phew! What an awful smell!” He said before falling silent as he entered the room. He returned almost immediately – as white as myself – and shut the door behind him.

“Yes, the portrait is there, and on the floor is a thing— a thing covered in dirt and wearing the garments people are buried in. Let’s get away, quick, let’s go!” He said.

I hardly know how I got downstairs. I was nauseous and shaking; multiple times, John had to place my feet on the steps, and he often looked back in terror, but eventually we came to his room on the floor below. There, I told him what I have described in these pages.

The end can be told quickly; some of my readers may have already guessed what it was if they remember the incident at the West Fawley churchyard from eight years ago. Three attempts were made to bury a woman who had committed suicide. Each time, the coffin was found sticking up from the ground a few days later. After the third attempt, the body was buried just outside the iron gate of this woman’s home. She had killed herself in the room at the top of the tower, and her name was Julia Stone.

The body was secretly dug up again, and the coffin was found full of blood.

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

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 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.