Rainman

September 18, 2016 at 12:00 AM

THE DEATH OF WILLIAM MCLOUGHLIN

“It’s like something out of The X-Files,” I said, aghast. It was close to midnight and to my horror I’d been called out to investigate the death of a child, a seven-year-old boy by the name of William McLoughlin.

The boy’s father, Patrick, had discovered the body after his son had failed to respond to his shouts following the preparation of supper. Concerned, Mr McLoughlin approached William’s room tentatively. Rain was lashing down outside, making it difficult for him to focus on anything but the sound of it. He knocked and placed his ear against the door, but still, his son failed to respond.

Finally, he had flung the door open, hastily flicking the light switch. There on the floor in the centre of the room lay his son. William’s face was pale, and there was no movement. In a panic, Patrick rushed over and attempted to resuscitate him. His attempts were unsuccessful.

Bizarrely, William’s body was soaked, head to toe.

Mr McLoughlin had searched frantically for his mobile phone and proceeded to call the emergency services. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, he noticed another oddity: a number of sodden indentations in the carpet next to William’s body. The depressions seemed to lead to the window, though it didn’t appear as though it had been opened.

The ambulance had arrived some minutes later, and the paramedics pronounced William dead at the scene.

I was called shortly afterwards.

The McLoughlins lived in a detached mid-seventeenth-century cottage at the end of a quiet street in the coastal village of Wren in the Scottish Highlands.

Me, a city detective for more than a decade, had earlier that month relocated to Wren from Aberdeen, having reached the grand old age of fifty.

After what I saw that evening, I wish I’d stayed in the city.

It was so very strange. The cause of his death, I mean. One of the paramedics, James Turner, had called to inform me the boy had drowned.

“In the bathtub?” I queried.

“Well, that’s the odd thing detective, though he isn’t anywhere near the bathtub, or any body of water, he’s totally sodden.”

“Where was the boy found?” I insisted.

“On the bedroom floor.”

“No signs of a struggle?”

“No.”

I hesitated before responding.

“I’ll be right there.”

It wasn’t worth continuing over the telephone; I needed to see the body for myself.

And so there I was, trying to put the pieces together. A young boy drowned in his bedroom; unusual indentations on the carpet; and a father who claimed to have heard nothing out of the ordinary.

Andrea Nelson, a forensic investigator known throughout the region, was called to the scene due to the bizarre nature of the case. She was keenly analysing the indentations on the carpet.

“Jack, take a look at this,” she said.

I approached and took a closer look at the depressions.

“Judging by the distance between these impressions – the general shape and distribution – I think we’re looking at footprints.”

I frowned, echoing, “Footprints?”

“Yes, footprints,” she repeated. “Bare feet actually. I’d say whoever it was exited via the window there.” Nelson motioned towards the window across the room. The trail of footprints led directly to it from William’s body.

“There’s just one thing though,” she added. “The indentations move in one direction only: towards the window. Which means the perpetrator was probably already in the house. It was raining heavily around the time of the boy’s death, which precludes a window entry, as the perpetrator’s sodden footprints would be visible in both directions.”

She paused.

“And then of course there’s the method of drowning. It was incredibly localised; no spills, sprays or drips.”

I shook my head dismissively, returning, “So what are you saying? Some bare-footed killer hid in the boy’s cupboard waiting to inexplicably drown him using some method unknown to us before slipping out of a second story window and disappearing into the night?”

Nelson shrugged.

“Well, I’m not saying that exactly, but the evidence seems to suggest as much.”

“Christ,” I returned.

I wasn’t having any of it. As a result, I ordered a thorough search of the cottage. I was convinced the perpetrator was still inside, hiding somewhere, clutching his ‘drowning paraphernalia’ and a sodden towel.

But the search of the McLoughlin cottage yielded nothing at all.

Patrick and Matilda McLoughlin were questioned regarding their activities: queries relating to places they might have visited, or company they might have kept. Patrick fleetingly referenced a recent trip to the Isle of Skye, though nothing about the family excursion had been particularly noteworthy, just your typical, sightseeing affair.

The death of William McLoughlin was quite the mystery.

THE LEGEND OF RAINMAN

Back at the station I discussed the situation further with Nelson, firm in my convictions that her forensic knowledge was second to none. Unfortunately, she had nothing else to add.

Not long after my conversation with Nelson ended, I received a telephone call. Still to this day I don’t know who it was. The connection was poor and there was a lot of interference, which is always the case up in Wren following a thunderstorm. The individual – who sounded local – was a young male, rambling endlessly about Loch Coruisk – one of the larger lochs on the nearby Isle of Skye – and something he referred to as Rainman. The call cut off mid-conversation, leaving the questions I had for him unasked.

The Isle of Skye… Hadn’t Mr McLoughlin visited the island recently?

I called Mr McLoughlin immediately, asking what he knew of Loch Coruisk. His answer was simple: he, Matilda and young William had visited the lake, along with a number of other tourists two days prior to his son’s death. Unfortunately, the tour had been cut short due to rain, and that was as much as he had to say on the subject.

Following my conversation with Mr McLoughlin, I spoke to my deputy, Andy, who had grown up on the Isle of Skye; the island itself part of the Inner Hebrides, some ten miles from Wren, across the Kyle Akin. He was familiar with Rainman, stating it was local folklore, going back decades.

According to the legend, centuries earlier, a nomadic Norseman roamed the Highlands. The stranger was in search of a mythical elixir said to belong to the elusive dwellers of certain mountainous regions. Eventually acquiring that which he sought, it was said he retreated to a quiet lake he’d discovered some years earlier: Loch Coruisk, shrouded by the Black Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye.

There, on the banks of the hidden lake, the Norseman remained, sustained by the strange medicine he so fervently coveted.

The legend insists he lives there still, calm in his solitude. Those who disturb his quietude, are said to pay with their lives.

“They say he’s a Kelpie, you know? A Neck, or water ghost.”

I nodded reluctantly, remaining silent.

He continued, “It isn’t just Nessie we got up here you know!”

Andy told the tale with such fervour, that I felt any disbelief on my part would be offensive to him.

Continuing, he referred to Loch Coruisk as The Dread Lake, and spoke from experience about the eerie silence there prior to the onslaught of malevolent storms.

“Rain is his warning,” Andy said, almost nonchalantly.

“Warning?” I repeated.

“Aye,” he nodded, his face stony and severe.

In the short time I’d been in Wren, I had yet to visit the Isle of Skye, let alone Loch Coruisk. There was something about the name Dread Lake that really put me off. And the isolation of the place was off-putting too. You had two options if you wanted to pay it a visit: a boat from Port Elgol; or a two-day hike from the bay of Camasunary.

But, considering the McLoughlin’s trip, Andy’s story and the strange call I’d received, I felt the need to head out there.

THE DREAD LAKE

The following morning, Andy and I drove out to Port Elgol. We’d arranged passage aboard a small fishing boat, having absolutely no desire to accompany the tourists on a Misty Isle Boat Trip.

The old fisherman, Deckard, took us out.

I can feel the chill now: 7:00 a.m. on a late October morning; mist clinging to the dark waters; heading into what appeared to be a vast assembly of black, cragged towers under blankets of fog.

The old fella Deckard was sure to share his two pennies’ worth regarding the legend of Rainman.

“Oh aye, Rainman, aye. Coruisk’s ‘is home. Aye it is. Lived there many a moon. Strays out from time to time.” His words were less than encouraging as we plunged into the mist.

“So what exactly is Rainman?” I asked tentatively, looking for an alternative explanation.

“Who knows laddie? Best not to ask.”

Choosing to acknowledge the man silently, I raised my eyebrows and nodded.

Andy climbed to his feet and wandered across the small deck. The fine, morning drizzle had soaked his raincoat.

Deckard gazed ahead.

“She’s preparin’ for winter the ol’ loch so she is,” he said wistfully. “Doesn’t really like visitors this time o’ year. Just be thankful it’s October. Wouldn’t ne be doin’ a trip like this November through February.”

I joined Andy as we approached a rocky outcrop full of seals. The things looked playful enough, flapping and yapping like dogs on the rocks, but I couldn’t help thinking they were trying to tell us to turn back.

Deckard docked at a small wooden pier.

“I’ll be stayin’ on board lads. Be back by eleven.”

I nodded.

“Watch your backs,” he added. “Thee doesn’t ee know what that there dread lake ‘as in ‘er belly.”

I can’t say I was particularly fearful of water, but there was something inherently creepy about isolated bodies of water: their untold depths, the secrets lurking beneath.

“It’s just a lake!” I returned with a grin.

“Never just a lake, laddie.” Deckard winked before reaching for a flask.

Andy and I climbed the rough banking and made our way upwards along an old trail. The trail crisscrossed several small pools before leading us to an area of large boulders and flat rocks. We traversed the length of a babbling brook and were soon met by The Dread Lake herself.

Under the early morning fog, she was haunting, but beautiful. Surrounded almost entirely by craggy peaks and the Black Cuillin, Coruisk appeared as though she was supposed to be a secret. She spoke to me in ways Mother Earth never had before: hinting at an untold history; misfortunes she may have witnessed over the centuries.

We hiked along the easternmost edge towards the northern shore, where the eerie loch fell into shadow beneath the tallest of the black mountains. I jestingly remarked how on a clear, sunny day, the loch would be an absolute joy to traverse, whilst secretly harbouring an irrational fear of the place.

I was convinced there were eyes on me.

And no wildlife. Where were the gulls? Clearly the loch was beyond the reach of the seals too. The sense of isolation was strong as we hiked. No sounds other than the drizzle of rain on the water and a low, incorrigible wind.

Still to this day I’m not entirely sure what my plan was. Had it been just to get a feel for the place? Or had I secretly known that there was more to the lake than just water? Even if that was the case, what on Earth did it have to do with a seven-year-old boy from Wren?

Andy held a map – nothing more than a scrap of paper really – detailing a rough outline of the loch. On the map he’d marked the location of a campground, an area from which a lone hiker had allegedly disappeared some years earlier. We found the area with relative ease, noting evidence of usage: the vague remnants of a pit fire. Had the McLoughlins ventured this far? Had the boy stumbled upon something?

I doubted it. The loch was after all a tourist spot. Although it looked bleak and totally unexplored that morning, Andy reminded me that there had been visitors all summer long.

“What if this Rainman is nothing more than a hermit, you know, an old fella living up in the mountains during the summer months?” I ventured. “Perhaps he uses this pit fire here on the colder winter nights.”

Andy shook his head. “Jack, do you know how harsh winters get around these parts?” There was scepticism in his voice. “A mountain man living out here?” he continued, motioning towards what was assuredly a barren, challenging environment.

I had to agree with him.

Even if there was a mountain man, the thought occurred to me again: what possible connection would this hypothetical hermit have to a seven-year-old boy from Wren?

And just as the thought crossed my mind, Andy and I saw something.

“Is that … a person out there?” Andy asked, squinting.

“Surely not,” I returned.

Unsettled, we studied what appeared to be a figure bobbing up and down out on the dark water. From where I stood I could have sworn it was a man. It’s hard to mistake the tell-tale characteristics: the head; the limbs; the torso…

We watched as the strange shape slowly swam towards us. The mist above intensified, blurring our vision. We could hear the splashes – the distinctive clapping of human hands on the surface of water – but the overall impression visually was that of transparency. A trick of the light.

And then it was gone. The fog lifted, revealing nothing but the black waters of The Dread Lake.

The sense of solitude I experienced in the moments that followed was truly magnificent, though unfortunately, it was short lived.

I felt Andy’s eyes on me, and so I turned to meet his gaze. The colour had drained from his face, leaving a pale shadow of the young deputy behind. His eyes were lifeless – glazed and bloodshot – like maraschino cherries.

“Andy,” I said, coaxing absolutely no reaction out of him.

I approached, concerned.

“Andy!” I repeated.

Nothing.

As I neared him, his mouth slowly began to open, forming a perfect circle.

I hesitated, and whispered, “Andy?”

He returned a low, despairing groan. Coughing and spluttering, he produced several mouthfuls of water.

I lunged forwards to intervene, but I couldn’t reach him. Something unseen blocked my path.

My instincts told me to flee, but I couldn’t. Have to save Andy, I thought.

Andy collapsed to the sandy shore. I raced to his aid and attempted to resuscitate him. But to my relief, the young deputy opened his eyes and looked at me.

“What happened?” he muttered.

“I’m not really sure, are you ok?”

He nodded.

Pulling Andy to his feet, we turned and made our way back to Deckard’s boat. Whatever had happened that morning, we were eager to get as far away from the cause of it as possible.

THE BURDEN OF MEMORY

We returned to Wren.

The old man Deckard had been appalled to learn of Andy’s mysterious collapse. I explained it away as a lack of food and water, not wanting to further insight the old man’s already inflated belief in the supernatural.

Back at the station, I discussed Andy and I’s visit to the loch with several officers, as the thunderstorm that had so battered Wren the previous evening returned to hammer us a second time.

It was around that time, that Andy Gordon’s lifeless body was discovered in the men’s room.

I couldn’t believe it.

Just as the case had been with the McLoughlin boy, Andy was saturated, and a bizarre series of wet footprints led across the tiled floor of the men’s room towards an open window.

The post-mortem revealed the cause of death as ‘drowning’, just like young William, despite the fact Andy had been discovered alone, lying face up in the middle of the men’s room, away from the toilets, away from running water. I felt it pertinent to mention Andy’s collapse up at the loch to the medical examiner, who simply – and unsurprisingly – responded with a frown.

I decided to visit the McLoughlins.

It turned out Patrick McLoughlin was aware of the Rainman legend, claiming his father had introduced him to the idea some thirty-five years earlier. Patrick told a peculiar tale, of how he and
a group of friends, on a stormy afternoon, had watched in horror as a neighbour – an elderly gentleman by the name of Clifford – had fallen to his knees on the corner of Harbour Street, coughed up a massive quantity of water and drowned before their very eyes.

I could tell there was more, and the man hesitated before adding, “I saw Rainman that day. He spilled out of the old man and just disappeared.”

“Did you ever tell William this story?” I asked. I didn’t want to ask, but it was my duty.

Again, Mr McLoughlin hesitated before answering.

“Yes,” he said, quietly, “just as my father had told me a similar story.”

And so it seemed the legend went back generation after generation: townsfolk inexplicably drowning.

In the middle of town.

In their beds.

Always drowning.

Always Rainman.

I told Patrick of my visit to Loch Coruisk, and I caught a glimpse of anxiety in his eyes as the words left my mouth.

“The Dread Lake,” I added, and proceeded to relate the circumstances surrounding the visit, and the events as they transpired on the northern shore.

Patrick heaved.

“What happened to you up there?” I probed, locking eyes with the man.

“Not to me,” Mr McLoughlin responded, his voice barely a whisper, “to William.”

He paused.

“What happened to your deputy … happened to William.”

After several moments he regained his composure and asked, quite sincerely, “Will it ever be over?”

I had no answer for him.

THE END OF THE LINE

That same evening, around 7:45 p.m., I sat at home, scotch in hand, gazing out of the window, watching the rain as it bounced off the windowsill.

I felt unsafe.

The rain used to calm me.

But the death of the boy and Andy had changed all that.

I stared intently at a tree out back. It jittered under the weight of the rain, almost as though it was trying to alert me.

And then I saw it.

A shape passed in front of the window – almost imperceptible – but there nonetheless. Then above the sound of the rain I heard a faint trickle: water seeping into the room somewhere.

I panicked.

I switched the overhead light on and searched frantically for the source of the trickle.

The front door!

A steady stream of water was flowing into my living room!

The capacity for rational thought left me, and I fled towards the back door. Unlocking it, I ran out into the garden and gazed back towards the house.

It was the strangest thing.

There in the doorway, stood a … person?

No. It couldn’t have been a person. It was more like a silhouette. The shadow of a person, inexplicably cast into the doorway.

But no, that wasn’t it either.

It had substance. And it was aware of me.

Though I could see right through the figure, it blurred the objects behind it. The shape refracted them, like observing things at the bottom of a swimming pool. Something really was standing in my doorway, and it was composed entirely, of water.

I stood in the pouring rain, glued to the grass, my eyes fixed upon what I so desperately wanted to believe was nothing more than a trick of the light: a hallucination.

But I knew better. The previous day had taught me that I had to know better.

And then it stepped out into the rain with me, and I lost sight of it for a moment.

Then I saw it again, its queer extremities illuminated by nearby street lamps.

It walked away from me, out onto the street.

I followed it, watching as its watery legs ambled and its aquatic arms swung.

Eyes wide, I watched as the strange entity approached the kerb and slowly poured itself into a drain, disappearing into the hidden underworld of Wren’s sewers, returning to the dark, secret depths of that Dread Lake.

Had it come to drown me like it had the McLoughlin kid? Like Andy, and countless others over the long years? Or had it come to warn me of something else? Something worse, waiting to take the lives of those who mutter its name in the company of strangers and loved ones?

I left Wren.

I quit the force.

I moved overseas to a warmer climate: the south of Spain.

I check the weather forecast often.

If there’s a storm on the horizon, I seek out the company of friends.

And I leave mention of Rainman on these pages, and these pages alone.

Credit: Muted Vocal

The Pit

August 10, 2016 at 12:00 AM

I

My town is one of those back country middle-of-nowhere places in which word-of-mouth folklore and wild superstition defines its population. It’s the kind of place a visitor might hear ethereal music in the woods, or catch a glimpse of an out-of-place animal roaming the empty fields. If your senses are attuned to such things, then you might even notice strange graves carved into the slopes of gullies, or old ropes tied to the limbs of withered trees; their trunks riddled with bullet holes.

But we know of something else, ineffable horrors dwelling in the depths of an abandoned, isolated coal mine.

Local legend tells of a pit: a dark place in which some three hundred miners lost their lives in a colliery disaster over a century ago.

So the story goes, a number of miners had complained about the perilous conditions in the mine on several occasions, many citing bad omens, including the presence of carrion crows in the subterranean depths, and some even claiming to hear the unlikely neighing of startled horses in the ghastly, myriad passageways.

But the miners’ pleas went unheard, resulting in the catastrophic explosion that led directly to their deaths.

Whispers exchanged over an ale at the Painter’s Greyhound tell of survivors: starving miners entombed in the labyrinthine tunnels honeycombing the cold earth beneath our town. Occasionally, the ground opens up and swallows things: dilapidated sheds and the corners of houses… sometimes people. Fodder for the ravenous miners?

And pets abandon their owners: dogs disappearing into shadowy recesses and cats straying deep into the wilderness; never to be seen again. As the saying goes here in my town, “All victims o’th pit.”

II

The location of the pit-over the course of a century-was mostly forgotten; knowledge of the disaster itself conveniently buried by those with more pressing political and financial interests. The ‘owdies’ though-as they’re known in these parts-are still in possession of memories, and often recount unsettling tales passed down through the generations.

If it hadn’t been for my grandfather, I, at the tender age of fourteen, might never have set out to find the pit that day. The route related to me was both protracted and disorienting:
“Seekers of the pit must first descend into the old ravine,” my grandfather muttered through false teeth, “a route at one time commonly frequented by my sort. Follow the oaks and the silver birches along the old trail marked by the red bricks of Scoothe’s cottage and you’ll reach the bald ‘ills. You know the Bonnies don’t you boy?”

I nodded, for I did know the Bonnies, and still do: unnatural rucks carved out by the long-perished miners; barren and unwelcoming; suggestive of untold mysteries and the forbidden knowledge they serve to protect.

My grandfather continued:
“That awkward terrain boy, coupled with those dark ponds can lead one to Dog Wood, a forested area intersected by confusing, abandoned lanes leading deep into what we call the sterile heart of the backcountry. You’ll know Dog Wood by the density of the underbrush, though you’ll have to look closely if you want to find the accursed entrance.”

To this day I still don’t fully understand why my grandfather encouraged me to seek it out. His warning as I left that day often returns to me on dark, foreboding, autumn afternoons:
“Boy, ‘tis nothing to look, ‘tis everything to see. See yourself and know thee escaped the darkness.”

But I was just a fourteen-year-old lad.

How was I to know what he meant?

III

My best friend, Key, knocked on my door at 7:15 a.m. that fateful October morning. We walked the length of Park Road, and plunged headlong into the old ravine. The thing we sought, somehow, was already with us, and was working to discourage us, descending upon the golden brown foliage in the form of mist.

We pressed on.

The discovery of the silver birches was fortuitous, for beyond them we soon observed the red bricks of Scoothe’s derelict cottage. Moss and creeping ivy caressed the old stones joylessly, consuming what had once been the jewel of the ravine. Just like Scoothe, its time had passed.

The cool, morning air met us as we climbed the slopes and stepped out onto Bonnies (also known as the bald ‘ills). It’s quite a thing to experience both the absence and evidence of man, simultaneously. But that was just how it was, standing there on the old rucks, a manmade landscape, abandoned, nature working to reclaim what it once possessed. The gravelly mounds hissed at us, exposed to the brisk, autumnal wind.

Key and I traversed the hills hastily, avoiding the ponds: motionless bodies of water concealing horrible depths; depths rumoured to connect directly to the old tunnels; flooded passageways where the ‘survivors’ were said to roam. In a moment of hesitation, we shuddered.

We saw the treeline on the horizon: dense foliage forming a seemingly impenetrable wall. A cloud of mist hovered above the forest threateningly.

It whispered, “Turn back.”

But we didn’t turn back. We happened upon that most sought-after location, Dog Wood.

IV

Brushing the nettles and brambles aside, we discovered an old pathway; the tiniest amount of gravel still visible beneath the grass and weeds. Mist shielded much of what lay beyond, so we stepped onto the path and made the conscious decision to keep to it.

Deeper and deeper we drove into the underbrush, working hard to clear the path of shrubbery and other hindrances, blind to the inherent dangers one should be aware of in the proximity of a disused coal mine. A capped shaft presented itself as such a danger; several rotten timber planks straddling its hideous mouth. Luck was to thank for preventing an unfortunate tumble into the blackness beneath.

The remains of an old railway line brushed against our boots as we closed in on our destination; the innumerable limbs of large trees clawing at the rusty tracks zealously.

Key was the first to note the change in the air: a staleness; a rancidity that had visibly affected the flora of the wood. As we neared its source, we saw fewer and fewer nettles, brambles and ferns; vegetation in general seemingly afraid to flourish in what my grandfather had referred to as ‘the sterile heart of the backcountry’.

Withered trees stood defiantly, though the souls the roots might once have harboured had long since departed. Even the soil-gelatinous mud-had been affected by the otherworldly blight.

And then we saw it, the great arch, marking the entrance to the site of the pit. The arch-an iron monstrosity-once beheld the name of the mine, though upon our observations, the bold lettering had mostly eroded. Three rust-nibbled letters remained: P, I, T.

Trepidation begged us to flee, to return to the familiar comforts of home: the quiet town centre host to Marge’s Sandwich Shop and Gilbert’s Newsagents; the ancient, sprawling cemetery on Church Street; and Pollack’s School for the deaf under the willows on Grundy Street. Even the lone silhouette of Lightning Tree standing atop Broomhead’s Hill was an image I would’ve happily traded for that of the dark, deathly visage of deepest Dog Wood.

We trudged onwards, until we came upon the mere.

It filled us with dread.

My father, a regular up at the Painter’s Greyhound, said the seniors often spoke of an ‘old mere’, a pond but a stone’s throw from the pit. Allegedly, the old miners used to wash their hands and faces in it, steadily darkening the water with coal. Other kids, in times gone by, who had set out in search of the mine, had happened upon the mere.

Alarmed by the shade of the water, most had turned back, though some strayed too near and were never seen again. One lad-the owdies would say-caught a glimpse of something strange in the still water, and in the grip of some inexplicable mania, fled and threw himself into the pit. Witnesses-two of them-returned from the wood in a near catatonic state, claiming the lad was pulled into the mouth by dark, ashen hands. The lad-like the others-was never seen again, and there was no investigation into his disappearance.

The owdies say the lad was cursed:
“That there mere’s a ‘flection er that there pit! That lad shoulda kept ‘is eyes off both! Thee’s got firt see theeself if thee wants firt live!”

Braver than most, Key and I approached the old mere and glared into the murky water. I swear to this day I’ve never seen water as dark. The face that looked back at me, a strange, warped version of my own, haunts me to this day. As for Key, he offered no description of what he saw in there.

Stepping away from the mere, we scanned our immediate surroundings. Beyond a smattering of withered silver birches, a trail marked by a rusty chain-linked fence led to our destination.

Tentatively we approached, mindful of the eroded metal fencing poking up out of the gelatinous earth; sharp and menacing.

Some fifteen paces further and we were upon it.

The pit!

Blackened, charcoal-like trees loomed eerily above it, their poisoned limbs hanging limply, pointing towards the untold depths below.

I still have difficulty describing it. Not in terms of its outward appearance, as, quite simply, it was nothing more than a hole in the ground, some fifteen feet in diameter.

No, it was the inexplicable sensation that gnawed at my nerve-endings and tugged at my faculties. That’s what I have difficulty describing.

To say the urge to flee was overwhelming, would be an understatement. Staring into that black abyss, evoked an emotional response unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was as though Key and I had discovered the eye of Mother Earth herself, and to look directly into it was a sin, a sin punishable by a fate worse than death. And we had been warned: the folk who fell into sinkholes; the curious kids who mysteriously disappeared; the pets that strayed too far from their owners; all victims of whatever it was that roamed those unfathomable passageways at the bottom of that accursed pit.

As the eye glared up at us, my thoughts returned to that peculiar reflection I’d gazed upon in the mere.

And then there was movement below.

I looked to Key and shivered. There was no conceivable way down into the pit, and as such no conceivable way up out of it… Was there?

The movement came in the form of a sound: a shuffling, laboured progression; the sound of frail, ashen hands clutching blindly at the roots of dead trees.

As the unsettling imagery sketched itself in my mind’s eye with an incredible urgency, the all-consuming, rancid foetor grew in its potency, so much so that I could almost taste it, my senses utterly assaulted by it.

The clamour neared the surface, threatening to make eye contact with us in a matter of moments.

Key and I stood, frozen to the spot, lips cracked, throats dry, inhaling the foul odour as it crept towards us. Seekers of the pit, the two of us, sincerely regretting our inquisitiveness and impudence.
As the nameless thing neared the surface, I turned and fled.

Moments later, Key was at my rear.

Heedless we were, of the metal fragments strewn across the trail. Ignorant we were, of the shadowy mere, and the boggy underfoot as we raced out of Dog Wood. Oblivious we were, of the strange absence of fauna throughout the bald ‘ills. Unconcerned we were, as once again we plunged into the old ravine, passing Scoothe’s cottage and the silver birches. Thrilled we were, as we made it to the safety of Park Road, gasping and collapsing to the merciful tarmac of a familiar thoroughfare.

As Key and I walked home, not a single word was exchanged.

V

Key and I attended school together the following day, but neither of us discussed the pit. That was our unspoken agreement, both secretly terrified, afraid that spoken acknowledgment of the thing we both knew was out there would confirm it; invite it back into our lives.

But our pact didn’t last. It should’ve lasted till the end of our days.

We bumped into each other, some five years later, at the bar in the Painter’s Greyhound, on a dreary, autumn evening. The memories spilled out of us, and though several owdies were eavesdropping, none of them had a word to say.

Like the church steeple at the heart of our town, one memory stood out above the rest: a memory the both of us had attributed to the sordid weaving of a nightmare, or folie à deux. There in the quiet pub, we described the strange sounds and the hideous foetor we sensed in that instant before we took flight.

But as I spoke of the moment I turned and fled, Key spoke of something else. Something deplorable.

From out of the pit had emerged the ashen hands and charcoal face of a long dead miner. He claimed the very same face had replaced his reflection in the mere. Its empty eyes studied him, and as it pointed a pallid finger in his direction, it whispered, “We are coming.”

It was with those fateful words Key had turned and fled.

At the bar, his face fell, the colour running out of it completely.

He looked up at me.

“They’re coming for me,” he muttered. “I know it.”

VI

The next day, I received a telephone call. I recognised the caller as Daniel Tately, Key’s younger brother. Daniel was morose, his voice but a whisper at the end of the line.

There had been an incident at the Tately bungalow, one involving a sinkhole.

I shuddered at the implications.

The family had awoken in the early hours of the morning to a series of tremendous crashing sounds. Daniel and his parents-the latter of whom still refuse to discuss the incident-rushed to Key’s bedroom, flung the door open and stood aghast, as their son, brother and my friend was dragged, kicking and screaming, into a gaping hole; malnourished, ashen hands clutching his head and arms.

All this Daniel muttered in hushed tones. He spoke of Key’s paranoia in the weeks leading up to the incident: an apparent preoccupation with the subterranean mines beneath our town; fears relating to the distant, muffled sound of pickaxes; and the latent idea that a nameless thing from the heart of the mines had spent five long years searching for him.

In his mind’s eye he had watched as it traversed the flooded depths, clearing collapsed corridors, looking for the precise location in which to dig hundreds of feet upwards.

And he had listened as the encroaching clamour fuelled his imagination, coupled with what Daniel referred to as an odour, an overpowering foetor that even the family had noticed in the days leading up to the incident.

“It got him,” Daniel said.

And it had.

The pit.

The occupants of the pit.

Life in my town carries on. The few of us who remember such horrors exchange our tales in whispers over quiet ales in the Painter’s Greyhound on chilly, autumnal nights.

Occasionally, I revisit that fateful moment Key and I gazed into that old mere.

I saw myself.

Key saw something else.

As my grandfather once said, “Boy, ‘tis nothing to look, ‘tis everything to see. See yourself and know thee escaped the darkness.”

Now, finally, I know what he meant.

Credit To: Muted Vocal

The Fear Experiment

June 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Introduction

In over ten years of continuous travel, I have encountered many peculiar and fascinating individuals. Usually the most interesting encounters are those with other travellers: men and women with no particular destination; or at least no destination they care to share. I like the idea that one can spend a fleeting evening with a stranger in the middle of a foreign metropolis, only to wave goodbye the following day and never hear from them again. We are merely ships that pass in the night.
As I contemplate modern technology–social media and the like–I fear the ships are becoming all too visible. The subtle nuances, silent expressions and secrets that define us are now exposed to the prying spotlight of a lethargic civilisation.
So I look to places where secrets still exist: hidden nooks and passageways; the world beneath the disembodied voice of the many; the past. And there–by chance–a friend and I encountered an individual so out of touch with the modern world that he could have passed for a ghost. In what could very well have been his last year on this earth, he told us of a strange and profound experiment he was party to in his youth.

A Cold Winter’s Morning

February 2008
Keleti Train Station
Budapest, Hungary

The train bound for Sighisoara, Romania rolled in at around 11am. If memory serves its final destination was Bucharest. The journey time was estimated at eight hours so we were pretty sure we’d be spending the whole day on board. As well as the two of us, several others boarded. We located an empty compartment and stowed our luggage.
Within ten minutes the train was ready to depart. Upon doing so, the ticket lady approached us almost immediately. I’ll never forget the vacant look on her face as she studied my ticket.
Some five or so minutes into the journey, an elderly gentlemen clutching a brown leather briefcase opened the door to our compartment. He hovered in the doorway for several seconds before finally choosing to enter. Nodding in our direction as he entered, we responded in kind as he sat opposite us. His weathered face was chock-full of gorge-deep lines.
My first thought was how unusual it was for an elderly gentleman to choose to join a pair of twenty-somethings on a train that was practically empty. It would soon be revealed however, that we were precisely the kind of company he was looking for.
The man–who I came to refer as _Mr. Grey_–sat in silence as he watched the world go by outside. My friend and I were idly gossiping, mostly about the things we had seen in Hungary and would undoubtedly see in Transylvania. Towards the end of our conversation, the man carefully opened the brown leather briefcase atop his lap and began to inspect the contents. Among a bundle of papers–written in more than one language–were a number of Soviet Military Orders: all of which looked weathered and tarnished, rather like the man himself. He looked down at the Orders, and then back up at us whispering in a thick Russian accent, “Tell me what you know of fear.”

The Man from Tbilisi

1920s
Tbilisi, Georgia

Mr. Grey grew up in Tbilisi, Georgia in the 1920s. His father was a military figure and a great admirer of Joseph Stalin. He claimed to have been heavily brainwashed in his formative years: becoming a strong believer in the Soviet regime and communism in general. So, when he approached adulthood, his heart was inevitably set on military service.
Upon reaching the age of 18, he relocated to the Soviet Union, specifically Moscow. He rose to prominence as a young and dedicated officer with an increasing interest in the human condition. This he attributed to his commanding officer’s interest in experimental psychology.
Throughout the Second World War, Mr. Grey worked as a practicing psychologist in a Russian laboratory on the outskirts of Moscow. There, he and his commanding officer – a man whom he referred to as Mr. Red – conducted a variety of experiments on unwitting subjects: often prisoners of war, although it wasn’t unusual for volunteers to arrive at the laboratory, including would-be soldiers unfit for frontline warfare.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Grey’s interest in this field grew exponentially after the end of the Second World War, and almost a decade later during the height of the Cold War, he was conducting his own experiments.

1955
Gabala, Azerbaijan

For reasons undisclosed, Mr. Grey relocated to Gabala, Azerbaijan and established a psychological research facility with a team of seven medical practitioners. The team was assembled to conduct a highly controversial and secret experiment dubbed _Project Sleep_. But for those of whom were involved, it would later come to be known as _Project Fear_.
In their search for willing subjects, villages in the neighbouring countries of Armenia, Russia and Mr. Grey’s native Georgia were systematically searched. Vague but intriguing advertisements were posted in strategic locations throughout small and often poor communities. Mr. Grey was carrying one of the advertisements in his briefcase. Written in Georgian, he read the text aloud in broken English which, if translated, would have looked something like this on paper:

_VOLUNTEERS REQUIRED_
_CIVIL SERVANTS_
_MEDICAL RESEARCH_
_WELL PAID_
_SUPPORT MEDICAL SCIENCE_

The applications poured in. Twelve candidates were selected and subsequently invited to eligibility hearings. Of the twelve initially selected, seven were formally invited to participate in Project Sleep. The experiment was to be conducted in two stages, though candidates would only be made aware of the first.

Project Sleep: Stage One

Candidates were to be kept awake for a period of 72 hours in solitary confinement. To ensure their consciousness, candidates were under constant supervision. Alarms were triggered remotely and repeatedly if candidates appeared to be falling asleep.
Periodically, at the 24th, 48th and 72nd hours, candidates were asked to describe their worst fear. As each period passed, three out of the seven candidates exaggerated the fear they had initially described. For example, Candidate #2 had initially described a generic fear of crustaceans, specifically woodlice. Upon questioning at the 72nd hour, his fear was not only of woodlice, but of the possibility his closest friends and family members would eventually mutate into woodlice.
The 48th hour brought about strange, dark fears for candidates #3 and #5. Fears that greatly worried the practitioners. Unsurprisingly though, the 72nd hour instilled a heightened sense of anxiety and paranoia in all seven candidates, though it was specifically noted that Candidate #5 was said to be experiencing severe, apathetic gloom.
And then it was on to Stage Two.

Intermission: Train Compartment

Even the notion of describing Stage Two filled Mr. Grey with visible unease. He was sweating and clutching haphazardly at tattered bits of paper.
I recall with perfect clarity the moment Mr. Grey withdrew a handkerchief and slowly wiped his brow. His motion was pained and unsteady. But in that instant I could have sworn his obscured mouth was grinning.

Project Sleep: Stage Two

Upon completion of the 72nd hour, each candidate was permitted to sleep. In fact, they were given a sleeping agent which ensured they wouldn’t be aware of what was to follow.
All candidates were driven to a secret facility in the mountains somewhere outside Gabala, the team referred to it secretly as _The Mansion_. The sleeping candidates were strategically placed in various locations throughout the complex and were left to awaken naturally. The team allotted 24 hours for them to remain inside. The facility was locked from the outside and metal panels were used to seal the windows. No surveillance equipment was used. They would rely purely upon the candidate’s statements upon release at the end of the time period.
It is interesting to note that according to Mr. Grey there was nothing particularly unusual about the facility, other than its convenient, isolated location.

Results

Upon completion of the 24th hour, The Mansion’s heavy doors were opened. There Mr. Grey and his team discovered two emaciated candidates: numbers #5 and #7. Following the first sweep of the facility, the remaining candidates were nowhere to be found, though bizarre evidence to suggest they encountered unspeakable things was everywhere.
Candidate #5 was comatose and as such was placed under supervision. Candidate #7 however was surprisingly calm and coherent. He described an experience unlike anything any member of the team had heard of before. It began with him waking in a quiet room–one eerily similar to his bedroom at home in Armenia–and hearing strange sounds, including the fearful cries of unfamiliar voices.
Approximately ten minutes elapsed before a stranger burst into his room shouting maniacally, alluding to an insect of giant proportions pursuing him throughout dilapidated, maze-like corridors. Ready to dismiss the stranger’s story as nonsense, he became aware of a distant humming – or buzzing – sound. Some inexplicable, winged creature was on the prowl, tirelessly searching for a victim to fulfill its unknowable desires. The stranger left the room amid uncontainable shrieks and disappeared into the darkness of a gloomy corridor. The buzzing sound continued for a while until #7 heard what he could only describe as a bloodcurdling scream.
#7 exited the room, only to discover thick, coarse hairs strewn about the corridor, accompanied by sporadic pools of an unidentifiable viscous fluid.
Mr. Grey and his team referred to the notes made during Stage One with Candidate #7. He had repeatedly described a fear of helplessness, a fear that had remained consistent even after sleep deprivation. And so throughout Stage Two, as he wandered throughout The Mansion, he continued to experience circumstances beyond his control. He described labyrinthine corridors surrounding him that seemed to grow in height as he explored them. Doors seemed to move away from him, and his attempts to open them failed. He repeatedly came upon dead ends beyond which he heard manic voices, giving rise to the notion that the owners of those voices were being pursued.
In the end it was nothing more than blind luck that led candidate #7 to the exit. And up until the moment the doors were opened, he had believed he was slouched against a cold, brick wall rather that a set of perfectly ordinary oak doors.
Mr Grey’s discoveries within the facility were both fascinating and horrifying. In what appeared to be confirmation of the presence of a large crustacean, the team discovered a giant exoskeleton complete with a number of jointed limbs. And although it was retrieved for further analysis, it inexplicably disappeared from safe storage several days later.
Puddles of coagulated blood were also discovered, supporting the idea that something malevolent had been wandering the halls, and furthermore, that something or someone had been injured.

Intermission: Train Compartment

Mr. Grey looked at my friend and me with cold, vacant eyes. “The experiment was a success,” he said in that thick, Russian accent. “Although now I wish it hadn’t been so.” Once again he reached into his briefcase and produced a bundle of papers.

Further Results

1956
Undisclosed location, Azerbaijan

Candidate #5 spent almost six months in a coma, and had been under constant medical supervision in an undisclosed location, where the team hoped he would eventually recover. Much to their relief, he awoke on February 23rd, 1956. Several days passed before he felt well enough to discuss the events leading up to his coma.
The middle-aged Azerbaijani librarian disturbed Mr. Grey and his team of practitioners with his account, so much so, that all plans for subsequent experiments were abandoned.
Mr. Grey recalled the librarian’s unique fear as described in Stage One: the fear that human beings were vessels for a single, greater entity; a being with one desire: to compartmentalise itself into a theoretically infinite number of finite individuals. The fear intensified as the time periods passed, with #5 describing the entity as present in mammals, birds and fish, but more worryingly present in all human beings, living and dead. An entity that took the form of absolutely everything capable of breath in an endless attempt to escape the truth of itself as an impossibly lonely, omnipotent being.
Candidate #5’s conclusion and ultimate fear was that he too was an aspect of this faceless, mass of a thing, and that in a universe of infinite possibilities, he would be forced to live every single inconceivably horrible life imaginable from start to finish, over and over again, forever. In line with Project Sleep, deep within the walls of The Mansion, this all-consuming fear came alive. And as it did, almost instantaneously, candidate #5 saw through the eyes of the other candidates. He saw their fears, and lived them. He watched as they fled from untold horrors, and screamed each of their screams. His mind wandered further still, deep into the strange, half-imagined minds of the creatures made flesh by the candidates and their fears. He felt things only monsters were supposed to feel, and merged them with emotions unthinkable to man. And as this hapless wandering consumed him, his mind began to collapse, almost as though the matter in which he was made was coming apart, torn asunder by the unseen forces of an exotic dimension, a place where only fear, pain and agonising confusion could exist. And there he stayed for almost six months.
Candidate #5 addressed Mr. Grey and his team, telling them of their fates, explaining the intricate, invisible tapestry binding each and every one of them together, regurgitating memories, thoughts, hopes and dreams from the deepest and darkest recesses of their minds.
After what Mr. Grey described as _almost an eternity_ of outpouring, the Azerbaijani librarian returned to that deep, dark coma the team had found him in following the experiment.

Train Compartment

And so Mr. Grey’s conclusion was ironic. In what was supposed to be an experiment designed to study the depths of fear, he and his team of practitioners summoned what can only be described as man’s deepest fear: the fear that he one day may know himself.
I asked what he meant by that. He said simply, “Your question is proof that we aren’t quite there yet.” Mr. Grey closed his eyes and slept.
As the Carpathian Mountains rolled by the compartment window. I thought about the being, and the frightening possibility that Mr. Grey himself, and even my friend and I on a quiet train rolling through Eastern Europe could be nothing more than aspects of an unknowable, omnipotent creature.
We reached our destination. Mr. Grey remained asleep. I took his photograph. A part of me wants to visit Gabala, Azerbaijan to seek out the old facility in the mountains nearby. Will it be there?
If the experiment truly was a success, shouldn’t whatever was summoned still be there?

Credit To – Muted Vocal

Creepypasta

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