horror, scary

The First Settlement

Now a CreepyPasta. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 13, 1566

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 15, 1566,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 17, 1566

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 19, 1566

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

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

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

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

August 30, 1574

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween, scary

The Deadlands

Now a CreepyPasta 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re crazy!” Todd interjected.

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

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

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

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

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

“Find Linda, of course.”

humor

Please, Join my Cult

While yes, I did begin writing a Halloween special, I need to take a small detour. As YouTube carried us through our morning news, it played an older Jimmy Kimmel with a televangelist clip. As I reflect on the scene, I find myself questioning reality. Seriously, I need you to get on my level for a second. Step into my shoes, let me guide you through this properly.

You’re coming out of a deep sleep, but you aren’t ready to look at the clock, fearing what you’ll see. Your back hurts, you’ve been pinned in place by three cats all night. You have to pee, but doing so would disturb Hubby and you’ve both slept terribly this week. Finally, back screaming, you slowly unfold your legs, delicately rolling to the nightstand. As cats leap from bed, you freeze, hoping the Hubby Huff doesn’t come. When your heart resumes beating, you finally see it’s 4:38AM.

The alarm will sound at 5:00. You know using the bathroom will wake him. You know you’ll hear the Huff while you pee. Yet you really have to pee. 22 minutes. You try to close your eyes, try to drift off, but your bladder is infuriated. It calls for reinforcements. You feel a hot bubble of sludge slide down your intestines, coming to rest in your bottom. You clinch against the flames, but your asshole is essentially the only barrier between the bed and molten lava. You ever so gently crawl to the toilet. The moment you release your bowls, you see the light of Hubby’s phone, simultaneous with the Huff.

Huff protocol dictates a reset alarm for 5:30. Always erring to the side of caution, you begin your morning. You let the first round of cats out, take Bandit’s (raccoon) food to the edge of the woods because his presence bothers them, feed cats, release second round, grab a water and sit. Sounds of Hubby’s dresser emanate from the bedroom, telling you to prepare the tv. After a short, irrelevant monologue from Seth Meyers, YouTube selects Jimmy Kimmel.

Great choice, he’s second only to John Oliver, but you’re not sure why it felt the need to show one from election time. It’s called Trump Melts Down Over “Stolen” Election, and still worth watching so you don’t complain. Then they showed this guy:

🤢🤮

This man stands in front of you, and says “they’re trying to say Joe Biden is president,” and fake laughs horribly. Then he continues, and here’s what really gets you. After a few fake laughs, well past when he should have stopped, he does it again. But this time, he walks around while he laughs. The crowd eats it up! They stand, cheering louder than ever! How does a man like that have a cult? How do people follow and give him money? How are there enough people to support all the ones like him? They have some cush-ass lifestyles! How do they even start? How do you brainwash enough people to confidently stand before the masses to convince them they benefit by giving you money?

As you sit on your cat-hair covered couch, still naked beneath a raggedy bathrobe in desperate need of washing, you realize that disgusting old man has fans. Lots of them. Sure, for every fan there’s 100 enemies wishing him dead. Sure, he spouts nonsensical hate rhetoric for a living. Sure, you’d think he could afford a dentist, but apparently teeth aren’t everything in the cult game. But you know what? He probably never had to choose between food or a rent payment. Never had to live 8 weeks in the country with no water or transportation. (Oh! Note to self, write about that 2 months without indoor plumbing.) Hell, I bet that crazy old fart has more than 2 Twitter followers too!

So, after reading all these well thought out points, do you see how it might be worth imitating his behavior? Damn, me either. I really wanted to, but frankly I’d rather puncture my own ear drums than listen to him speak again. I figure there has to be a middle ground. I’ve decided to start my own cult. I’m not married to the name yet, but I was toying with LGFNW, Losers, Geeks, Freaks, Nerds, and Weirdos, all welcome and equal. Violence and bullying strictly prohibited.

I may not have much to offer, but I can make you a few promises that clearly put me ahead of the packs.

  • I will never lie to you
  • I will never hold you hostage
  • I will never forbid you from contact with family
  • I will never enforce Droit du seigneur (right of first night, fancy word for rape)
  • I will never drug you (against your will)
  • Most importantly, I will always support your right to believe whatever the hell you want.

There’s something deeply wrong in a world where my cult fails while those others flourish. Anyway, thank you for your indulgence in this matter. If you would like to join LGFNW, there are no fees or deadlines. Currently all positions are open. No background or credit checks necessary. We have no swag, or any material possessions whatsoever, but we do have, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of gusto.

Admittedly the logo needs work.
humor, spooky

Calling All Ghosts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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