This is a video pasta. If the embedded video is not loading for you, please click the link above to go directly to the video’s YouTube page and try watching it there.
Credit: Liam Vickers
This is a video pasta. If the embedded video is not loading for you, please click the link above to go directly to the video’s YouTube page and try watching it there.
Credit: Liam Vickers
This month, I’d like to discuss a topic that caused me to fall into a pretty deep reddit rabbit-hole (you know, you start reading one thread and suddenly it’s hours later and you’re in some weird subreddit several degrees beyond where you first started) a few weeks back. If any of you paid attention to the “Berenstain VS. Berenstein” debate that popped up awhile back, it’s likely that you ended up reading about this phenomenon as well.
I want to talk about glitches. No, not the Haunted Cartridge cliché ‘glitches’ that have launched a thousand crappypastas – I’m talking about small, inexplicable occurrences in your day-to-day life.
/r/Glitch_in_the_Matrix/ defines a ‘glitch’ as such: a personal, everyday-mode experience for which you have no explanation.
For actual examples, sixpenceee has compiled a nice sampler pulled from various reddit threads: read it here. I think they’ve done an excellent job of grabbing examples that display the whole ‘glitch’ phenomenon better than any explanation, so please do check it out if you’re not already familiar with the idea of real-life glitches.
Here is the OG thread that spawned the subreddit, with even more glitchy anecdotes.
Other subreddits that are not specifically ‘glitches’ but are still related enough to be mentioned:
/r/MandelaEffect – A Mandela Effect is where you realise that something you knew to be a general fact of the world, no longer seems to be true. The Berenstain/Berenstein debate is a prime example of this phenomenon.
/r/DimensionalJumping – Taking things one step further, what if ‘glitches’ were simply evidence that you’d shifted dimensions at some point?
Now that I’ve given you a lot of backreading, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the whole thing – have you ever experienced something small that seemed completely out of place or unnatural in your everyday life? What do you believe such occurrences actually are – simple tricks of the mind, or something actually paranormal? Share your own glitches, discuss others’ stories, theorize about why/how such things happen, have fun with the topic! Just remember, as ever, to keep things polite and respectful.
Thanks, and enjoy!
Okay, so the first thing I’m going to tell you, in the interest of full disclosure and because it’s fairly pivotal to everything that comes next is that I am a drug user.
User, not addict. And I realise that this may well lead you to discredit everything I’m about to say as either lies or the fantasies of some junkie but that’s a risk I’ll have to take I suppose. Everything I’m about to relate to you is true, whether you want to believe it or not is entirely your business. If you want to just walk away at the end of this and forget all about the crazy druggie and their nonsense then that will be no skin off my nose.
So, I’m a drug user. Me and most of the guys were. I know it’s painfully cliché…a bunch of Wall Street big shots who do cocaine but there you have it.
Sometimes clichés are clichés because they’re true and in our case it definitely fit. It wasn’t anything we were into in a big way; however you would define that, which is why I reject the label ‘Addict’. It was never something I HAD to do, just something we did.
And it really did take the edge off, though I realise that’s probably a cliché excuse as well. But after a week of looking at numbers, staring at paperwork, filling out reports, moving sums from column A to column B, it became something to make unwinding that little bit easier.
There were four of us usually, myself, Peter Creed, then there was Raymond, Jake and Blakely. We’d go out, hit up a club that we knew had a reasonably hygienic bathroom and we’d do coke.
Blakely was usually the one carrying and usually the one to get it for us too.
And he was always the one to suggest trying something new, which we always went for, because after a while cocaine had lost its thrill. The first time I’d done it I’d been terrified of getting caught. The second time I’d been exhilarated at getting away with it. But after the fifth, the sixtieth, the hundredth? Honestly all I was worried about was whether I’d have a clean tissue if my nose started bleeding.
I suppose it’s like anything, if you do it often enough it becomes monotonous.
It stops becoming a thing you do because you want to do it but rather something that you do because it’s just something that you do. It becomes part of the routine, dull and predictable.
It stops being fun and becomes just
another aspect of your daily life.
You work nine to five and then Friday night you go do cocaine. So when Blakely had something new for
us we paid attention.
Blakely was the youngest of the group and easily the wildest. He hadn’t yet lost touch with old buddies from his college the way most of us had as work got in the way, hadn’t yet lost that energy we’d had when we felt ready to take on the world. He wasn’t the sort of person you could ever be FRIENDS with but he had this certain something that still made you want to be around him, spend time with him. He had energy, an enthusiasm, and a confidence that made you want to see what he’d do next.
It was a magnetism of sorts, a charisma that drew you to him even if your better judgement told you to keep away.
He had a spark…I suppose it would be fair to say that of all of us he was the one who seemed the most alive.
This is ironic given what happened later I suppose but I’m getting ahead of myself. Excuse me.
So anyway, Blakely. It was Friday night and we were all at some horrid little club the size of a shoebox where the music was too loud, the drinks were watered down and overpriced and the crowd was made up of equal parts thugs and morons. And Blakely, over the sound of the music and the people tunelessly singing along, asked me ‘Have you ever tried White Owl?’
I had no idea what he was talking
about. He was clearly trying to be discreet though not doing a good job of it as it was impossible to have a quiet conversation, and leant closer toward me.
“White Owl! It’s some next level shit!”
“Have you got any on you?” I hollered into his ear and he shook his head, grinning that wide grin of his. That was another thing about Blakely; he would always have this big, stupid smile on his face. Most of us figured it was the coke or whatever pills he was popping at work, giving him that little boost that stopped it breaking his spirit the way it had ours.
“No man, that’s not how it goes!”
“So what is it?” I asked, a little curious as to what exactly he was talking about. He shook his head again.
“No, no this shit, it’s not something you DESCRIBE to someone. Listen…” and at that he jerked his head toward the exit, beckoning me to follow him.
Pushing through the throng of bodies we found ourselves out in the open air, our only company one or two smokers desperate enough for nicotine fix to brave the cold night air.
And he began to tell me about White Owl.
Apparently it wasn’t something that could be carried around with your even purchased from a dealer. It was something far more exclusive than that, available only by invitation at a certain time and a certain place, to a select few who were picked out to get to try it. He’d been invited in by a friend who’d been invited by a friend and so on and so on. Once you were in you were able to select others to join the select group who got to partake of it.
It all sounded like a pyramid scheme or worse, some kind of cult to me, but Blakely was so lively as he talked about it, so eager and excitable that I was a bit curious. And more than anything I was desperate for something, ANYTHING to break the cycle, the soul crushing routine that felt like it had been going on for an eternity.
I was twenty six years old for Christ’s sake and my life was going NOWHERE. I wanted something to add some kind of excitement, some sort of thrill.
Blakely pressed his sweaty palm against mine, giving me a card with a time, a date and a place. Apart from that the only other thing on the card was a large white oval on a black background, with two large dark circles like eyes on it.
“Try it out man. It’s exactly what you’re looking for”
I was honestly still debating whether I would go or not when the anointed day came. Curiosity warred with cautiousness in my mind as the part that was eager to see what exactly was so special about what Blakely was talking about argued with the part that feared that all of this was some kind of trick, that at best it would be a prank and at worst this would be some kind of operation designed to snare unwary drug users, catch us in the act.
And my parents certainly hadn’t sent me to the finest schools in the country so that I could end up with my picture in the paper having been caught in some low rent crack den.
But in the end I wound up taking a cab down to where this ‘White Owl’ stuff was supposedly available, the desire to see what was so special about it winning out over fear and paranoia. The address was for one of those ghastly little places that’s meant to look ‘run down’ or ‘Urban’ but in fact cost a ridiculous amount of money to put together and was usually occupied mainly by hipsters and ‘artists’
desperate to feel like they were seeing the city’s ‘real’ face.
Spending a lot of money to make something look cheap is probably the best way to describe the aesthetic of these places. The one I was driven out to however didn’t seem to be occupied, unless everyone had their lights off at ten of clock on a Saturday night. I got out, paid the driver and made my way to the apartment specified on the card.
A few quick knocks on the door later and I was being greeted by a sight I really hadn’t expected. The person who had yanked it open in a manner which suggested they resented being bothered by anyone was about three feet tall, and dressed like he would be at home as a performer in some kind of carnival or circus.
His face was…deformed. That’s the only way I can think of to say it politely and from the looks of it, the deformity was not one he had been born with but rather something that had been inflicted.
He nodded at me, grunted and then motioned for me to follow him down the hallway.
As I passed a few closed doors I was aware of odd noises coming from behind them but I obviously wasn’t about to go snooping around this place, especially with my ‘host’ right in front of me.
Instead I followed silently to a lounge area where various people sat staring straight ahead. And all of them were staring at laptop screens.
The laptops themselves were set up on desks and had an incredibly strange design. It was as if random bits and pieces had been bolted, welded or wired up to them, none of the additions seeming to serve any purpose or function other than to make the laptops look odd. All the laptops were displaying a blank blue screen except for those that had people sat in front of them, those screens displaying nothing but static instead.
The people had a slack jawed expression on their face, headphones on their ears preventing them from hearing anything around them. It was a very strange sight to be greeted with and I was about to ask the dwarf what exactly was going on when a voice called out to me.
“You came! I knew you would!”
I turned to see Blakely just as he came up to me, giving me a slap on the back, his grin wider than ever, his face sweaty, eyes wide. He looked like shit, in all honesty but he certainly seemed happy to see me.
“Yeah, what IS this exactly?” I asked gesturing around at the people sat at the desks, “What, do they give us a free peepshow while we take this stuff?”
“This IS the stuff. Come on”
He led me to a chair and a desk, sitting me down and handing me a pair of headphones. I looked at him with an expression of confusion and discomfort but put them on all the same at his silent urging, wondering where this was going.
“Okay, now just watch” he said.
I looked at the screen. After a few moments it began displaying static and white noise could be heard through the headphones. I was wondering just what I was meant to do here and if this whole thing was some massive waste of time, if Blakely had been pulling my leg about this ‘White Owl’ thing. But then something happened.
Through the white noise I began to be aware of what sounded like snatches of conversation. The odd word here or there, muffled and hard to make out.
And as I stared at the screen I began to think that I could see something. It was vague and indistinct, like the blurry world a guy with bad eyesight sees without his glasses, or when you try and view something or someone through frosted glass.
But it was there. And I began to think that if I just tried to focus on nothing but what I was hearing through the headphones and seeing in the static, maybe I would be able to make it out. I began to become dimly aware of a shape forming, the white dots merging together to create one huge white mass as the black dots became huge circles in it, like eyes gazing out at me.
A hand on my arm jolted me out of the trance like state I’d slipped into and Blakely was looking at me with a smile as he yanked the headphones from my head.
“C’mon, time to go”
“Time to go? I’ve only been here for…”
I began but I trailed off as I looked down at my watch. I’d been there for five hours, staring at the screen, listening to the white noise. How had I been there for five hours? How could I possibly have not noticed that length of time passing me by? I’d heard of zoning out, losing track of time, but this was ridiculous.
I hadn’t taken anything. Nothing had been snorted, injected or otherwise entered my body. Just the screen and the headphones and the sensation of being on the verge of seeing something, hearing something, to the point where everything else slipped away.
“I don’t get it…all these people just come here and do this all night?” I asked, gesturing at the few who were still there, all still staring at the screens that doped up look on their faces. Blakely nodded.
“The first time’s just a taste man.
When you’re doing it regularly, that’s the real shit”
I really didn’t know if I wanted to be doing this ever again, whatever this was. I was creeped out, frightened by how I’d seemingly lost five hours of my life to static. We walked towards the exit, the little man with the scars holding it open as Blakely explained that the first time was free but after that you had to pay for any future visits.
I asked how much it was, more out of curiosity than any real desire to come back. How much would people be willing to pay to look at a screen? The little man grunted something in what could have been Russian and I looked at him quizzically. In a low growl he said,
‘One thousand’ in English.
“One thousand dollars? What, a day? A week? A Month?”
“On thousand an hour for THIS?”
Blakely was starting to look nervous now. That smile on his face was a little too forced; his skin looking like it was stretched taut over his face. Christ he really did look awful.
“It’s worth it man. Listen, I’ll pay for the next one. Long as you need. And if you don’t like it the second time, that’s it”
He was gripping my arm tighter now, to the point where it was becoming painful. There was urgency, a need in his eyes and more than that, a fear. He looked afraid of something, though whether it was the little man or something else I didn’t know. I just mumbled something like ‘Fine man, it’s your money’ and agreed though I had doubts about whether I’d stick to it.
Blakely looked relieved and the little man gave us cards with the date, time and place of the next meeting and then slammed the door behind us. I suppose the price explained why the guy running this show was such an asshole. If they were charging their customers a thousand and hour for this shit they probably weren’t too worried about attracting new people to these little get togethers anymore.
It was while Blakely and I were walking back together that I asked the obvious question.
“Why is it called White Owl?”
Blakely looked at me confused, tilting his head like a dog looking up at its master.
“You didn’t see it man? Everybody sees it, even the first time”
It took me longer than I would have liked to work out what he was talking about. That shape in the static, a white-ish mass with two large black ovals where you’d expect to see eyes.
Like a white owl. Was that what Blakely was talking about? But that made even less sense than when I had no idea why they named it this.
“What do you mean everybody sees it?
You can’t share a hallucination”
“Everybody sees it man. I don’t know what else to tell you”
We said out goodbyes and I made my way home, thinking about what Blakely had said. It must have been something other than a hallucination that I saw I told myself, some trick they did on the screens. Or maybe even some marginally less low-tech version of those ‘Magic eye’ images you would stare at when you were a kid. It was a trick.
Though that didn’t explain the odd sensations I’d felt while it happened. It hadn’t been exactly like being high, but it was comparable to that. And the time I’d lost, how could that be?
I didn’t sleep well that night. I jerked away with a word on my lips that
I’d never spoken before and didn’t know what it meant. The covers were drenched in sweat, despite the cold of the room and I found myself feeling strangely exhilarated, like I’d been running. My heart was beating fast and my eyes darted around the room. I couldn’t get back to sleep.
I figured they had to have slipped me something or else used some kind of subliminal messaging, some fancy mind-fuck that messed you up. Why anyone would pay to feel like that was beyond me. And yet despite myself, despite every rational impulse in my body telling me to leave this alone, I wanted to go to that second meeting.
I wanted to find out what was so special about the second time that it made people want to come back again and again, pay such huge amounts of money for the privilege of being part of this little group. And I told myself that since it was going to be Blakely paying for it I didn’t really have anything to lose, except maybe a few hours of my time that I’d only spend sleeping or at some shitty bar or club anyway.
Why not try it out, a little voice in my head whispered. Why not see what makes it so special?
The night came and this time Blakely was waiting for me outside, looking anxious until he spotted me at which point he smiled happily and rushed over to meet me, like an eager little puppy.
“I was getting worried you weren’t gonna show” he said and I shrugged, brushing off his concern. Why the hell would he be worried? All me not showing up would mean is that he got to keep his money.
“Whatever. This is probably going to be the last time I do this” was all I said back, the words coming out a little more bluntly than I mean them to. But
Blakely didn’t seem to care, instead hurrying along towards the building, looking back now and then to make sure I was following him inside.
It was the same set up as last time, though a few more people were there now. The headphones went on, I sat before the screen and the static and white noise began to play.
Except this time it was different.
This time somehow the images seemed sharper, the voices more distinct. This time I began to feel more like I understood what I was seeing, what I was hearing. I began to feel immersed in it, as if the static was pouring out of the screen, flooding the room around me, surrounding me in a sea of black and white, all other noise lost in the roar of the sound from the headphones, the sound of voices, many voices.
A thousand, a million, maybe more. All speaking, in hushed whispers or perhaps loudly but infinitely far away, my skin tingling as I watched, as I felt myself being taken somewhere else.
And above it all was the shape, wings stretched wide, covering a thousand miles or more, its eyes looking into me, those black, empty eyes. The White Owl.
As before the session felt like it was over before it began. But this time I didn’t feel confused and irritable, this time I felt…different. I felt charged, energised. I felt like I was overflowing with life, like there was too much energy in me to be contained.
I felt like I could do a million things all at once and still not feel remotely tired, that I could do anything, anything at all.
I felt potent and primal, felt like a lion about to pounce upon limping prey.
That sensation of barely repressed power, ready to be unleashed upon the world. Like I could burst.
Blakely could clearly tell that this time was different. As soon as we were out the door I began to speak, hurriedly and eagerly, a grin on my face that would probably rival Blakely’s own.
“That felt INCREDIBLE!” was the first thing that came out and he nodded, evidently not surprised at this reaction.
“What’d I tell you? After the second time it’s all different”
“I feel fantastic! I feel…I feel BETTER than I’ve felt in…in ever! Like I could do anything, beat anyone, achieve any goal! I want to…I want to run! I want to run and swim and jump and…and HUNT”
The word slipped out without me even consciously meaning to say it. I had no idea why I said it. And yet it felt right, felt good. It was true, wasn’t it? I did, I wanted to hunt. I wanted to see something run before me and to give chase, to run it down, chase it until it was exhausted, until it couldn’t run anymore and then to pounce upon it, to devour it whole. To rip. To tear. To eat.
I was hungry. I was so hungry.
After that experience I started going more and more frequently. In fact pretty soon I was never missing a meeting, showing up for every single one of these little get-togethers the people selling ‘White Owl’ did. I was spending a small fortune on this every month and yet it really didn’t matter.
Because the more I went there, the more a funny thing started to happen.
Things just started falling into place for me. My job, that I’d found so taxing, so draining, became so simple.
It was if each burst of that static, each dose of that white noise had the effect of sharpening my mind, like a knife on a whetstone. As if I was being sculpted, perfected, the dull witted thing I once was being moulded into someone who could overcome any obstacle, beat any challenge.
Raises, promotions and hearty slaps on the back from those above me became a commonplace occurrence at work as I proved myself to them. As I became smarter, more focused. The imbeciles around me, unable to see the solutions
I saw, unable to work to the standard I worked, gazed at me with envy.
“What’s his secret?” I imagined them muttering to themselves.
I won’t deny that there were…side effects. The odd dream I’d had after the first dose became the norm. My dreams became increasingly bizarre. Not frightening I would say, just strange.
I would imagine myself somewhere else. Someone else. Something old and powerful and strong, in a place far from here. Wet grass beneath my bare feet, and the sound of the ocean, the smell of fresh air that had never been tainted by the pollution of man.
I would imagine myself surrounded by things, things that slithered and skittered and crawled, that chattered in a billion strange and ancient voices, in a language not meant to be heard by those unworthy of this blessing. I imagined myself stood with others like me on an island far from ‘civilisation’, in a place long forgotten by the foolish and fickle.
We would sing and dance and run and hunt. We would call up to the sky and hear an answer from somewhere far away and yet close.
I imagined a vast structure, huge and imposing, stretching up to the sky like a tower of Babel, its design utterly alien, utterly unlike anything one would dream up for people to live or work in, covered in strange writing and odd sculptures.
And I knew that there were things living inside it, vast things. I imagine shapes, things I could recall with no great clarity when I woke up, huge fleshy bulks that glistened and shimmered and moved so fast that they made everything else appear to be slow motion. And above it all, her wings stretched out to blot out the sky, her eyes looking down upon us, was the White Owl, the beautiful and terrible White Owl.
Each time I would wake up I would remember a little bit more. Never the whole thing, never the whole shape of what I was seeing but my memories would become clearer. Like they weren’t memories of a dream but memories of something that really happened, long ago. Sometimes I would imagine, just for a brief moment that I wasn’t alone in my room when I woke up. That all around me were things in the dark, chittering and hissing their eyes locked on me.
I imagined they were proud.
I was hungry all the time. I was eating more and more and yet never gaining weight, my clothes getting baggy and loose on me no matter how much food I gobbled down. It was as if the White Owl wouldn’t allow me to put on weight, as if it sculpted my body as perfectly as it sculpted my mind, not letting me get out of shape. It was the same with Blakely and some of the other guys too I noticed.
The first stray dog I killed was probably about nine months into this thing. I didn’t plan to do it or anything, I just…I saw it there. Old and limping and weak. I picked up a can from the sidewalk and threw it, made it run.
It had to run, had to flee. Had to have a chance, I suppose. And then I was bounding after it, pouncing on it, teeth and nails digging, biting, and ripping into it.
I was disgusted with myself after I was done. But for the first time in months
I felt full. I felt satisfied.
After that it became something of a nightly thing for me. Stray dogs and…other things. Standing there with blood under my nails and on my teeth, licking it from my lips. I felt like I was tapping into something ancient and powerful, buried underneath all the layers of politeness and ‘society’. I felt like roaring up to the sky, howling my triumph to the stars. Sometimes I imagined that there were eyes looking back down at me, proud of my accomplishment.
Proud of the hunt.
Then came the night that changed things.
We knew that there was something different as soon as we arrived, Blakely and I. When we showed up at the time and place we’d been told to gather there were no screens set up, no headphones waiting to be comfortably fitted over our ears. Everyone was sat in a circle, a bunch of the regulars and a few of the ‘casuals’…those who either didn’t have the money or the dedication to make it to every meeting, who didn’t do White Owl every time it was available.
How we despised them. How we sneered. They would never understand the full experience, never truly be embraced by this majestic and beautiful thing we had allowed into our heads. For them this was just another buzz, another high. For us it was something transformative. Something holy.
Blakely and I sat down, no one saying a word. We all eyed each other up; all wondering what this could be about. And then the door opened and a newcomer stepped into the circle.
She was tall and dressed in a dark black suit with red gloves. One side of her mouth sported a jagged scar, giving her the appearance of a jagged grin, her short red hair a mass of curls. She held a chain in one hand, attached to a collar around the neck of a man dressed in a wifebeater that was stained a bright red, his arms and face caked in the same. He would take a few lumbering and clumsy steps with each tug on the chain, his eyes bloodshot, his pupils like pinholes.
“This is Jonas.
Jonas is my dog” the woman said, by way of introduction. She didn’t give her name. Her voice was strange and difficult to listen to. At first I was unsure of what it was but something about it sounded hollow, artificial.
Like it wasn’t a real voice at all but one that was being generated by a computer or something like that. And more than that, the voice hurt. She spoke normally and yet it felt like it was too loud, like all the noise in the room was absorbed by it so it was the only thing you were allowed to hear.
“One of you has let me down. One of you has broken my heart with your betrayal.
And Jonas is here to find the betrayer.
One of you has been talking to the police. Naively thinking there is anyone you can talk to who doesn’t belong to me. Naively thinking that they are smarter than me”
Her voice hurt so much to listen to. I could tell it wasn’t just me, the others flinched with every word, looking nervously at each other, all of them thinking the same thing. Which of you was it? And what will she do to us because of it? Every single one of us was afraid in that moment, afraid that all would be punished because of what one had done.
Myself, I was most worried that she would no longer give us the White Owl. The thought of having it taken from me, not getting my regular fix of the White Owl was the worst thing I could imagine.
The woman came to look at each of us in turn, her eyes focused on us with a frightening intensity. Her eyes looked wrong. Her face looked wrong. Not the scar, the scar was hardly the worst thing I’d seen but just something about her was off. It made my skin crawl to be near her. I saw others flinch away as she brought the tips of her fingers near to their faces.
Finally she came to a stop at a sickly looking man. He was a casual user of White Owl, not someone who showed up often but I’d noticed him there a few times. It didn’t surprise me to see that it was one of the casuals who had sold us out. In that instant I hated him, despised him, wanted to tear him apart. How DARE he try and ruin this wonderful thing for us?
He began to whimper and stammer out claims that this wasn’t true, that he would never do this thing but the woman looked like she was looking right through him, like he wasn’t even there. Like nothing he said was being heard.
You have upset me”
The man’s face drained of all colour as if he knew that those words would be some of the last ones he would hear in what little remained of his life.
Two of us stepped forward to grab his arms. He begged and cried and pleaded for us to stop this, his voice becoming higher and shriller as she beckoned for us to bring him, tugging on Jonas’s chain. The blood soaked thing on the chain turned and followed her, the rest of us accompanying them, dragging the kicking and shrieking man with us, knowing that this location was surely carefully chosen so as to make sure that no one would hear him who could help.
We stepped out into the cool night air to see a crowd had gathered. Others dressed in smart suits like us but with the crucial difference that each of them wore upon their faces a white mask, featureless but for two large dark ovals. I didn’t feel surprised to see them. I can’t speak for the others but none of them, even the casuals, looked that shocked that they were there.
Like the woman they were new to us, unfamiliar and yet at the same time it felt like we knew them. Like we had seen them before. And we all instantly knew that they were here to be a part of whatever was to follow.
Darren, the crying and screaming wreck of a man who had earlier been so composed, was hurled to the ground at the woman’s feet. She looked down at him the way one would look at a mass of maggots they had found in their dinner, a look of unrestrained and complete disgust. He got on his knees, sweaty hands clasped together as if in prayer, begging for his life, begging for her not to hurt him, insisting he had done nothing wrong.
She clearly did not care.
He looked at her, confused.
You’ll be given a five minute head start
Then we hunt. We hunt YOU”
He looked at each of us in turn. Did he expect any of us to plead his case? Ask her not to do this? HELP him? What a stupid little man. As if any of us would cross her. As if any of us would do anything that might get us cut off from the supply of White Owl. But then that’s a casual for you. He took off running after a few moments and I looked over at the woman.
And for an instant she wasn’t the same. She wore no mask and yet for just a second, for a split second, her face was not her face at all. Her hair was gone. Her head was bald and devoid of facial features, save for two massive black circles where one would expect to see eyes. Two pitch black sockets that seemed not to merely contain darkness but an absence, an absence of anything at all.
And then it was gone and she was once more as she had been before. Her eyes lingered on me as if she knew what I had seen, and I thought for an instant
I saw a smile there.
We waited for a few minutes and then Blakely stepped forward, eager to begin.
“So do we do it now?
Do we hunt?”
There was a pause. She looked at him, her expression unreadable. Unknowable.
“The five minutes weren’t for him”
The gunshot was louder than I thought it would be. I mean I’d only heard a gun go off on TV before now. In real life it’s really much noisier.
Blakely’s expression slowly turned from that confident, cocky grin to a look of confusion and pain, as a dark red stain began to spread, seeping through his shirt. Dumbly he pressed his hands to the wound, as if not quite believing it was real, red coating his hands as he dropped to his knees, much as Darren had before him.
“I knew it was you Blakely.
I just wondered if you would confess”
I was so disappointed in him. But then Blakely had always been greedy. But to try and sell us out, to sample the delights and wonders of White Owl and then try and earn himself a quick buck by selling us out, it disgusted me. It was strange how little our former friendship meant as I looked down at him, I suppose. But suddenly he wasn’t a friend or even a man at all.
He was traitor.
“The hunt is sacred, Blakely. Do you think I would desecrate it like this?
Traitors don’t get hunted.
Traitors just get butchered”, the woman said.
And then, as one mass, we fell upon him. With nails and teeth we fell upon him, clawing, biting, scratching, gouging, ripping tearing. The sound of tearing clothes followed by the sounds of tearing flesh, as Blakely vanished into a dozen hungry, eager mouths. And he wasn’t even a traitor to me anymore. Now he was meat.
I didn’t feel hungry for weeks afterwards.
You should have seen Darren’s face when we caught up to him…forgive me for chuckling but he really thought we were going to hunt and eat HIM! Oh lord was his face a picture…we all had a good laugh about it afterwards though, once he’d calmed down and gotten himself another dose of the good stuff to calm his nerves. The woman, who I learned after was named Fenris, even gave him that nights dose for free, to compensate him for his troubles. He was a good sport about it after that.
Blakely officially took off on an ‘extended vacation’ after that, during which, as far as the boys at the office and his family members are concerned, he met a beautiful young woman who he eloped with on the spur of the moment.
I’m sure he’ll still send his family postcards though. We all share a little smile every time we ‘receive’ them at the office too.
We pin them up on the notice boards and everything, letting anyone who walks past read about what a good time Blakely’s having.
And wouldn’t you know it with him gone, guess who wound up getting picked for that cushy top job he was going to be getting? A big promotion, a big pay rise…and a MUCH nicer office. I guess I have to thank Blakely really. He introduced me to White Owl and now, with him ‘away’ I guess he’s helped me out in another way too.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re waiting for the downside, right? You’re waiting to hear how it all went wrong, so I can warn you to stay away from White Owl and the people who peddle it, waiting for the part where something horrible happens and I learn the error of my ways too late.
This isn’t that kind of story. And that sure as hell isn’t why I’m telling you it.
I’m telling you it because one day, maybe one day soon, you might just get an invitation to try White Owl.
Someone, a friend or a relative might slip a card into your pocket with a time.
And a place.
And I would strongly encourage you to go there.
Because here’s the thing. I know I made it clear at the start of this story I hate clichés but I’m going to have to end on one I feel is particularly relevant.
It really IS a jungle out there. And take it from me, it’s eat…or be EATEN
Credit: Alice Thompson
My involvement in the experiment started only a few weeks ago. I was visiting my grandfather, who lives alone and needs someone to come over and help out with the house once a week. I’d usually go for the well stocked library in his office, and the long conversations about any book, from Harry Potter to The Odyssey.
While browsing one of the bookshelves for something new, the phone called. He keeps the phone on the office desk at all times, so I handed it to him before going back to the incredible worlds behind leather bound volumes and filigree titles. My attention snapped back to the phone when my grandfather said the name ‘Daneel’ in surprised recognition.
Daneel was my cousin, living in England. I’d met her once at a family reunion when I was ten, and remembered her mainly as the girl who kicked my ass after we disagreed which X-Men characters would win in a fight.
My grandfather got out of his comfy chair and left the room, something he never does. I usually let people have their secrets, but it was only last week I’d asked him how my uncle’s family were doing overseas. He’d died just after the reunion, leaving behind Daneel to be cared for by her mother’s sister. Going against all my instincts, I followed to the half closed door, and listened. He’d had some problems with his hearing the last year, and to my relief he chose to take the call over speaker like always. A young woman’s voice sounded over the phone, and with a slight chuckle I could clearly recognise the little girl arguing in Nightcrawler’s favor.
‘Hey, I’m sorry to just call out of the blue, I know it’s been a while.’
‘Not at all, my dear,” my grandfather replied. He had a slight accent, but he’d put a lot of effort into learning the language after his son married an English woman.
‘Heh, okay,’ Daneel continued. ‘It’s good to hear your voice again. I was just wondering about something. Something about my father? I’m at Sarah’s place, and going through some of his old stuff in the attic, I found a cassette tape. It looks pretty old. It’s just, there’s someone else’s name on it. Do you know if he had any friends named James?’
‘What does it say on the tape, exactly?’
‘Ehm. It says ‘England, 1985. James’ track 14′.’
My grandfather got really quiet. I frowned and thought I’d might have missed something, before I heard Daneel ask if he was still there.
‘Yes, my dear. No, I don’t believe he knew anyone by that name. I will look into it, and call you back.’ After that, he said a hasty goodbye, and hung up. I grabbed a few books, opened the door, and walked out while reading the opening page of The Count Of Monte Cristo. He paid me no attention as I sat down by the fireplace. The days were getting colder, and a warm fire was already sending dancing shadows over the walls. I didn’t ask any questions, and after about ten minutes, he said he was going to bed. It was still early, even for him, but I just nodded and kept reading.
Daneel started everything with that phone call. I couldn’t help being curious, because I knew so well that my grandfather had lied to her. Why, I had no clue. Pinned to a cardboard above his desk was an old polaroid photo, and after I’d made sure grandfather was asleep, I took a look at it. Once, when I was helping packing up stuff after grandmother, I’d turned it around to see if it had been hers. If I wasn’t too mistaken, the name James would be on the back.
‘Me and Timothy on our way to Reinsnos, 1978.
James wanted to be in the photo.’
I was right. The picture was of two young boys, maybe 13-14 years old, standing on the side of a road. The shadow of the photographer fell across the bottom part of the photo. James.
I opened my mail account on my ipad, and found Daneel’s old email address. I’d never used it before. I told her about the photo, and sent her a picture taken on my phone. I didn’t think much about it after that; I already felt like I’d invaded someone’s personal space. My grandfather rarely mentioned Aleksander. Losing him had been a hard blow to the family, especially since Daneel’s mother had left them right after she was born.
I went home, made dinner, watched some TV series with my girlfriend, and went off to bed. It would have ended for me, if Daneel hadn’t emailed me back the next day. She’d found a phone number connected to the other boy in the photo, Timothy. She’d talked to his twin brother.
That is why I, three weeks later, found myself outside the local police station, holding a folder full of printed pages. I will tell you the same things I told the officers. It was a lazy day, as it always is in a town of five thousand people. The officer in charge was a woman in her late forties, whom I’d seen many times and even talked to during career days at school when I was younger. She was a strict but gentle woman, and easy to talk to. Her office was bright and cosy, full of colourful files and documents neatly arranged in metal cabinets. Above her desk were the typical pictures of the king and queen, as well as the prime minister. The assistant closed the door behind me, and Officer Aune rose from her chair to shake my hand, and showed me to a chair opposite her.
‘Now, how can I help you, my dear?’ She asked.
‘I’m here to report a missing person,’ I said. She looked surprised, to say the least. Things worse than the occasional lost dog or drunken vandalism rarely happened here. She nodded, grabbed a pen and a pad, and looked at me in a much more serious manner.
‘I see. Name?’
‘Daneel Selwyn,’ I said. Officer Aune looked up from the pad, one eyebrow raised.
‘Is this person a tourist, or…?’
‘No. I-‘ I breathed in deeply, looking down at the floor. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come here. Thank you for you time.’ I quickly rose to leave, but she picked up on the tone of my voice.
‘Hold on, it’s okay.’ I hesitated, and turned back to her. ‘You have nothing to worry about, we will do everything we can to find your friend. I just need all the information you can give me.’
I nodded slowly and sat back down. ‘She’s my cousin. I think she left England maybe two days ago.’
‘And she came here?’
‘Yes.’ I put the folder on her desk, opened it, and revealed the first printed page. ‘Three weeks ago, she called my grandfather, asking for help with identifying an old friend of her father. Since then, she’s been investigating what happened to them in the 80’s.’ I folded out the pages. ‘She started keeping this blog, to show me everything she found out. There’s pictures, emails, phone calls…’
‘And you think this all led her here?’ Officer Aune leaned forward and looked through the pages. ‘Why?’
‘That’s exactly it. She’s not posting anymore. I haven’t heard from her in a while.’
Officer Aune leaned back and breathed out heavily. ‘What makes you think this girl is missing? To me it seems she came to find something, and wants to pursue it alone. Why do you worry about her?’
I hesitated, wondering how much information I could hold back. The experiment hadn’t expected me. I was an outsider. I felt that for some reason, I could break the rules. I could spread the research. ‘Because someone is following her.’
Officer Aune frowned. ‘Who?’
I leaned over the desk and looked through the pages until I found the right one. It was a copy of an old newspaper clipping. ‘Daneel found something that linked all the people in this photo.’ I pointed to the photo I’d sent her. ‘There was an accident in 1985, just outside of central London. A bus went off the road, and five people died. Both of Daneel’s parents were on that bus, and both survived with minor injuries. James and Timothy were there too.’ I pointed to the writing at the back of the photo.
‘Wait,’ Officer Aune said. ‘You’re losing me here, kid. How is this relevant to your cousin being here, thirty years later?’
‘Because I found something she hasn’t seen. I can’t get a hold of her anymore. You’re the only one who can.’
Officer Aune got quiet, and just stared at me for a few seconds.
‘You said you would do anything you could to help me find Daneel,’ I said. ‘So…in your records. There has to be something about Reinsnos in 1978.’
‘Wait, what? Kid, you’re making no-‘
‘Please, just check it! That’s where Daneel is going. It has to be!’
She sent me a disgruntled look, before she logged onto her computer. She clicked around a lot, like her generation usually do, before she typed in a search field. I could see text reflected in her glasses, and waited impatiently. After about a minute, she nodded slowly.
‘What exactly would I be looking for? You know, this information is not exactly for your eyes.’
‘Most of it is already in public archives,’ I replied. ‘I’ve read most of it. I just… I don’t know what they were looking for. I don’t know why they were all gathered on that bus, and why they needed them.’
Officer Aune shot me a sideward glance from behind the screen. ‘You’re right. It’s public. If you’re referring to the experiments?’
‘Yes, that’s it,’ I said quickly. ‘Daneel’s father went to Reinsnos when he was thirteen, and that’s where he met Timothy and James, probably Daneel’s mother too. Their families were being paid pretty well for the experiment.’
‘What kind of experiment was this?’
‘The only thing these kids had in common. Daneel’s father had Hyperosmia. Timothy had Hypergeusia. James had-‘
‘Slow down,’ said Officer Aune. ‘Explain these words to me, please.’
‘Heightened sense of smell. Heightened sense of taste,’ I said. ‘James had unusually good hearing, while Daneel’s mother could see better than most. They all went to Reinsnos in 1978 to be part of an experiment having to do with their senses. Then, in 1985, they came together to continue the experiment in England, only they never got there. Five other subjects died, and the rest almost seemed to go off the radar after the accident. Timothy died three months after he left the hospital. Daneel’s father died when she was eight. Her mother disappeared shortly after she was born, and god knows what happened to James. For some reason, everyone connected to that experiment, are now gone.’ I paused, dragged five fingers through my hair, and looked down at the file on the desk.
‘But there’s something Daneel missed.’
‘What is it?’
‘The distance,’ I almost whispered. ‘Of the five victims, two of them died at the hospital less than ten hours after the accident.’ I looked up. ‘They died at the exact same time. They should both have survived. Then Daneel’s parents and the rest of the survivors disappeared, until Timothy’s body was found in a field three months later.’
‘What did you mean when you said ‘the distance’?’
‘The two in the hospital. They went the same distance from the crash site to the hospital, so they died at the same time. Timothy, he travelled around for three months. He kept moving, so they couldn’t catch up with him. Then Aleksander, Daneel’s father, who died many years later. He moved back to Norway, then went on business trips all over the world, so he made it for a long time.’ I could feel the adrenaline pump through my veins. Officer Aune looked at me with a mixture of shock and interest, and what I guessed had to be a hint of concern.
‘Don’t you get it?’ I asked. ‘The subjects of this experiment died according to the time and distance they moved away from the location of the accident. Daneel figured this out too. They were never supposed to get to wherever the bus was taking them. It was supposed to crash, because that was the experiment.’
‘Alright,’ she said, and folded her hands on the desk. ‘Let me now just assume that this is all correct. Why the distance thing? Why would that matter?’
I swallowed hard. ‘Because… Because of their conditions. The experiment started when they went on the run. It’s the only explanation. Whatever or whoever was after them, James was the only one who could hear it, Aleksander was the only one who could smell it, and Daneel’s mother was the only one who could see it. That’s why Timothy died. A heightened sense of taste wouldn’t be much help. Something followed them after the accident, something normal people wouldn’t be able to sense at all. I just don’t know what it was, or who.’
Officer Aune clicked with the pen, and looked down at the pad. ‘I will contact the London police department, and her family. Then I’ll call the officer in charge in Reinsnos. If that’s where she’s headed, they’ll know it when a foreigner comes around.’
I managed a grateful smile. ‘Thank you. I know this sounds just… strange.’
‘No, not at all. I actually wondered when you’d come around.’
I stared at Officer Aune, trying to find the right words. ‘Wh…what do you mean?’
Officer Aune crossed her legs, rested one cheek against her fist, and smiled. ‘I mean, you are Aleksander’s nephew, after all. Don’t you think we’d keep an eye on you in case you showed some similar skills?’
I felt as if I’d frozen to the chair. ‘You’re joking. You don’t believe me, so you’re joking.’
Officer Aune chuckled. ‘Nope. Not at all. You actually did a wonderful job. We’ve been looking for Daneel for a while, and now we have a chance to find her.’
I slowly rose from the chair, never breaking the eye contact. I could feel my voice shaking. ‘Why? Why would you drag her into this?’
‘She’s been part of it since she was born. It was no one’s choice.’ She sent him one last smile, as she closed the folder, handed it back to me, and turned toward the computer screen. ‘It was nice talking to you, and thank you for your cooperation.’
I stared at her, stunned, before I took the folder, and walked towards the door. I stopped at the sound of her voice, but didn’t turn around.
‘Oh, and… Henrik, isn’t it? As for what is following Daneel, you really shouldn’t worry about it. She may not have a choice in the matter, but so far, you do. Go back to your flat, to your girlfriend. Clean your grandfather’s house once a week, and finish The Count Of Monte Cristo. Let me worry about finding Daneel for you.’
I slowly turned the handle, and closed the door behind me. My head was spinning as I made my way outside in the fading sunlight. Yellow and orange leafs lay scattered outside the office building, and a sharp wind played in the treetops. It will be winter soon. Daneel went far north, alone.
I’ve told you everything I told the police, and I know it was a huge mistake the first time. But I have to do something. I’m leaving soon. I’ll be going north, to find Daneel. She needs to know.
The address to her blog is daneelselwyn.tumblr.com, and the password is ‘aleksander’. Whatever happens, I need to find her first.
Credit: Henrik Syvertsen, Daneel Selwyn
“He’s waiting, he’s watching. He’s biding his time.
He stares as your sleeping, it’s just after nine.
You‘re holding your blanket, In comfortable heaven.
He’s sneaking towards you, the clock says eleven.
You dream about candy, and chocolate and fun.
He’s nearly beside you, it’s just turning one.
You don’t see him coming, there’s no time to flee.
You wake up, you scream. It’s his time. It’s three.”
Old children‘s tale, The Ragman.
I’ve always had a keen interest in horror. Ever since I was a young boy and my friend Richard and I used to sneak into his living room at night when I’d stay over. We’d stick on whatever scary film we could find on VHS or we’d turn on his TV and watch one that we’d spotted in the TV guide.
I remember watching the movie ‘Halloween’ when I was roughly twelve. It terrified me, sent chills up my spine and made me peek over my shoulder for the next week but it intrigued me. I kept lapping up all the ghost stories and horror tales that I could get my hands on. I watched the Exorcist when I was fourteen and it freaked the hell out of me. I didn’t sleep for about a month I’d say.
That was also roughly around the time that I discovered the delights of Stephen King and James Herbert novels. Nerve shredding chills on every page and there was just so many of them that I could barely have the time to read them all. No matter how old I got, no matter how mature I became, I never lost that spirit. That need to be frightened by a horror story or movie. That desire to feel terrified. That’s probably why I turned to writing horror myself. I just wanted to give someone else that thrill that I’d been seeking all throughout my adolescence.
In time I unfortunately grew desensitized to scary movies and books. It‘s part of growing up. The feeling of fear when watching a terrifying movie alone with the lights off began to get diluted as I became older and I began looking for bigger and better scares.
Searching for ghost stories or other tales of dread that people had told me were real became the next big thing. Not the stories that you might see on the TV screen and then switch off and simply try to forget. Not the tale in the pages of a book that’s escaped from by shutting it. I went from town to town and all over the web hearing all the ramblings of the paranoid and the true believers and after years of searching I found something. That experience with the truly macabre that came with the chill up my spine. The peeking over my shoulder. The difficulty of sleeping simply by knowing it. The most disturbing and heart retching, fear inducing tale of menace that I had ever heard. Well, to be honest, I am a little bias and I will tell you why. It’s simple, it happened to me. Here is my account with the entity known as ’The Ragman’.
In my home you could find all sorts of horror paraphernalia. Old books, haunted dolls, crucifixes used during real life exorcisms and just about every scary movie you could mention. Give me a thunderstorm and a camera and I could give you a truly terrifying scene by simply filming any part of my house. Still, everybody has their vices. Mine was something I was proud of. It had become difficult to meet women though. Most of them couldn’t stay in my house too long and it’s no wonder why. There just simply isn’t enough cushions in the world to block your sight from that much frightening imagery. That is just the way that I am however, and say what you want about me. I don’t change to suit someone else, a trait that I find to be a rare quality.
Let me start the tale of ‘The Ragman’ by giving you a little history lesson in folklore. While you may not be aware of it, the story has been around for centuries. Supposedly it was taken up by the Grimms brothers at some stage and became a fairytale of sorts. This of course was back in a time that all fairytales were darker and more chilling. Back in the day when Disney didn’t own the rights to them. When they had a more sinister effect on the imagination. Eventually it was forgotten as its details were known to be too grim (excuse the pun) for a child’s bedtime story. Parents refused to tell the story to their kids and it was lost over time. If you ask me, they were right to. I had never heard of the story, in all my years of researching tales of terror but that changed on the evening of November 12th. The date I received a painting.
It was a morning like all others, nothing special or noteworthy about it, therefore, I’ll try not to bore you with the unimportant details of exactly what happened in work and get right into the story. I went to work, as I always do every weekday, for eight hours, in the planning and payroll section of the local authorities office. Sorting out invoices for local businesses and decades old planning files. Boring work basically, and like all other days I was glad and exhausted when the clock said five.
I immediately went home eager to get online and talk to my friends over Facebook about a party which I had been planning for that night. Nothing special, just a couple of drinks, a scary movie or two. To celebrate the fact that it‘s Friday and I had the rest of the weekend to enjoy and because I still had Halloween fever. I always tried to remain social amongst my immediate circle of friends, most of them I had already converted into die hard horror fans. Some of them hadn’t quite become comfortable with it, which also suited me. If you’re not intrigued you’d be scared and that’s what it’s all about.
I reached the patio doors at the front of the house and just as I was about to find the front door key hidden within the rest of my keys I spotted a package just inside the closed patio door. It was large, surrounded by brown paper and was covered with a two thin lines of white string, one horizontal, one vertical meeting in the middle in a large knot. I didn’t need to open it to know that by it’s dimensions it was some kind of painting or poster, framed, as the outline of the paper suggested. It had a small note attached to it, which I picked up and read.
‘Title: The Ragman. This should offer adequate material for a story.’
I was a little perplexed. It wasn’t entirely unheard of for people to send ideas, objects or pictures of a scary scenario to me. Normally it was done online and it almost always came with the name of the contributor so that they could have their names in the finished piece. But this trinket came with nothing of the sort. Not even a return address. Still, I was curious so I took it inside.
After settling myself with a hot drink and taking my coat off I undid the string that hid the mysterious picture underneath. As the brown paper fell from view I was struck with the beautiful but haunting image that dwelled on the other side. It was a large painting, roughly three feet by two. It depicted the edge of some kind of haunted woodland on a mound encompassing the left portion of the painting, overlooking some kind of plantation style house and surrounding land on the right. The plantation land was being toiled by labourers and land owners that watched on, drinking some kind of iced beverage (I assumed) seemingly oblivious to a menacing and daunting, long limbed and aberrant figure standing on the mound at the foreground to the left of the scene. He was wearing some kind of strange pin striped, dark and ragged suit that barely covered the base of each of his twisted limbs. His fingers extended, pointing towards the house in the distance. They seemed disproportionate to the rest of his strangely thin body. He had an odd hunch on his back which facilitated a tear on the suit. He had badly worn shoes on his feet that were torn at the seams, much like the rest of his attire, and he pointed from the trees, into the direction of the house in the distance, his face trapped in some kind of twisted laugh. His eyes were pale and white, giving some kind of deathly omen and his smile stretched from one ear of his large head to the other, bearing gritty, yellowish teeth. His long, dark hair strewn past his shoulders. He seemed to even absorb the color from his side of the picture, leaving the whole tree line melancholic with a deep sense of foreboding. The picture genuinely unnerved me. I put it down, propped it up against the wall and examined it intimately, my eyes focusing on every detail, noticing that there was no date or artists signature anywhere to be seen. I felt a chill up my spine, that cold sensation I had felt when I was frightened as a young boy. Whoever sent me the picture had indeed given me good material, and I thought to myself ‘Bravo’.
I hung the picture up in the spare room downstairs connected to the sitting room. It was originally a utility room that had been converted into a spare room by the landlord two years ago, right before I moved in. I would occasionally let a friend sleep in the room now as I didn’t have anyone else to share the rent at the moment. The picture sat above the radiator on the wall opposite the entrance to the room so that it could be seen from the living room if you simply kept the door opened. It would help with the inspiration.
Later that night, one by one, my friends showed up. We partook in some drinks, put on a DVD in the background (not really paying attention) and discussed life in general but we also discussed the gift that I had received at great length. The painting became the life of the party as I mentioned it to everyone when they came in. People discussed the disturbing imagery in the painting, the fact that there was no name to take the credit for the painting and also the title. Like myself none of them had ever heard of ‘The Ragman.’
They all had their two cents on the art and then requested that I keep the door closed for the rest of the party which I did. It seemed a little too eerie for some. For a time afterwards people threw ideas at me for what kind of story I should write with it. One of them thought that I should write about the plantation owner in civil war era and that the Ragman should be an avenging angel to get vengeance on the evil land baron for cruelty to slavery. One of them postulated that the Ragman be a disfigured slave himself, his gaunt body having been tortured by the master of the house. I thought the best suggestion however was when someone mentioned that he should simply come out of the haunted forest for victims. It should not be related to the fact that the man owned slaves, on the contrary, he should just show up out of the woods for the rich mans children. Stories are always scarier when they involve innocent children I thought.
Eventually as the evening dwindled people started to leave, the drinks and tiredness had gotten the better of them. I offered the room if anyone wanted to stay but they all politely declined. Some of them said that they didn’t want to get up in the morning and have to go then and would instead rather leave now. Some said that they just preferred the comfort that only their own bed could give but I knew the real reason. The conversation about the painting had unsettled most of them.
As the night came to a close I walked the last guest to the door, an old friend of mine, Matt. He smelled like there was a thick blanket of beer surrounding him. I thought to myself that it was a good thing he wasn’t driving. As I said my goodbyes I asked one last time his opinion on my acquisition.
“So what you think of the picture?”. He placed his hand up to his mouth as his response came with a slight burp that reeked of alcohol.
“Very creepy” he said. “Gives me chills. I hate the way he’s just pointing at you with that messed up smile…anyways, good luck. I’ll see you later.” he answered, fighting off another beer soaked burp.
I closed the door behind him and locked it. I began turning off the lights in the house one by one, starting with downstairs. I decided to leave the empty bottles of beer on the sitting room table until tomorrow morning when I would have the energy to clean. I saw from the lack of light under the doorway to the spare room that the light had already been switched off and I flicked the switch in the living room before making my way up to bed. One by one I turned the lights off. The one in the downstairs hall, the one on the stairs, bit by bit the house was succumbing to the darkness of the winter night, culminating in the final switch for the landing at the top of the stairs. Then I entered my bedroom, took my clothes off, apart from my T-shirt and my boxer shorts, turned off the final light in my room and then got into bed. I decided to even leave brushing my teeth until the morning, after all, I had been drinking and didn’t care about my dental hygiene. I just wanted to sleep more than anything.
I lay there in the darkness for a few minutes waiting for the grip of my dreams to hoist me to sleep when a thought struck me. I felt that tingling down my spine so much worse than before and for the first time in years I panicked as a thought of pure horror made me recoil under the covers like a child. Did Matt say that the figure in the painting pointed outwards?
The thought swam around my mind like a hungry shark. The figure in the painting, the Ragman, pointed towards the plantation house. That much I was certain. I had spent some time earlier studying every inch of that artistry and was convinced that that’s what I saw. Yet Matt said, clear as day, “…I hate that way he’s just pointing at you with that messed up smile…”
My mind flooded with rational thoughts to explain how he must have been mistaken. How, perhaps the alcohol he had consumed had gotten the upper hand on his better judgement. I composed myself as I lay half under the covers. I laughed to myself quietly at that moment, dismissing my fears as flights of fantasy. Dreams of an old horror fan, looking for the attention his imaginary counterparts had received in the stories he had read his whole life. I lay there, still, for a time. All I could do was see the image of the picture in my mind. I studied it again and again in my head and every time I regarded the painting, the figure near the woods, the Ragman, pointed at the plantation house. I knew that I would not get sleep with this notion itching at the back of my mind so I decided to go downstairs to check the damnable picture myself.
What’s the worst that could happen? I have a haunted painting in my house, I thought to myself. Maybe it could be worth something. With this thought I sat up and turned on the bedside lamp which lay on the locker next to me. I uncovered myself and walked over to the light switch on the other end of the room, near the door. I flicked it on and proceeded out into the landing. The cold air in the house tickled my skin in my dishevelled state of undress but that was the least of my concerns. I made my way downstairs turning on all the other switches again in reverse order from before until I was in the living room. I stood there for a few seconds, staring at the spare room door. It was strange but I felt uneasy at that moment. All the experience I had with true terror, whether it was in the words of an author or the celluloid of the silver screen were now working against me, giving me a million reasons not to open the door. Perhaps there was a demonic entity on the other side. Perhaps there was a monstrous creature ready to devour my very soul and take me, screaming into the pits of hell. Perhaps it was just a picture. I took a deep breath and opened the door.
I was greeted with the dark room, on the wall on the opposite end hung the painting, its features fogged and jaded, a mere silhouette in the pitch black. I flicked on the light expecting the outstretched arms of the devil himself to reach from the framed menace on the wall but instead it was just the opposite. A simple picture. I looked at it, squinting to capture all the details, and because of the sudden introduction of light into the room and saw that the figure indeed did point towards the front of the painting. Maybe I was wrong, I thought. It was hours ago and I didn’t really look for that long. I must’ve simply been mistaken. I took one last glance as I switched off the light. It was more than at the front of the painting that his long, bony, disproportionate fingers were pointing. They were pointing at me. I closed the door.
Mere hours later is when things began to get….interesting.
I awoke from a deep sleep at 3:07 to the distant, rhythmic sound of tapping.
My eyes weren’t heavy. I wasn’t still fighting the compunction to drift back to my dreams. I was fully aware, as if I hadn’t slept at all. The tapping sound took all of my focus. With the lack of light in the room it seemed as though the strange sound was all that existed. Even in my state of complete awareness it took several seconds to register the intrusion of my thoughts. I looked over at the time on the alarm clock on my bedside locker and notice that it was just after three. My mind studied the sound, which came every two seconds or so in increments of three light sounding knocks and determined that whatever was tapping was hitting against something wooden. It sounded too far away to be coming from my within bedroom too. If I cared to guess I would’ve said that it came from downstairs. I sat up in bed and turned on the bedside lamp. I sat there for a time, in my tiny kingdom of light as I listened studiously to the tapping sound. I made my way downstairs against my instincts in an attempt to find the source.
By the time I had made it to the base of the stairs the tapping stopped. I checked the whole floor meticulously after turning on all the lights, leaving the spare room to last but I could not find where it had come from. I was somewhat hoping to confront a rational reason for the sound but could not decide whether it was more frightening to let my imagination create the cause or find it the cause of something else that was supernatural. I eventually went back to sleep, my answers unfulfilled.
This happened to me at the same time for the next few days. I would awaken to the tapping sound from my sleep into a state of complete awareness, and it was always at the same time. Always at 3:07. Most nights I wouldn’t even get out of bed, because I never found where it came from, but I knew. I didn’t want to believe it but deep in the depths of my soul I knew where it came from. After a while I eventually had to admit defeat with the painting. I decided to devote myself to investigating its origins in great detail and I took the sheet from the bed in the spare room and draped it over the picture. It had declared war now and I was going to delve into the rabbit hole and see what I could find. I decided that I wouldn’t tell my friends about what foulness had befallen me. The last thing I wanted was them mocking me. They would just say that I was getting what I deserve, searching for ghosts and other entities, only to find one. Not exactly a surprise. I could already hear their jeers.
I spent the next two weeks looking for some clues to the origin of the painting and for a history behind the story of the Ragman to no avail. Then something really strange happened.
I awoke from a deep sleep at 3:07 to the distant, rhythmic sound of tapping.
It was early morning of November 28th, Sunday. I lay there in my bed, as usual. The sound of tapping goading me to come search for it, attempting to spur me to action. As I lay there, observing the thin rays of moonlight that breached the confines of the otherwise dreary, dark bedroom my eyes began to become accustom to the lack of light. More and more of the room came into focus. The tapping in the distant corner of the house mocking my attempts at rest. I was getting agitated with the unwelcome disturbances and they seemed tame at this point. I mean, a horror story about a man who is annoyed by a tapping sound was not enough in itself. I was starting to get bored with the antics at this point.
Then I heard a loud crash. The unmistakable sound of falling wood from downstairs. The sudden, thundering ruction echoed within the entire house and caused me to sit bolt upright, the adrenaline took control and prepared my body to flee as fast as my muscles would physically allow. The bone chilling thunderclap was followed by a slightly quieter sound of a similar nature, indicating that something had indeed fallen downstairs. It was obvious that it was the painting. That was the way my mind worked now, something went wrong, it was the painting.
I composed myself momentarily and got up out of bed to confront whatever the sound maker was. It was becoming second nature now, turning on the lights in the house to check the darkened corners. To peer into the hidden vestiges of my house of horrors. It was a nerve wrecking time indeed, but this night was different. The tapping was low and agitating, much like the noise didn’t want to wake me, rather just to know that something was there. This was different, this was aggressive and violent. I made my way into the living room and stared at the spare room door. I gathered the courage that I had inside me and I opened it.
As I stood there I gazed into the gloom and noticed that the window next to the bed was opened. The wind from outside was blowing the curtains wildly, their fabric fighting against the gust as if desperate to stay attached to the window frame. I felt the cold breeze, since I was only in my boxer shorts and T-shirt again I shuddered for a moment. The painting was lying on the floor underneath its designated hanging place, it’s back facing me and the sheet was lying on the ground next to it. I uttered my annoyance at the open window thinking that in my lack of sleep I left it open at some point. I was making a habit these days of going into the room occasionally to check that the sheet still covered the picture and some ominous force hadn‘t removed it.
I walked over to the window and made an attempt to close it, jamming the wooden frame down hard. It stuck half way and required more force but eventually I got it closed. I stepped over the sheet strewn across the floor and I picked up the picture, turning it over in the process. My eyes widened as a sickening shot of fear ran all the way down my spine, causing all the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck, making my limbs go numb and my whole mind shut down out of terror. I dropped the painting and fell straight backwards into a seated position, forgetting the pain of falling as my arms lay behind me to keep me up, staring at the picture intently with a new-found horror I could barely keep contained. I was afraid to break eye contact from the picture which lay diagonally, facing me, in all its malice, empty of the Ragman. I lay there motionless as I realised that everything about the painting was just as it had always been, but in place of the figure on the left side was an empty mound. My eyes took a few seconds to process this earth shattering information. The mound on the left of the picture, where the Ragman had been standing, watching the door to the spare room was no longer in the picture. How had this happened? Was the picture truly haunted? How could this be?….Where was he? That last question was the most disturbing. After looking at the void in the painting for this extended time I noticed something else that was equally disturbing. One of the trees that lay on the outskirt of the wood, more specifically the tree that the Ragmans right hand was on as he pointed outwards had another feature. Scratches of some kind. No, not scratches. Etchings, from weeks of tapping against it every night. At least that’s how I perceived it.
I got up from the floor with the unbalanced flair of a man running for his life. I left the room, leaving the painting lying where it had fallen and closed the door behind me. I flew into the living room, desperate to get away, to go anywhere but here. I bumped into the table in the living room with force and fell in a heap on the floor, pain searing through my leg as I caught my shin bone off the edge of the table. I was only down for seconds before I staggered upwards heading straight for the living room door. A loud, powerful, devilish cackle filled the air, coming straight from the room that I had left in such a terrified hurry. My senses were in full alert as I ran into the hallway, screaming in white knuckle terror. The laugh began to die off as I got further from the spare room. I didn’t dare look back, instead running for the front door. I fumbled with the handle as I attempted to open it, the cackle then started to get progressively louder as whatever was making the sound was seemingly getting closer to me. I was too afraid to look back, too scared that it may be my last time if I did. My mind attempted to prompt me to my terrible thoughts, feigning the feeling of something touching the back of my neck, causing my muscles to tense at the thought and my mouth to emit a horrified scream. I realised in that moment that the door was locked, as it always had been and that the keys were upstairs. I slumped to the ground, sobbing and with as much courage as I could scrape from inside me I turned to look down the hall, down in the direction of the living room door. Down towards the ever increasing laugh. Then nothing.
No evil demon, no wretched, horrible creature. No Ragman.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night. I certainly didn’t try in that house. I went to a motel, leaving the place locked up, just the way that it was when all that happened. I didn’t even put the painting back up. That night I just stayed in the motel with my laptop checking my friends Facebook profile to see if anyone mentioned anything similar happening to them, but there was nothing.
I returned to the house the next day, under the protection of the daylight. I decided to take another sick day off work. The restless nights meant that I didn’t have the energy some days to go in. I had nearly used up all of my payable sick days at this point but it was for a worthy cause.
I unlocked the front door and walked into the house. On outside inspection you would not have thought that anything had gone wrong in the house at all. I walked down the hall towards the sitting room and entered. I felt a sudden chill at the sight of the open spare room door and the fallen picture that lay opposite. I could see, even from the sitting room doorway that the figure of the Ragman had returned to the painting. I walked over for a closer inspection. It seemed as though it was all there, as it was the day I received it. The figure was there, the trees had returned to normal. I was both relieved and confused. I made my decision that I would stay in the house again that night but this time I was going to set up cameras around the house. If horror movies had thought me anything it’s that you need proof, lest you be branded a lunatic.
I spent most of that day procuring all the equipment I could to record anything that would happen in the house that night. I had some of it already, being an avid fan of films. I can’t say that the rest didn’t cost me a pretty penny but I was eager to catch that ‘thing’ inside my house. I felt a little safer at the thought of all the corners being watched, but still the more time that past that day, the darker it got as it reached night, the more I felt uneasy. The longer that I spent in that house the more I felt supernatural eyes watching my every move, waiting for me to fall asleep. At roughly midnight I did.
I awoke from a deep sleep at 3:07 to the distant, rhythmic sound of tapping.
This time I was ready though. I was already dressed before the clock turned to 3:08. I had already had the lights in the house on, so that the cameras could catch everything, no matter how brief or small. I went down the stairs and into the living room. As I reached the door the tapping sound disappeared. I opened the door to look in. The spare room had been left open, the picture returned to where it had been these last few weeks. The sheet had even been removed just to see if what happened before would repeat itself. There was a mounted camera on a tripod behind the living room table, facing the open spare room door. A light at the side of the camera shone into the direction of the room and the light in the sitting room was still on to catch whatever would be there. When I opened the door and looked in I saw the painting was hung up where I had left it after I prepared the cameras, absent ‘The Ragman’. It stood there staring at me. The mound empty, the plantation house alone, the trees free of their friend who had been terrorizing me.
I let out a quiet wail, out of shock. I began to cower, reaching for a wall behind me so that I could not be ambushed. The tapping sound returned, this time accompanied by the sound of laughter. I don’t know how I knew, there was no way, but I felt that the laughter was sarcastic, as if I had angered him and he was laughing at my failed attempt, my attempt to make him look the fool. The laughter resonated throughout the house but I was close enough to discern its origin. It was coming from the kitchen. I mustered up all my available courage and slowly moved towards the dining room and then the kitchen. I could hear the sound of pots and cups banging against the counters as if someone was having a tantrum. The laughter was sickeningly twisted.
As I reached the side of the open kitchen I closed my eyes and reached out with my fingers so that I could drag the rest of my barely willing body to look inside the room. I peered around the corner and saw it. The Ragman stood in the kitchen throwing dishes around as it flailed. Its long limbs I determined to be about three times the length of mine and with its thin frame it towered at least twelve feet tall. It was hunched over and its knees were bent as it couldn’t stand upright in the room. It moved energetically but violently, knocking over all the cutlery it could see in an anarchistic, trashing frenzy. Its laugh occasionally turned into a growl as it moved its arms in a feral motion. Then it turned and looked straight at me. I was frozen in terror and for just a second I didn’t realize that almost half of me was visible as I was peeking around the corner. It looked into my eyes and I stuttered in dumbfounded disbelief. It was only when the hunched figure frantically ran towards me that my instincts took over and I attempted to flee, my voice uttering an automatic howl of desperate fear.
There were crashing sounds as furniture was tossed around the dining room and its excessively long legs made running meaningless. I felt an icy cold hand grip my shoulder and spin me around. My eyes were jammed shut as long, nimble fingers wrapped around my throat and I was hoisted up against the wall like a rag doll. I heard the laughter mere inches from my face and felt its breath against my cheeks. I opened my eyes and looked at it then, noticing its unnaturally large face, pale skin and its deeply disturbing, incomprehensibly evil eyes. Its smile was extended to impossible proportions and it spoke in a loud, gravely, guttural voice which shook me to my core.
“iT iS rUdE oF yOu NoT tO aNsWeR mE”.
I simply stared, dumbstruck by its immense stature and the ease at which it was holding me off the ground. My arms held its hand as it kept me against the wall. My attempts to break the grip were futile. Then it spoke again.
“yOu ArE mEaNt To AsK wHo’S tHeRe”.
I stared at it. For a moment I had forgotten that it was pinning me against the wall and with the greatest of ease it could snap my neck. I pondered what it was saying to me and although the words together made sense, I still didn’t understand what in the world it was talking about. I simply looked at it, puzzled.
“aFtErALL I’vE bEeN kNoCk – KnOcKiNg fOr WeEkS nOw…”
Then it laughed with a raging force that shook my whole body and I screamed loud and hard. The room began to spin and I became dizzy as the overflow of impossible information started to weigh my thoughts down and I slipped into unconsciousness. The laughter echoed in my mind until a darkness swept over me and I was consumed by nothingness.
Sounds flooded my skull, faded and distant and I opened my eyes. It took me a moment to realise that I was lying on the dining room floor. There was no sign of the Ragman. I sat up against the wall. My attention was caught by shards of plastic strewn across the floor and bent sticks of metal. It took me a few moments to figure out that the shrapnel that was lying on the dining room floor sharing the space with me was the remnants of the camera equipment that I had set up. I knew without thorough examination that there was nothing left that could be construed as tangible evidence of the supernatural. I felt alone and defeated. I felt that there was nothing that I could do. I gripped my knees as I sat there, leaning against the wall. I cried for just a moment.
I stood up and gathered my will. I marched into the spare room beyond the living room and I grabbed the painting off the wall. I couldn’t tell you if the figure was back or not because quite frankly at that moment I simply didn’t care. Without a second thought I broke the frame and tore the canvas within into pieces. The pieces I placed in the fire and then burned them. I then walked upstairs and got dressed to leave the house. I had the eerie suspicion that I was being watched. More than that, it felt that there was always something in my peripherals just shy of sight waiting to grab me. That there was a thousand eyes on me at all times but that I was alone. I grabbed my keys and my laptop. I left the house, lights on and all. I had had enough of that place.
I got in my car and drove away. I didn’t know where I was going, only that I was going as far away as I could. The entire journey I spotted things in the shadows. Things that weren’t there. I was jumping at every sound just waiting to be ambushed. I had passed through the looking glass and now existed in a world where everything was possible. I felt that everything that we knew as a species was meaningless and that there was an entire multitude of worlds beneath the surface of ours. I knew that I would never be the same after that night.
Now that we’re at the end of our story I can tell you the conclusion. This is where you come in. You see, I went to a motel room that night again and I spent hours, and I mean hours searching for any details on the Ragman. I needed to know what it wanted and what I should do to rid myself of its torment. Well the good news is that I eventually did find it. I stumbled across the old Grimms Brothers tale of ‘The Ragman’. As it turns out there was a very simple way to escape his clutches and save yourself from becoming one of his victims. You see the Ragman is a tale of an entity that thrives on the fears of young children. If you want to rid yourself of the fear of the Ragman you simply tell one of your friends. You tell them every detail of the horror that the Ragman puts you through and let it fester within them. The Ragman is effectively a tale of ‘Ghost story tag’. Until eventually the last one cannot find someone new to tell and the Ragman reaches out to them in the depths of their nightly slumbers to make them his. That’s what the painting was about. Someone must have had some problem with me or just knew that I would be attracted to horror material like that and purged themselves of the horror of the Ragman. It didn’t work on my friends either because I can’t passed on someone else’s story. You need to tell it yourself. That must have been why it did not appreciate the cameras in the house. So I have stayed up for as long is I could in this motel room writing out this story. Trying to put in all the details that I can. Trying to paint you a picture of what the Ragman was like for me. I have deliberately tried to terrify you, frighten you, even intrigue you slightly. That’s all that I need. Just enough for you to think about him for a brief moment.
Tag. You’re it.
Credit: Paul Breen Jnr
The Night’s Hook
I am writing this to occupy my mind before its sanity disintegrates by thinking about the horrors lurking outside the window behind me. I suppose this will serve as a warning to any survivors in case they target others as well, for I expect the neighboring lands are impregnated with them in densities equal to here. I can hear their shrill wails despite the stifling, outward wind in their direction.
I am usually too sick and frail to interact with the townsfolk, but I still can hear the chatting of loud children in the distances and the servants often relay to me stories they’ve gathered from the local town and of their own hometowns. The cold, constant breeze of the autumn season here brings me many hints of occult happenings in the dense and sprawling forest that encircles my own house as well as the entire town.
While most towns are built upon the shipping routes of rivers or the lands of fertile soil, Axton was built almost secretly in the forest after a family of supposed thieves and charlatans were forced to relocate north from Maine over 200 years ago—or so the rumors tell. The veracity to this tale is disputed by many of the proud and educated residents as it seems too sensational to be true, but they rarely offer any evidence to the contrary and soon leave for bigger places than here.
Axton, anyhow, then began to make its living by becoming a logging town, making use of the thick woodland in these hills and doubled its population to nearly 1000 about 150 years ago, but the logging suddenly stopped when most of the prime lumber was cut and the nearby forest could no longer be seen except from the higher vantages of the hills; there is seemingly little market for expensive hardwoods anymore. Since then the forest has mostly returned even thicker than before. And the town began to shrink again, leaving a few deserted houses along the border of the town and the forest.
My family, which owned most of the logging company, had enough money to sustain themselves through other investments and we retained this estate nestled in the southern pocket of hills deeper inside the forest. I am the youngest and only member surviving the main line as semi-distant relatives have sought—mostly successfully—to start other businesses in the cities and my parents and their siblings have all reached and passed the time when human death draws certainly close. Leaving me to remain here and watch over the affairs of the Milton estate with the few servants I can afford.
Camille, the maid and cook, once told me a story about a certain creature, called a Night’s Hook, in the hills of her distant French-Canadian town that would linger in caves and dark forests during the night to infrequently feed on deer and other small animals. The disappearances of any small children during autumn and spring would also be blamed upon them. They had never been spotted in any bright setting, so their appearance was merely guessed upon, but they were hinted to be anthropoid in shape with long, slender bodies and limbs. And making large thuds in the air like that of a partridge as their voluminous wings beat about. Rare calls like bleating screams of yelps were heard and said to belong to them as well. This story had agitated my younger self as to leave me scared of any darkened forest setting and of the nights as well. As I matured, the frequent tales of horrific beasts, such as the Night’s Hook, would gradually lessen the effect, but my general uneasiness of mind remained—Oh god, I heard the worst cry outside. . . . As you can read, the uneasiness in me is apparent now. The other servant, Derrick, at my requests had told me similar tales of beasts, but of much more prosaic and fantastic origins than the ones Camille was able to tell me about.
Six months ago, near May’s Eve, there were talks of demolishing the abandoned houses finally after some children had hurt themselves on the decrepit wood floors and the collapsing walls as well as general complaints of the recent manifestation of mass rodent infestations. With no one coming to claim the houses, their demolitions were agreed upon and planned. Before they were carried out, though, one of the children who had hurt themselves had disappeared from their backyard after becoming well enough to walk and play again. The town searched the surrounding forest to no avail. I asked Derrick who it had been, but he refused to name their identity for some unknown reason to me.
The warm air of coming summer had instilled in me the ephemeral health to amble, so I enjoyed short walks on the surrounding property and the edge of the forest. The infrequent silence of the woods was novel to my quiet-soaked mind from inside the house. There wasn’t a minute that wasn’t filled with the chirping of several species of birds or the buzzing of innumerable insects. The forest was close to the estate, but my slow walking speed made it feel much farther away and the strip of sun-soaked grass before the shady, loamy soil of the forest floor much wider. I had heard the shrill chuckle of a partridge when a gust of wind had swept through the forest carrying the eldritch shriek from an unknown bird-thing calling “qwree, qwree. Qwree, qwree.” Becoming distraught, I had turned around to stumble home when Derrick appeared close behind and escorted me back to the safe confines of inside.
For weeks I heard no news about town from Derrick, so I had resorted to asking Camille to probe the townsfolk for information on what happened to the child and other things unbeknownst to Derrick. It seems several small skeletons corresponding to that of youths had been found stripped almost bare, save for strips of flesh and tendon, had been found in the hills and one of which was presumed to be the recently disappeared girl—her name was Elizabeth, she told me. The houses were promptly demolished afterward as they were considered to be bad omens of whatever was happening around the town and the forest. Camille’s face became more and more distressed as she recounted what she had learned and didn’t hesitate to compare it all to what happened in her previous town.
The next day Camille had vanished with only a portion of her few possessions missing from her room. Derrick and the other servant, Bartholomew, had decided to divide her responsibilities amongst themselves. With Derrick handling the cooking and shopping and Bartholomew handling the cleaning to the best of his abilities until another servant could be hired, which Derrick guessed would be a few weeks at minimum. I discussed the matter with Derrick and he had come to the conclusion that her superstitious fear of fictitious creatures drove her to escape Axton permanently.
Down to two servants, the house felt lonelier than before and the dark of the forest had begun to shadow more of the lawn. I was still well enough to walk about, but chose to pace inside and busy myself with the studies Derrick had assigned to me from the library. Still hoping that Camille would return, I had left her room untouched and asked the servants to do the same, but a month had passed then and we received no letter of apology or explanation. I slipped into her room late at night down the back hall of the house. Her room was neatly tidied with a few books stacked atop her bedside table and her few dresses hanging in the corner closet. I glanced through the books, all of which in French it seemed, but could gleam little. A few had recipe-like instructions numbered vertically and appeared to be cook books of some sort and the others were long and journal-like with ancient-looking handwriting and dozens of missing pages torn out. Finding nothing useful I returned to my room that night and slept poorly.
The coming summer months had been so hot and dry as to stifle any movement from me, confining me to my bed and sometimes to my writing desk near the window. The dry flittering of the leaves in the wind would filter through the open window and I would spend a lot of time that summer listening and then subsequently becoming lost in thought, thinking about what was happening in Axton. The summer had not been easy on Derrick nor Bartholomew as no replacement for Camille could be found and Derrick turned out to not be a very good cook. Finally, the darkening skies of near-autumn came around serving as a balm for myself and the servants. Derrick was able to make some appropriate stews from the harvest of local farmers and I was able to walk about more comfortably, but the imposing shadow of the treeline had become more and more oppressing as its dark interior became more shrouded by the rustling of fallen leaves and crepuscular gloom.
I found myself having more and more horrid dreams as All Hallows’ Eve drew near, and the “qwree, qwree” yelping from before had returned to the internals of the forest. Unable to find repose, I asked Bartholomew to thin out the nearby forest for the ostensible purpose of gathering more firewood for this winter, but also to lighten up the yard which had a tenebrous atmosphere I had never noticed before. Bartholomew obliged, but only after some convincing. After a week of work, the treeline had receded a three-to-four meters away and was much brighter.
Reports of the town from Derrick had begun to come back in frequent pattern, but only the minutiae of the town life. I could tell Derrick was hiding something, so I sneaked off one morning to the nearside of town to see what happened of those skeletons and demolished houses. My shoes were ill-fit for hiking on the muddy ground of the cleared path to town and I left an obvious trail behind me as I started to limp because of my hurting knees. I thought I had heard a motorcar coming down the path, so I slunk into the thicket of the forest parallel to the road and waited to see the coming passerby. It was Derrick in the motorcar, but it seemed by his speed that he had not noticed the trail of footprints I had left. Unsure of when he would return, I remained inside in the thicket and traveled closely parallel to the road, but far enough that I could not be easily spotted.
The gloomy clouds of frequent autumn rain had formed and cast the landscape, as if in twilight, despite the afternoon time, so I begun to lose my way. I seemed to have wandered more and more off-road and eventually stumbled upon a meager, decaying shack which had seemed to survive the wave of spring demolitions. It had only two south-facing windows and a single peaked roof covering what looked like one or two rooms by its outward design. Interested to see if the rumors Camille and Derrick told me were true, I decided to peak inside the shack. I espied in the corner opposite to me, inside the shadowy interior piles of grayed and decayed wood furniture, a picked-clean skeleton with only the hair and nominal bits of thin flesh clinging to various parts of it. A small family of rats were scuttling about—presumably eating the remnants of meat on it. My legs weakened and I leaned my back against the outside of the building for a few moments, listening to my hurried heartbeat and the hollow din of the quiet forest as I fortified myself. I peered back in to look at the skeleton again, its thin form collapsed on its back with its long, ocher-and-graying hair scattered about its head. The thought that it might be Camille distressed me and I quickly slumped onto the cold ground again.
What had Camille being doing here, or was her body brought here? How certain is it that it is Camille’s body? I wondered about these questions, too scared to go in. Then I had heard that accursed squealing of “qwree, qwree! Qwree, qwree” far, far behind the shack, but its chilling scream caused me to imagine it much closer. I panicked and awkwardly run-hopped away towards the path to town. My disjointed steps caused me to stumble frequently and I soon fell and spun backwards, facing my coming direction.
I noticed the shack in its slight clearing was now quite dark and to the back-and-side was some thin, quivering thing which caused my joints to almost lock and conscious mind to freeze. Its dark form was hard to distinguish from the shaded backdrop, but I could recognize a certain waviness to its tall, humanoid form, as if its torso were an undulating spring parallel to its long arms. It was so dark I could only make out its moving parts, but it appeared like an appalling dancer in the distance and it then continued to cry “qwree, qwree” in a clearer, thicker, raspier tone than I had heard before. If only the abomination would stop that alien quiver I would have been able to get up more quickly, but my straining eyes were transfixed in obsession and fear.
For what I now assume to have been half a minute of staring at it, I hoped to comprehend fully what I was seeing, but also hoped to not. Finally, the far-off rumble of Derrick returning in the motorcar and the glint of the headlights had drawn my attention and I was able to turn around and produce a painful jog. It was my screaming that Derrick had thankfully noticed and he stopped the car to quickly scoop me up in the back of it. While driving us home he asked questions about my petrified expression. I recounted the experience to him as he frequently asked me to repeat the details in both disbelief and concern.
Apparently Bartholomew had just left too, leaving a lengthy note about the stress of having all of the increased responsibilities in addition to needlessly clearing the nearby forest, which is why Derrick traveled to town that day to search for him and ask for a reconsideration. Unable to find any trace of him, he returned to find me. Along the way, when my willpower weakened, I would glance back into the forest and I would sigh thinly each time I did not see whatever that Night’s Hook-esque thing was.
Arriving back, we hurried inside and Derrick carried me into the kitchen to prepare dinner and keep me company as I still shivered in distress. Derrick assured me that what I saw was just a delusion brought on by tiredness and poor lighting and that the sound was likely an injured bird of some sort in the area. I wanted to believe him. I felt much better after dinner had been made and eaten, and I do not remember much of the rest of the evening as I seemed to have fallen asleep soon after.
I woke up in my bed and looked outside at the near-night twilight. The winds had picked up and the jagged branches all clawed at the dimly glowing sky. As my thoughts slowly organized I scanned the horizon more deeply. The horror I saw was in the forest, and interspersed between the trunks of the trees were countless other shadowy figures of winding qualities. I called for Derrick as loudly as I could and he arrived as I nudged the window open weakly to see if their cries would prove their existence in the forest. Derrick quickly entered just as the chorus of screams began and gave me a look of absolute turmoil. “Qwree, qwr-qwree-ee, qwree!” He hastily closed the window and ushered me back into my bed, telling me to stay there for a moment and that he would return for me after arranging some things.
I expectantly stared at the clock, jostling about my bed and avoiding looking out or being seen from the window, for 25 minutes until his return seemed like it would never come. I noticed an orange glow from outside that countered the coming dark I expected from the night. The tree line was ablaze with Derrick pouring what appeared to be gasoline from the spare containers over the trees. He worked diligently across my window viewpoint from right-to-left and frequently glanced back up at me with a forced smile and some form of a dismissive hand wave that I had trouble interpreting. He continued to spread the gasoline across the tree around the entire house until I could see him no longer.
This was two hours ago from now and he has still not returned. The fire—and more specifically the light—appears to keep those horrid things at bay. The damp, thin trees around here will not burn much longer, I reckon, but the winds have picked up again spreading it a little longer. But those screams . . . I still hear them chanting that dismal cry as if laughing at me and the fire is waving much like those twisting shadow-things. I can’t expect the fire to last the night and the townsfolk are unlikely to come to the epicenter of the blaze. . . .
Oh god, they’re coming now. They’re all coming.