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September 2014 Discussion Post: Which Non-Horror Stories Have Creeped You Out & Why?

September 1, 2014 at 12:00 AM

This month’s topic was suggested by Demonicus. If you have ideas for future discussion posts, please share them by commenting here.

We’ve all experienced irrational fear from things that simply shouldn’t be scary. Children’s shows and toys, for example, are a pretty common culprit when it comes to being innocent-yet-freaky, and this month I’d like you to tell us what stories, shows, movies, etc, have somehow triggered your scary-sense despite being supposedly innocuous.

If you have any idea as to the hows and whys of your particular reaction, please do share your theories! I can see it being helpful for aspiring authors – both as a way to get a better idea of how fear can work, even when dealing with things that aren’t overtly scary, but also as a way of garnering possible inspiraiton for some fresh, non-cliché stories.

Have fun, everyone!

Left Behind

September 1, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Barbara was sure the ritual worked. She stood up from the pentagram as 5 wicks slowly swirled their smoke in the room. The weather seemed angry—lightning flashed and roared through the coastal home, and suddenly the lights went out.

“Damn the power. Let him come” she thought to herself as she calmly went downstairs in the dark. She prepared some tea on the stove, and waited.

As her chamomile steeped, she again thought about how unfair it had been to take him so soon, only 8 years old. Sure, things hadn’t always been easy, but… she had put the bottles away. Things would be different, now.

She heard three distinct knocks at the front door. Excitedly, she ran to swing it open, only to find no-one there. She left it open as a welcoming invitation. Knocks from the back door drew her to the spot, only to find that doorway empty as well. She left it open, too, mist from the rain collecting on the tile floor.

As she was about to take a sip, she felt a presence behind her. He was here! She whirled round to see her boy: his face was obscured by shadows, but his brown shaggy hair and favorite flannel shirt marked him well enough. She ran to hug him and found he was incredibly heavy, much heavier than she remembered him only a few weeks ago.

“Hello Mommy,” said Michael.

“Oh! My boy! Things will be so different, so much happier, now that you’re here! Do you want—”

“I want to play a game. Mommy.” Michael interrupted. There was something unnatural in the tone he used for the word. “Why don’t you run… and hide. I’m going to catch you! This will be a LOT of fun.”

“Are you sure you—”

“DO IT,” his voice boomed through the house. Uneasily, she agreed as Michael began to count. She was going to hide in the pantry when she heard a growling noise, like the low rumble of a distant earthquake. She realized it was coming from Michael. As he counted, she realized she may have made a mistake.

“15, 14… you better hide better than that, Mommy. Some things are better left as they are. But I’m here, now.” His boyish voice became more and more tinged with that horrific, low grumble. The sound of a blade pulled from the kitchen butcher block alerted her ears to danger. Yes, this had been a mistake. Intense claps of thunder blocked further sound as she raced upstairs to the master bedroom, and locked the door. Like a child, she cowered in the closet and waited.

“10, 9, 8… I don’t know why you’d want me back, Mommy.” She heard his words as leaden feet ascended the stairs. “You weren’t nice to Michael. 7, 6, 5, 4…”

She started to cry frantically, curled in the corner of her closet. She was trapped. She felt as if she couldn’t breathe as the locked bedroom door easily sprang open.

“3… 2…”

Silence. She listened as the storm calmed outside and a whisper emanated from directly behind the closet door: “In fact, Mommy, Michael hates you. That’s why he left you behind… and sent me instead.”

The door flung open and a bolt of lightning illuminated rows of jagged, glinting white teeth crowding Michael’s mouth like a shark’s jaw.

The storm subsided. Her tea grew cold.

Credit To – Skyla2186

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Mould

August 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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My best friend was in Pompeii.

I wasn’t, of course, or I wouldn’t be standing here staring down at a museum display titled “A BLAST FROM THE PAST!!!” A kitsch red LED volcano flickering gently in the background, flinging deep shadows across expressions of abject misery behind a velvet rope for the small children to point sticky fingers at. Speakers rumble in the distance. One little girl bursts into inconsolable howling at the sight; or perhaps it’s the ruddy glowering threat that the same’s imminent to be visited on us. I like her immensely. Her father carries her out.

In fact, some years before Pompeii’s last days came about I had found myself dutifully lugging my scant possessions down the road with tail tucked between my legs; off to marry, of all things. That’s what you did back then when your family saw fit to offload you; and should be the match be prestigious enough “poof!” you were magically absolved of the past to boot – not even the neighbours could sneer behind closed doors anymore. Far away and footsore, then. Out of sour, miserably small mind and all that.

The distance didn’t matter, of course; my best friend and I were soul mates. I never ventured far before I could feel the line drawing me back in, calling me home. Our simpatico a secret treasure; far too precious to sport on your sleeve because so rare, as much then as now. Women don’t ever seem to connect, not truly. They’ve sharp noses for challenge, and too readily recognise and condemn what lurks within. How are you expected to place faith in a mysterious threatening other when personal trust barely stretches so far as you could throw yourself?

But we had somehow weathered that giggly, prickly rivalry of youth when any second double-edged friendship can slide into outright envious warfare, sparking bitter feuds to last the ages. I’d no reason on earth to disbelieve we would hobble on together into our decline, achieving that comfortable state where it no longer matters what hell your crumbling shell resembles or how it’s dressed.

And then at last two alike minds could tentatively reach out and clasp hands; honouring other, recognising self.

And she … she helped me. My best friend helped me when nobody else could. There’d not been another soul under all the wide skies like her: the natural outcast, the outsider; none other to so much as recognise my peril. Even I ascertained the threat only vaguely. To me it was no more than a dim line of smoke barely noticed, way off in the distance. Who could see harm in the tiny cough of a newly arrived baby?

Afterward, there were never any accusations of crime: where’s the point when it burns in every eye until the very air ignites? For decency’s sake I had to abandon home and trudge into the unknown to join some fat bastard I’d never met in holy matrimony.

Thus I escaped Pompeii, and so my name has changed over and again along with the multitudes of the living, heaving world. But not so those who were there, left mute and encysted. Not her. And it grieves me deeply to recall how pertly she’d once turned up her nose at donning a nicer dress, at playing along, her flat refusal in short to be any damn thing but herself; because now she never will be.

But she remains my best friend. Our hold is firm. Every time I am squeezed into life, thrust out into the world through blood and muck she is the very first thing I feel: before light, before air. And that’s when I remember Pompeii. I even used to hear her murmuring, sealed away down there. So I guess in a way I’m no more than myself, either.

They went and dug up the town – many many years later, of course. Avid for knowledge, sick enough for sensation to go grubbing around in the dirt. They mixed buckets of cold plaster on site, their improvised wooden paddles going round and round in the thin early Mediterranean light. It would have been hard messy work; arm muscles already burning, shoulders stuffed with ache and complaint. Shoes splattered for the wife to shriek at when they got home.

With long thin tools they drilled down to Pompeii’s lost people, who cried out with joy at that first hint of sunlight and air. Finally after all this crushing immobile time there came to the buried hope of rescue, of freedom. I heard my best friend, as the drill whined its way through pumice and compressed ash. While flakes of burned building sifted down onto her. Everyone and their lives were down there: my family, all those sullen despised neighbours; and in fact I’ve recognised familiar contortions in the frozen grimaces at the museum; but I’ve never heard any of the others. What do I care for them, anyhow? None of them ever helped me.

I heard my friend weeping, too overburdened to bear it.

But those who had not yet managed to go mad sealed down in the dark had another thing coming, for in went the plaster. The merest golden hint of the wild free sky gleaming in – oh sweet heaven yes, deliver us! Do you remember birds? I remember birds – but then a deluge of thick icy cold clotted down the tube and salvation was blotted out. Thrashing in the dark, screams turning to heavy choked gurgles as the narrow space filled.

The cold was so intense that my breath frosted out of my lungs in a rush, painfully colder than the surrounding air. I was sped to hospital where conscientious staff irrigated my abdominal cavity with warm saline and, when I shuddered and flailed awake, rather gleefully announced that I’d been dead for four whole minutes. Gathered excitedly about my bed they were so very proud of resuscitating me, and didn’t at all understand why I wept.

I think I tried to rush to my friend and gather her in my arms, straining to pull her from her prison. But four minutes was just not long enough. I still heard her shrieking hysterically for succour, as they all must have screamed; those who waited so long in the dark and ought to have been saved. As the frigid killing cold consumed them. Not only a new sensation but a final one, filling up everything until cold was all there was left, and it went on forever.

As the plaster stiffened so did they; and although I still feel her drawing me home I have heard my best friend’s voice no more. She inhabits a hard, silent place in my mind now. And she’s so profoundly cold.

And I, who deserved it so much less; I have lived my quiet times over and over. Always plagued with poor circulation, chill at the fingertips, at risk of losing them, I gravitate to warmer climes. Never too close to anybody. I have borne children. I’ve sat blissfully in the sunlight. I visit the museum countless times, to stand and look on my friend’s horror-stricken face.

All I dare hope is that I might well be unto my best friend as she has been to me. And so the unchanging frozen scar on my soul which is forever entombed may, in her, bloom.

Credit To – BP Gregory

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The Wicker House

August 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Of course everyone claiming residence in Arthur’s Wake knows tales associated with the Wicker House. It seems that every small province plays host to some structure of ill repute which, as if by supernatural magnetism, draws rumor of ghosts and bogies, wrapping the timber and stone of its foundation in a shroud of darkness and horror. In Arthur’s Wake, the Wicker House fills this odious task.

Scant days after arriving in town, while taking the time to familiarize myself with the local watering hole and its residents, I became introduced to the well known superstitions surrounding the Wicker House. As a man of science, I knew any truths to be found in these outlandish stories were likely embellished to points unrecognizable. Nothing was first hand; all experiences were from a friend who knew a fellow who may have seen something. It is the provincial mind which transforms wild dogs into wolves that walk like men and interprets astronomical phenomena as harbingers of certain doom. Still, my curiosity sufficiently piqued, I endeavored to better inform myself upon the subject through more objective means. To my great surprise, while failing to confirm the more supernatural claims of the tales, the town records in the basement of the local library did provide aspect to a most sinister reality all their own.

The house was built in 1920 by the millionaire Tomas Wicker who, in addition to being both a successful oil prospector and fishing magnate, was by all accounts completely insane. No one knows what first drew Wicker to Arthur’s Wake. Some speculate this as the first outward sign of his impending madness. What is known was that the foundations of the house which would come to assume his name were poured almost immediately upon his arrival.

The structure was supremely modest for a man of Wicker’s means, rising a mere two stories in height and composed of scarcely a dozen rooms plus cellar and attic for storage. The house was built on Blackwood Drive, a major tributary of the town’s main street, and close to the industrial center, such as it was. The plot itself consisted of about a quarter acre, the yard home to a few blossoming trees and a small garden, the whole of which was surrounded by a high wrought iron fence accessed by a similar gate. The posts of this formidable perimeter were topped by wicked spikes to discourage would-be trespassers. Construction concluded rapidly and the autumn of 1920 saw Wicker take up residence in the house accompanied by a maid, groundsman, and his wife.

The lady of the house quickly became the subject of gossip among the townsfolk. During the construction Wicker had boarded his wife in parts unknown. None could recall when she arrived at the house; one day she was simply there. As the groundskeeper cared for the exterior yard and garden and the maid handled all domestic chores including trips to market, the lady was herself never seen to exit the house. Due to this complete lack of socialization, the townsfolk did not learn so much about the woman as her Christian name. The servants themselves shed no light upon the subject. The man hailed from a remote part of the Dark Continent and the woman appeared to be a mixed-breed, vaguely of the Orient. Wicker had acquired the service of each while abroad for business dealings and neither spoke a word of English. Naturally, the Lady Wicker was the object of most persistent rumor.

Early speculation was she suffered from some exotic malady which left her drawn and bedridden. These theories were repudiated by those few who would occasionally spy her from the street. In each case she was seen exclusively at night, staring forlornly through the second story window of what was assumed to be her bedchamber, lit only by candlelight from within and to all appearances the picture of health. Additionally, there was little chance the typically damp and sunless climate of the Wake would be prescribed to improve one’s constitution by even the most inept of physicians. As common folk are wont to do, with a logical explanation absent more fantastic theories were crafted. Some began to speculate the woman was a witch, others an enslaved angel won by Wicker whilst dicing with Satan. What all who observed her agreed upon was her singular beauty.

I gleaned much of this information from archives of the local paper, especially one curiosity piece which was accompanied by a photograph of the lady in question. The scene was just as I had heard described, the single lonely prisoner peering through the window and across that terrible iron fence into the darkness of the night. The photograph was muddled due to the quality of the prehistoric equipment and the lack of natural light, effectively obscuring the lady’s features. Indeed it was difficult to distinguish whether the blurred form was in fact human, though it did project an impression of unmistakable femininity. And yet, even through that grayish haze I could perceive a certain piercing, almost hypnotic quality of her eyes.

Wicker himself was something of a mystery though considerably less so than his bride. An attractive man, tall, dark haired and well featured, many a young woman found herself unequivocally jealous of the seldom observed Lady Wicker. Though often away for long periods on business excursions, at home Wicker would frequent the only drinking establishment in the Wake, an illicit locale consistently ignored by the well-bribed police force charged with upholding Prohibition. Although he had no one in town that might be explicitly named ‘friend’ Wicker was known to purchase drinks for the house on his occasions of patronage and was as such engaged in conversation by no few number of fellow revelers.
It never took long for Wicker’s tongue to be sufficiently loosened at which time he would regale his latest passel of hangers-on with fantastic stories of his journeys abroad; forbidden hoodoo rights in the Caribbean, strange tribal sacrifices in the heart of Africa, dead men who walked in Eastern Europe, and countless others, each one stranger and blacker than the last. Though Wicker never spoke of his wife directly, these tales only served to expound upon the rumors of her origins.

Things progressed much in this way for some five years. Wicker would travel and carouse upon his return. The servants went about their business without comment or complaint. The townsfolk gossiped. The lady remained a shut-in. The horror occurred without warning.
The events that took place on the eve of Samhain, nineteen hundred and twenty-five have gone down in the history of Arthur’s Wake as unembellished fact. Among the town records I discovered the report of the patrolmen dispatched to respond to the disturbance at the Wicker House. I will summarize its contents directly.

Tomas Wicker returned from his latest trip abroad on the thirty-first of October. Having stopped briefly at home, he arrived at the aforementioned drinking establishment in a clearly agitated state. The always impeccably dressed Wicker was sloppily garbed, one shirt tail hanging out of his trousers, shoes scuffed beyond repair. It was obvious he had not recently bathed or shaved, his well-groomed hair was mussed, and his eyes were bloodshot and wild. Approaching the bar he apprehended an entire bottle of liquor, took several long swallows without use of a glass, and ignored all attempts of other patrons to engage him in conversation. Taking a final drink from the bottle he placed his wallet and the entirety of its contents on the bar, smashed the now almost empty receptacle upon the ground and exited with the astonished eyes of all present following him. That this entire portion of the episode occurred within a completely illegal establishment is not lost on me, although it apparently was on the investigating patrolmen. As I have said, they were well bribed.

That no mortal eye remains which observed what happened next is surely proof of a merciful God. The two patrolmen who first came upon the scene were summoned by terrified reports of shrill cries and demonic cackles. Long-term veterans and hard men both they were nevertheless ill prepared for what they would soon find at the Wicker House. Armed with a lantern and clubs in hand the men carefully approached the dwelling now ominously quiet.

The great iron gate was open askew as was the oaken door at the top of the steps leading to the interior of the house. Receiving no response to their shouted inquiries, the patrolmen cautiously entered the foyer and proceeded to search the ground floor. They found the first horror in the kitchen. The maid had been tied with thick hemp rope to a large table, limbs spread and secured to each of the four legs. She was naked, the butcher knife which had been used to slit her throat permanently sheathed in her heart. Glistening blood dripped from the cruel altar, slowly pooling on the floor while tell-tale splatters painted the walls like macabre decoration. The patrolmen shared a glance of mutual, unbelieving dread, tightened their grips upon their clubs and continued to search the premises in complete, terrified silence.

Having determined the cellar empty through a brief yet understandably taut examination, they exited the back door to the yard and discovered the groundsman’s body. A thick wooden stake had been erected in the center of the garden and crossed by a perpendicular beam. The man hung naked, suspended from the crossbeam by spikes harshly driven through his wrists and ankles in a grotesque simulacrum of Christ’s crucifixion. He had been disemboweled, ropey innards pouring out of his belly dripping blood and excrement.

Horrified, the patrolmen reluctantly agreed that a premature conclusion of their search to summon reinforcements would provide a very dangerous murderer a chance at escape. The men reentered the house and agonizingly proceeded up the winding stair to the second floor. Systematically they searched each room, uncovering nothing until only one remained; the bedchamber of the elusive Lady Wicker.

Eyes wide, heart pounding wildly the lead man slowly eased the latch. Raising their clubs the men burst through the door and stopped dumbfounded. The room was completely dark and empty, devoid of trappings or furniture of any kind. By the thin beam of their lantern light the men saw that strange occult symbols had been scrawled on every surface of the room though those on the far wall had been somehow marred. Of the murderous Tomas Wicker or his mysterious wife there was no sign.

A noise from above alerted the men to their quarry’s location. Returning to the hall, they spied a trap door operated by a string which, when pulled, revealed a ladder leading up into the lightless storage space of the attic. The two patrolmen stared at the entrance yawning black and wide as the maw of some infernal creature, beckoning fools to wander to their doom. Unable to decide who would proceed first, the men threw evens. The unlucky loser took the lantern and ascended the ladder.

He stopped halfway through the aperture, lantern held high to better diffuse its light and ready to beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of the hallway below. The attic was in a state of disorder, strange souvenirs of Wicker’s trips abroad stacked haphazardly throughout. The constable slowly played his beam about, gradually revealing each disjointed mound of clutter. At last the light fell upon the attic’s far corner revealing the huddled gibbering mass of the man they sought.

Or what had been the man. Indeed whatever reason serves to separate man from beast had, sensing it was no longer a suitable dwelling place, fled the form of Tomas Wicker. The handsome features were gone, replaced by deeply sunken cheeks and a hideous grin. As the patrolman stared terrified, he could see the creature was covered in the blood of his victims left below. Hands about his knees, Wicker slowly rocked, babbling to himself.

Joined by his fellow, the constables steadily advanced. Arms outstretched they readied to seize the thing that had been Tomas Wicker when his mad eyes shifted upon them and the muttering stopped. In a moment of seeming clarity he whispered, “She’s gone,” before emitting a maniacal howl and leaping to his feet. Taken aback, the patrolmen hesitated, affording the lunatic room to bound past them to the window and hurl himself through the glass. His desperate shriek gave way to a sickening thud.

The men rushed to the broken window. Far below by the light of the moon they saw the body of Tomas Wicker jerk spastically, impaled by the wicked spikes atop the iron wall. By the time the patrolmen descended from the attic, the hideous motion had mercifully stopped.

The remainder of the report is, compared to the extraordinary events that had thus far taken place, remarkably mundane. Determining that the murderer was indeed dead the patrolmen called for reinforcements. The house was searched in detail and much speculation was made regarding the fantastic totems and fetishes populating every nook and cranny. All who set foot on the premises were in unanimous agreement that Tomas Wicker was unequivocally mad. Most confounding of all, there was no sign to what fate befell the mysterious Lady Wicker. Taking the lunatic’s final utterance as related by the patrolmen, the investigators deduced that the lady, tired of being regularly abandoned, had fled to parts unknown during Wicker’s latest trip abroad. Upon his return the shock had been enough to push the man into a murderous rage. Since virtually nothing was known of the woman, neither whence she came nor even her proper name, no search was mounted and the case dismissed.

It is from this point that the tale departs from the realm of logical reason to instead delve into the twisted byways of urban legend. About a month after the death of Tomas Wicker was when the disappearances began, the investigation of which ultimately lead to my arrival in Arthur’s Wake.

Parents would put their children to bed at night and find them gone the next morning. Exhaustive searches of the Wake uncovered nothing. Strangers new to the town were accosted, imprisoned and, in one instance, lynched by a frightened mob. Some questionable “evidence” was found on the man’s body after the fact, and the police happily declared the case closed with the suspect too dead to proclaim his innocence. That the pattern of disappearances has continued for more than sixty years would suggest they were mistaken.

I have been unable to identify the first to claim seeing a strange light emitted from the long abandoned window of the Lady Wicker’s bedchamber, nor the one who swore he heard the sound of children playing as he hurriedly passed the accursed house. I do know that the tales have spread and grown to the point they are not so easily dismissed. Shortly, I will ascertain any truth to them that may be.

Slender tendrils of fog quest hungrily between my feet like living things as I approach the ruins of the Wicker House. Pushing through the rusted iron gate, a trick of the moonlight suggests a soft glow emanating from the second story window as if from a candle lit within and, were it not impossible, the visage of a beautiful woman stares down and smiles at me approvingly. My hand tightens on the knob as children’s laughter reaches my ears. I open the door.

Credit To – Shadowswimmer77

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Solar Influence

August 29, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“Don’t look at it,” Kerryn whispers, tugging on my sleeve. “Leela, don’t!” I glance down at her, noting the concern in her baby blue eyes. She’s just a child, she doesn’t know what she’s saying.

“Don’t worry, Kerryn,” I whisper back. “Nothing bad is going to happen. It’s just the sunset.” I pry her fingers loose, closing my hand around hers and pulling her along gently behind me. “It’s beautiful,” I tell her. “I saw one in a picture once, when I was about your age.”

We walk up the grassy hill, leaning against the steep incline. The wind buffets us from all directions, trying to push us back, but I’m determined. I’m leaving tomorrow, and I want to share this with my little sister before I go.

“Leela,” Kerryn begs. “We’re not supposed to look at it! The man on the news said it will make us blind!”

I snort, dismissive. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” I say. “Trust me, Kerryn, it’s the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see. The colours are amazing, all red and orange and gold. It’s magical.” I breathe heavily, struggling up the hill. I’m not as fit as I was the last time I made this trek. It will be worth it, though. One real look at the sun before I’m sent underground to fulfil my duty. One last taste of freedom.

We reach the crest of the hill, and I stop walking. Kerryn stands at my side, staring at the ground and shivering. My gaze is captured by the landscape in front of me, the city spread out below us, sunlight glinting off the windows. Behind each one is a family waiting for the light to die. I shake my head at their ignorance. How could something so beautiful scare them so much?

I lift my eyes and my breath catches in my throat. The sun has just touched the horizon, spreading a blanket of golden light over the dull city, bringing it to life. The clouds capture the colours, painting the sky red, orange, pink… It is breathtakingly beautiful.

“Kerryn,” I whisper, squeezing her hand. “Look.”

She whimpers and steps closer, shaking as she leans against my side. I glance down at her to see her eyes squeezed shut. With a sigh I crouch down in front of her, making sure I’m blocking the sun.

“Kerryn, it’s okay.” I reach up and sweep her blonde hair away from her face. She whimpers. “Come on, open your eyes. I’m right here,” I coax. She shakes her head violently. “Come on, honey, I’m right in front of you, you won’t even see it until you’re ready. Just open your eyes.” Slowly, so slowly, she opens her eyes. She peeks out at me through slitted lids, uncertain. I take both of her hands in mine and give them an encouraging squeeze. “See? Nothing to worry about.” I smile at her encouragingly.

“I’m scared, Leela,” she whimpers.

“There’s nothing to be scared of, honest. I already looked at it, and I’m fine, aren’t I?”

She hesitates, searching my face, then nods.

“Okay, as long as you hold my hand,” she says.

“Of course I will.” I squeeze her hands again, smiling at her reassuringly, then shuffle to the side so she can see the sunset spreading out behind me.

Her eyes go wide, and her jaw goes slack, and for a moment she just stares in wonder. She looks just like she did the first time she saw our puppy, Jock. I can’t help laughing at her.

“It’s so beautiful,” she whispers, her voice breathy. A grin splits my face.

“I knew you would like it,” I say.

“We should go to it,” Kerryn says, smiling serenely. My heart stutters, and I frown at her.

“What? Kerryn, what did you say?”

“Shhh, you’re too loud. It wants us to be quiet.” Her hands go limp in mine, and she takes a step forward.

“Kerryn, stop it,” I hiss. “This isn’t funny.” Images flash through my mind, the warnings thrown at us on the T.V., the posters all through the streets telling us not to look at the sun. But they’re all wrong, aren’t they? I looked at the sun and I’m still perfectly fine.

“It’s so pretty…” She takes another step and my hands go cold.

“Kerryn, stop it. Stop it right now!” I wrap my arms around her and hug her close. What the hell is she playing at?

“It’s okay, Leela. Just let me go.” She takes another step, and I am shocked at her strength. She jerks forward, freeing herself from my grasp. What is going on?

I scamper around in front of her, clasp my hands around her face, trying to block her view of the sun. She stares straight past me, blue eyes glazed and glittering. Her pupils are dilating and contracting at an alarming rate, and her mouth hangs open. Oh my god, what have I done?

She pushes me away and I stumble backwards, watching in horror as she glides straight past me. It looks almost as if she is walking on air. But that is impossible.

“Kerryn!” I yell, reaching out for her. “Kerryn, come back!” Tears well up in my eyes and spill over. In an instant I am sobbing, crawling madly towards my sister who is walking above the ground, ignoring my existence. “Kerryn, please!”

My eyes slip past her, drawn towards the massive glowing orb slipping beneath the horizon as slowly and surely as my sister is slipping away from me.

My body goes slack, and my mind goes blank. What was I so worried about? It is beautiful. The golden light spills forth, coating everything. Its edges pulse, rough and pointed like a child’s drawing. The red and orange and pink fall from the clouds, following the sun in its demise.

I stare into its golden depths, captivated by its beauty. It is glorious. The red in its centre expands, calling to me. The dark sphere at its heart pulses steadily, expanding and contracting and expanding again, growing inexorably larger with each cycle. I can feel my heart beating in time to its rhythm.

My limbs tingle as I get to my feet. I take a step forward.

Why did my mother warn me not to come here? Nothing bad could possibly happen with the sun watching over us.

Its light warms me. I tilt my head to the side, focusing on the glint in the centre of the massive orb. Funny, if I didn’t know better I would think it had teeth.

I am vaguely aware of someone screaming, yelling my name and someone else’s. They are sobbing. Why? What is that tugging on my arm?

I flick my wrist, wishing the pest away.

“Leela!” She screams. My mother’s voice? “Leela, what have you done?!”

The sun opens wide and I am compelled to go to it. The glittering teeth call me forward and I follow. They are so beautiful. Look how they shine! I can’t believe I didn’t come here sooner.

“Come, child,” It whispers. “Come home.”

It is all-encompassing. There is nothing else.

I hear a horrible wet, tearing sound. I feel a vague tingling in my arms, in my legs. My chest grows tight. Should I be concerned?

“Leela! Kerryn!” My mother’s keening fills my ears.

Kerryn?

Oh my God. Kerryn.

I come back to myself, eyes wide with horror. The beast is all around me, drawing me in. Kerryn, where is Kerryn? What have I done? What have I done to my sister?

“Kerryn!” I scream. My body is rigid with fear. There is darkness all around me. It is inside me, too, I can feel it.

My skin burns, as if I am swimming in acid. I can feel my flesh bubble.

“Kerryn!” I am sobbing now, uncontrollably.

“Shhh, child.” Something strokes my face. “It will all be over soon…”

The razors dig into my flesh and I scream. The darkness forces itself down my throat, choking me.

What have I done?

Credit To – Jo

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The Little People

August 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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For as long as I can remember, strange things have happened to me. When I was young, my mother and I lived in my grandmother’s house; a big, drafty Victorian beast of a thing squatting in the middle of acres and acres of hilly country land. My grandmother was old and couldn’t take care of herself, and I often heard my mom whispering to her friends about how crazy she was and how she couldn’t wait to put her in a home and get on with her own life.

Me, being only three or four at the time, didn’t understand. I thought my grandmother was the most wonderful person on the planet, as little children do. She told me stories about “the little people” that lived in the hills around the house, and how long ago, when she was only a girl, she’d made a pact with the little people that allowed her to live on their land. My mother once overheard her telling me one of these stories and forbade Grandma from ever telling me anything like that again, claiming she’d just scare me. I wasn’t scared – I loved fairy stories. That’s what I thought they were – Fairy stories, and I didn’t understand why Mom was so upset. She’d grown up in that same house listening to Grandma’s same stories, right? But every time I tried to ask her about them, she’d shush me and tell me I’d get in trouble if she heard me and Grandma talking about the little people ever again.

Mine and Grandma’s closeness never set well with Mom, and as a child, I never understood the reason. I knew Mom and Grandma didn’t get along, and never had, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t press the subject; I loved my Grandma and I loved her stories. My mother, who was serious and dark-featured, took after my Greek grandfather more than anyone, while I looked like my grandmother. We shared the same awkwardly big ears, fair freckled skin, and thick red hair. I remember she would often stroke my hair and sigh, saying my mother would never have been prepared for the responsibility of having red hair, so it was passed down to me. I always thought she was making some sort of joke, but her face was a little sad when she said it, so I never further questioned what exactly she meant.

When I was six, Grandma died. She’d been sick all my life, always fragile in health, and one night she went to bed and never woke up. Though I was only a child, I usually helped Grandma get ready for bed – Brushing her long, still vibrantly red hair and braiding it, helping her into her nightgown and tucking her in. Mom always got angry, saying a boy my age shouldn’t have to do those things, but I enjoyed any time spent with my Grandma. The night she died was like any other, but as I tucked her in, her thin hand suddenly grasped mine in a vice grip.

“The pact is up, Gearoid.”

My name is Garrett, but Grandma always said it the traditional Irish way, Gar-roid, her lilting accent making my name seem special to me instead of the name of three other boys in my class.

“The pact is up.” She repeated herself, her voice sounding more intense than I’d ever heard it. “I’m sorry, Gearoid. There is nothing I can do. You must go from here, so they cannot find you.”

I was confused, and a little scared then, being only six. I held her hand close.

“Who will find me, Grandma? What’s wrong?”

She only clung my hand tighter, her voice a steadfast whisper. “The little people, Gearoid. The denizens of the hollow hills. The sidheóg. You must go from here.”

I wanted to ask her more, but her hand relaxed in mine, suddenly, and she was asleep. She looked peaceful, and I felt like I almost imagined the strange conversation we’d just had. I figured I would ask her more about it the next morning, but the next morning she was dead.

Grandma had left all her money to Mom in her will, but the house and surrounding land to me. Since I was too young to even think about owning a house, Mom decided we’d live there until we found better prospects. As a single mother with hectic hours at her job, a free house was too good to pass up.

I went to school, Mom went to work as a nurse, life went on. I continued to play in the hills and woods surrounding the house as I always did, despite Mom’s insistent warnings I did not. I thought she was afraid I’d fall in a ditch or accidentally get shot by hunters during hunting seasons, and my six-year-old bravado thought I was above this.

One day, on a warm August afternoon just before school started again (I must have only been eight or nine) I came back from the hills covered in scratches and bruises. She thought I’d fallen down the biggest hill leading down to the woods in our backyard until I told her “the little people had hurt me”. She didn’t believe me at first, who would? But I continued to tell her about the little people, how they came out to play with me ever since Grandma died, but they were never nice. They pinched me and scratched me and told me to leave, or else.

My mother turned white as a sheet and put down a lease on an apartment in town the very next day. Within a week we were moved out of Grandma’s house in the hills, surrounded by asphalt and car horns.
When I ask Mom about the strange things that happened to me in childhood such as this, she claims not to remember. But she always changes the subject, and her mouth gets in a tight little line. I know she remembers.

Moving into the city didn’t stop the strange things from happening to me. On the playground, I saw eyes in the bushes, watching me; I would blink only for nothing to be there. Walking home from school I would hear strange music on the breeze, music that jolted me to my bones and made my head hurt. It always sounded wrong, as if it was out of tune or played on broken instruments. Once I asked a friend if he heard the music, and he called me a freak and never walked home from school with me again. As I lay asleep in our small apartment, I would see lights bobbing just outside my window, lights that were definitely not from any of the neon signs of the inter-city. When I was ten, I wrapped myself up in my blankets and followed the lights, which seemed to whisper my name the way I remember Grandma saying it, Gearoid. My mother found me a five-minutes walk away from our apartment, about to take another step over the edge of a steep ditch. She never saw any lights, and made me an appointment with a psychiatrist the next day. I learned to keep what I saw hidden after that, and not to follow any strange lights that whispered my name.

Keeping the weird things that happened to myself didn’t stop them from happening, unfortunately. They still did, even into high school. By then I had learned to ignore them, to convince myself it was all in my head, just like my psychiatrist told me when I was a child. I never tried to figure out what was happening to me or who the “little people” were. Would you really want to know?

I was seventeen and an early senior, falling asleep in my literature class as my teacher droned on about speculative fiction. It was only when she said a word, sidheóg, that snapped me back into awareness with the force of a kick to the stomach.

“The sidheóg, in Irish folklore, are what we common people would call faeries. They have plenty of names, the Fair Folk, the Fey, the Shee, the little people. They’re not as we think of faeries today, small women made of flowers that grant wishes, but something between an angel and a demon that isn’t entirely of this world. They are cruel and delight in trickery, and can be vindictive and sadistic, particularly when their land is threatened. Most mortals, that is, you and me, can’t see them unless they’re born with the Sight. Ways to have the sight naturally were considered being the seventh child of a seventh child, or being born with red hair.”
She said more after that, but I wasn’t listening.

Little people. Between an angel and a demon. Their land. the Sight. Born with red hair.

The bell rang, and I almost fell out of my seat. I was breathing so hard and must have looked so pale that my best friend, Sarah, put her hand on my forehead to check for fever when she came to stand by my desk.

“Jesus, Garrett, are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

No. Much worse, I wanted to say, but didn’t. I just shook my head instead. “Fell asleep. Bad dream. You know how lectures get.”

She laughed, and we walked off to our lockers, with Sarah asking if I was still going to spend the night at her house that night. I said sure, and left for my car feeling like a husk with everything sucked out of me. I felt watched.

When I got home, I cursed myself for saying yes to Sarah’s offer. We hung out almost every weekend, but always at my house – A larger apartment my mother had bought further inner-city when she got a promotion a few years back. Sarah lived in a big farmhouse on the edge of the hills, and it reminded me too much of Grandma’s house for my comfort. I always made excuses on why I couldn’t come, but I’d been too distracted today to say no.

I finally knew now what had been stalking me all my life – little people, Fair Folk, whatever you wanted to call them. My grandmother’s stories suddenly made sense to me. Her father had built their house, unknowingly, on fey land. The faeries had probably tortured them and pestered them until Grandma, the only one able to see them, somehow made a pact with them to let her family live on their land unharmed for as long as she lived. When she died, it left my mother and I at their mercy. I had no clue what sort of pact Grandma had made, as she’d never said. I remembered her asking about it, but she would always pat my hand and say it was a story for another time. Now I almost didn’t want to know.

As I was waiting for Sarah to come pick me up, I heard the tapping.

At first it was faint, and I thought it had begun to rain and hit against the windows. I checked my phone, but there was only light rain scheduled for much later in the evening. I brushed it off, but it continued. It sounded as if someone were standing outside my window and slowly, rhythmically, tapping on the glass with one finger. I turned around to look at the window the tapping was coming from, and it stopped – Only to sound as if it were coming from further into the apartment. I must have spent five minutes running all over my house like a crazy person trying to find the source of the tapping, only to have it come from a different window each time I investigated. I was near angry tears when Sarah beeped her horn outside, jerking me out of my frenzy. Never had I been so happy to leave my house as I scooped my overnight bag off the floor and locked the front door behind me.

As I jogged to Sarah’s car, I chanced a glance into the bushes outside the window where I first heard the tapping and froze. There was a shadow in the bushes – The shadow of something huge and looming, gnarled and twisted. I felt the breath go out of my lungs as the shadow began to move – Away from me, further into the few trees planted around my complex. I don’t know how long I just stood there, staring into the darkness between the trees, until Sarah laid on her horn and stuck her head out the window.

“Gar-rett! Come on, you lazy-ass!” The sound of her laughter broke my trance, and I turned and ran headlong to her car, almost slipping on the pavement as I lurched into the passenger seat.

“Whoa. Are you okay? Are you sure you want to do tonight? Cause you looked pretty sick at school, and you look pretty sick now.” Her voice was almost worried, which was uncommon for loud, brash, unafraid Sarah.

“I’m fine. I just thought I saw something in the bushes – A dog, probably. The shadow freaked me out.” You’ll never know how much it freaked me out, I thought.

She shook her head as she put the car into gear. “You watch way too many horror movies, Garrett Carter. Now let’s go. I stole my dad’s Netflix password so the internet is our oyster.”

I forced myself to grin back as we pulled into traffic. I chanced a glance over my shoulder at the trees – Nothing. No shadow. I still kept my eyes on the spot until we turned a corner, and I could see it no more.

By the time we’d driven out to Sarah’s old farmhouse, the rain had begun. Sarah was annoyed, claiming her internet shorted out every time so much as a drop of rain fell from the sky.

“I guess that’s what I get for living out here with my family in the middle of nowhere,” She sighed as we unloaded the frozen pizza and french fries we’d picked up to make for dinner later.

I checked my phone to see what the weather predicted for later, but I had no signal or WiFi. Figures, as it was like she said, we were in the middle of nowhere. Her nearest neighbors were at least half a mile away.

We put dinner in the oven and set up her Xbox so we could watch Netflix, but as she said, the internet wouldn’t connect. She about threw her controller through a window but I suggested we just play video games instead, which calmed her down. We were trying to find a vampire in Skyrim when Sarah went to check on dinner, and I heard it again. The tapping. It sounded louder this time, but I figured it was just the rain until I remembered it had been raining for almost half an hour and it hadn’t tapped on the window like that once. I swallowed the panic in my throat and tried to ignore it as I fought off wolves and bandits in the game, but the tapping continued, and I realized Sarah hadn’t come back from the kitchen yet.

I called her name, no answer. But that wasn’t too odd, Sarah had a large house and if she’d gone upstairs or towards the back of the house she probably wouldn’t be able to hear me. I paused the game and stood up, intending to go look for her, when the tapping suddenly stopped. I’d been hearing it for so long now that the absence of its sound was almost louder than the sound itself, and I froze in my tracks. I was trying to psych myself up for taking another step when thunder suddenly rumbled deafeningly, shaking the glass in the windows. I’m ashamed to say I yelled, startled, as the power suddenly clicked off.

I was suddenly alone in Sarah’s dark living room when I heard my name being called. Not in Sarah’s cheerful voice, but in a hoarse whisper that sounded like a bow being sawed across violin strings that were drawn too tight. Gearoid, it whispered. Gearoid.

I managed to talk around the lump in my throat as I fumbled my phone out of my pocket, clicking the built in flashlight on. “Sarah? Sarah!”

There was no answer but the continuous whisper of my name, and I knew I had to find the source. I somehow willed my legs to move and navigated towards the voice, my flashlight illuminating the dark halls. The whisper became louder as I neared her parents’ bedroom, which I remembered too late had the largest window in the house; A big picture window with a window seat we used to sit on and read when we were in middle school. As I slowly opened the door, thunder rumbled again and my flashlight winked out. I thought I might have hit the off button with my shaking hand, but as I raised my phone to my face I saw it had died, even though the battery had been at 92% when I arrived at Sarah’s. As I stood on the threshhold of the master bedroom, my eyes squeezed shut against the darkness, the whisper became almost deafening, and I felt a cold, stale wind blow around me.

I had to go in, and as I stepped forward into the room, the door slammed shut.

As I opened my eyes, I fought the urge to run back through the door and leave, but I knew I had to find Sarah. There, at the picture window (which was open, despite the fact that it only opened from the inside and I knew her parents would not have left it unlocked) was a creature out of my nightmares.

Its shape was large, towering almost to the top of the eight foot high window, and it was crouched in the side garden like some monstrous toad. I had expected my first sighting of the shadow from the bushes to look like some sort of Eldritch monster, but this creature looked more natural than I could imagine. Its hide looked like bark, its long, wizened arms like tree branches, the hair hanging lankly around its head like moss. It would have almost looked like an enormous stump if not for the face, which was huge and pointed with a long, witch-like nose, and a mouth full of broken, green, grinning teeth.

“At last,” the creature said in a voice like groaning trees and snapped violin strings. “We meet.”

I had been frozen solid upon first sight of the creature, but I somehow found my voice upon hearing it speak. “What the hell did you do with Sarah? Why are you here? What are you?”

The creature looked at me, simply, as if it were appraising me, then laughed. Its laugh sounded like wind shrieking through the slats of an unkempt house, and its voice was slow, as if it had all the time in the world.

“Some call me the Old Man of the Crossroads. Some call me the One Who Answers. Some call me troll.” It grinned, as if this was amusing to him. “We have come for payment. The land, the land, the land. Caoime made the pact. The land, the land, the land was hers. But no longer. It is yours, and we have come for payment.”

I stared at the thing, uncomprehending, until it dawned on me. My grandmother’s name was Caoime, and she had made her pact for the land when she was seventeen – My age. After she died, the fey waited until I was of age, and came for me. For payment. For the pact.

I kept my distance from the window. “That doesn’t answer all my questions. Where is Sarah?!” I yelled over the howling wind, but the creature just chuckled its shrieking wind laugh.

“The girl, the girl, the girl. Perhaps she is under the hill. Perhaps we shall keep her there until the payment is made. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.”
I felt my blood turn to ice. These things had Sarah, my best friend, and they seemed to have no intention of giving her back.

“What do you want? I don’t care about the land, take it. Just give Sarah back and leave me alone!”

The creature sighed, as if it were thinking. Its earthen, hulking body shivered as it scratched its chin with one long, gnarled, tree-branch finger.

“You are a strong one. So was Caoime.”It chuckled, heaving another sigh as it settled its body further into the side garden, releasing a smell of overturned earth and damp moss.

“I will extend to you the same challenge I extended Caoime. For the land, the land, the land. And for the girl, the girl, the girl. Should you beat me at my own game, the land, the land, the land, and the girl, the girl, the girl, are yours. Should you fail…” The creature trailed off and grinned, its leathery face splitting in two as it showed all its broken teeth. “You are mine.”

I felt unable to speak, unable to move, unable to breathe. The thing – the troll was going to take me, my best friend, and most likely my mom to god knows where to do god knows what to us if I didn’t accept his challenge. I didn’t know what to do.

“Well, boy, boy, boy? Is your silence a refusal?” The creature ran one gnarled hand over the windowsill, and something dawned on me.

“If you want me so bad, why don’t you just come in here and take me?” It was a foolhardy thing to say, but I figured I could run from it – It moved slower than Christmas.

My question seemed to anger it, and its mossy eyebrows met in a snarl. “I cannot come inside unless you invite me, boy, boy, boy. Your friend was kind enough to come outside to me.” It grinned then, and chuckled. My anger reignited. I needed to get Sarah back.

“Fine. I accept your challenge, whatever it is.” At that exact moment, lightning cracked across the sky and for a split second I saw the creature in its entirety, which nearly made my heart stop. It was bigger than I imagined, its back humped and covered in fungi and moss, reaching nearly to the roof of the house. I swallowed.

“Delightful. I shall ask you three questions, boy, boy, boy. If you answer all correctly, the land, the land, the land, and the girl, the girl, the girl, is yours. We shall leave you alone.” It’s cracked smile didn’t falter. “But if you answer a single question wrong…” It trailed off, one wizened hand sweeping a grand gesture. I didn’t need it to elaborate.

I nodded, not sure I trusted my voice to speak as I sat on the edge of Sarah’s parents’ bed, staring at the creature, backlit by the storm. It rubbed its gnarled hands together in pleasure.

“Wonderful. It has been so long, long, long since one of your kind accepted my challenge. Now.” It paused, as if deep in thought before beginning, its voice a low, almost melodic rumble.

“My tines are long, my tines are short. My tines end ere my first report. What am I?”

I almost felt like laughing with relief when I heard the riddle. Grandma and I would spend hours telling each other riddles back and forth when I was a child, and I had gotten so good at them I would even leave her stumped and come up with answers to her hardest mind-benders. Whenever I asked her why she was so interested in riddles, she would just stroke my hair and say, You never know when they’ll come in handy, Gearoid. You never know.

I knew now. I wondered if Grandma had told me all the riddles trying to prepare me for the troll to come and ask for payment, or simply to keep her mind sharp. There was no time to think about it now as I mulled over the troll’s question.

“Well, boy, boy, boy? Do you give up?” It sounded pleased, thinking I was so easy to break. I glared at it.

“No. I was just thinking.” I glanced past the troll, just as a bright flash of lightning forked and hit a tree not far from Sarah’s horse pasture, and my eyes widened.

“Lightning. You’re lightning.”

The troll’s eyes narrowed, and I could tell he was surprised at my answer. “Very well.” He readjusted his bulk, his contorted fingers resting on the windowsill.

“Never ahead, ever behind, yet flying swiftly past; For a babe I last forever, for adults I’m gone too fast. What am I?”

I swallowed, my eyes glued to the floor to keep away from looking at the creature in front of me. I thought of how it must have waited all this years, watching, and how the rest of the fey hated me for being on their land; for being able to see them. I thought of the strange shadows I’d seen melting across my bedroom floor at night, only to disappear when I turned on the bedside lamp. The strange laughter and broken music I heard on winter nights, always out of reach when it swirled in on the freezing wind. How many other children had made fun of me for screaming that I saw squat, froglike creatures with sharp teeth grinning at me from the woods around the edge of the playground. How I nearly drowned one summer swimming in the lake on Sarah’s property when we were barely in sixth grade, because I felt webbed fingers latch onto my ankle and try to drag me down into the darkness.

“Childhood.”

The troll’s semblance of a smile twisted into a scowl, and I allowed myself the faintest of grins. I thought of my grandmother standing in front of this same beast at my age, terrified, but willing to go to any lengths to protect her family and friends. It made my smile wider.

“You are a clever boy, boy, boy, I see. Not clever enough for my final riddle, I know you are not, not, not.” Its deformed hand raised, and though it couldn’t get into the house, its shadow stretched across the floor and sent a bolt of panic through my chest.

“The thing that all things devours; Birds, beast, tree, flower. Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones down to meal. Slays kings and ruins towns, and beats the highest mountain down. What am I?”

I took a deep breath, my fists clenched against the quilt on Sarah’s parent’s bed. My smile had faded as the troll told the riddle, it was one not even my grandmother had alluded to. I refused to let the anxiety show on my face, but as I sat there staring at the ground, trying to think, the troll laughed. I had been silent for several minutes, and the storm was getting worse. Every second I delayed Sarah was stuck under the hill, and I had no idea what they were doing to her. They could already have my mom for all I knew, and I wondered how my grandmother did this. How did she live her life knowing there was a secret world all around her, and everything in it hated her? That she had to risk her and everyone she loved’s life just to keep them from mortal harm? She was stronger than me. I didn’t know how I was going to handle day-to-day life if I got out of here alive.

“Do you give up, boy, boy, boy? It is a difficult riddle. Do not be ashamed to admit defeat.” His green teeth showed as he grinned, and I could hear the violin strings snapping and branches creaking in his voice.

“No. I don’t give up. I just need more time.” I tried my hardest to keep my voice subdued as the troll shifted to its full height, fingers unfurling.

“Time was not in the bargain, boy, boy, boy. Either you answer or you do not.”

My teeth gritted as I opened my mouth to say god knows what, but I stopped. It was as if Grandma was sitting next to me, stroking my hair and shaking her head. The answer was right in front of you, Gearoid, you’re just too impatient to see it! She’d always say that in the earlier days of our game when I’d give up in a snit after taking too long to answer a riddle.

I knew the answer.

“Time. Time is the answer!” I stood up off the bed and grinned.

The troll scowled harder than I’d seen it, opened its mouth, and howled. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before in my life, a cacophony of broken, screaming instruments and wailing animals and crying women; As well as wind ripping through trees and ocean waves crashing against rock. The window slammed shut with a crack, a few panes of glass shattering and falling onto the window seat. The power flickered on and off crazily, the lights dimming and brightening as the troll howled.

Then, as soon as it started, it was over.

I opened my eyes from where I’d taken cover behind the bathroom door, and the troll was gone. The only proof of its existence was the faint smell of moss and lichen blowing in from the cracked window, and what I knew had happened. Sarah’s parents arrived home not long after, and found me sitting under their window clutching an iron poker from the fireplace, and their daughter missing. I think I passed out when Sarah’s mom started screaming. I don’t remember much after that.

They found Sarah later the next morning, about three miles away from her house. She wandered into a neighboring farmer’s barn, claiming she’d been abducted by strange women with deer forelegs and hooves and men with ribcages for torsos. She told the police they forced her to answer riddles to avoid them feeding her strange food and hurting her, but wasn’t able to answer all of them – The bruises all over her body attested to that. But the police didn’t believe her story. I didn’t think they would, but I knew better. She didn’t. She was new to this, she told people.

Her parents sent her to a psych ward for three months. I visited her almost every day I could, and I told her I believed her. She cried, usually, and told me about how food had no taste and she was hungry all the time, and she couldn’t sleep because of the strange music and voices calling her name. The day she was released, she looked terrible. She was skinnier than ever, with dark shadows under her eyes and hollow cheekbones. She hugged me tight, though, and told me she was sorry with tears in her eyes.

I wasn’t sure what she meant until she vanished out of her bedroom that night.

When her parents let me in her room to see if I wanted any of her things, it smelled like moss and lichen. When I left, I saw a hulking shadow under her window, and I thought I heard laughter like creaky branches and storm wind on the breeze.

Sarah never came back. I’m not sure if I should be happy or horrified that she didn’t. Her time spent under the hill changed her, made her a different person. Maybe she was happier there, now that she was one of them. I didn’t know. I’d never know, thank God, though I felt terrible for thinking it.

I had Grandma’s house torn down, even the foundation. I refused to sell the land even though I had everyone from farmers to developers begging me for it, offering me a king’s ransom for the rich soil. I wouldn’t put anybody through that. I wouldn’t will it to my children, as if I would have any. When I died, whenever that was, the pact would die with me.

I still hear the voices, the music, the whispering. I still see shadows out of the corner of my eye and I still won’t swim in natural bodies of water because water fey are notorious for trying to drown people. I still hear them calling, though I’ve gotten better at ignoring it. I won’t go to them, and I won’t listen to them.

On late winter nights, when I’m up in the wee hours trying to write another chunk of whatever it is I’m working on before my publisher’s deadline, the call is the hardest to resist. Sometimes I find myself out of my chair with my hand on the doorknob before I remember Grandma, telling me to be strong, calling me Gearoid. I remember the troll, thinking he’d won. I remember Sarah, how vibrant and full of life she had been before the hill took her. It’s enough for me to lock my doors tighter, put my headphones on and drown out whatever it is I hear.

I know they won’t ever go away, won’t ever stop trying and reaching for me, and I know no one will ever believe me. But for as long as I can remember, strange things have happened to me. And they’ve probably happened to you too. So next time you hear an unexplained noise in the middle of the night, or see a mysterious light just beyond the hill, don’t go searching for it. Don’t follow it.

Close your eyes, walk the other direction and be glad you can’t see the things that I can see.

Credit To – herchansen @ twitter

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