Willow Creek

May 19, 2016 at 12:00 AM

The estimated reading time for this post is 19 minutes, 13 seconds

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This pasta was the first place winner of our Gaming Creepypasta Challenge. Congratulations to moonlit_cove!

The second and third placed winners will have their stories uploaded on the 20th and 21st. Thanks to everyone who participated!

A small orb of orange light quickly illuminated then faded back into the darkness as Paul Donovan took a draw from his cigarette. He sat slouched in a plush chair in his living room, the hand that held the cigarette now dangling over the armrest. When he exhaled, the smoke rose and hovered near the ceiling, though it was impossible to see it in the darkness.

After a brief moment of questioning his willingness to continue, he picked up the TV remote in his free hand and pressed the power button. The solid blue screen initially caused his dilated pupils to ache – so much so that he winced and glanced away from the screen for a few seconds.

Once his eyes adjusted, Paul swapped the TV remote for his wireless game controller. He pressed and held the start button until the system booted up. After taking one final draw of his cigarette, he snuffed it out in an ash tray that was resting on a nearby end table. The disc reader inside his console whirred as it spun up to load the game data.

Continue to Level 3? The dialogue box gave him one last chance to change his mind. He initially used the controller stick to highlight the “No” response, and lingered there while contemplating the possible consequences of playing on. But he had to finish what he’d started, and he hoped that by completing the game he could put an end to this madness. More importantly, he wanted his son back, and he was prepared to do whatever was necessary in order to get him home safely. He returned the cursor to the “Yes” option and confirmed his choice.

– – – – –

Being an avid lover of horror and survival games, it was only natural that Paul would accept the challenge to play this game. He had learned of it quite by accident two weeks ago as he was browsing the discussion forum of his favorite gaming site. Someone had posted a topic requesting recommendations for the scariest games. Paul opened the thread with the intention of providing a long list of his favorites, but as he read through the responses he saw how the conversation had turned in a much different direction, beginning with a reply from a user he’d never seen before:

Chameleon01: If you guys are looking for a scary game, I’ve got one for you. I’ll bet no one on this board could even finish it.

GamerGabe: PFFFFFT!! Yeah right! We’ve played everything there is. What’s the name of it then, newbie?

Dark-Shadow957: Low post count + outrageous claim = troll.

00Raven00: Well, what game is it?

RevengeofSephiroth: Let me guess, a Pokemon game?

GamerGabe: (@RevengeofSephiroth) BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Dark-Shadows957: TROLL! Come on guys, don’t feed the troll!

Chameleon01: It’s called Willow Creek.

GamerGabe: Sounds lame.

00Raven00: I googled your little game. It doesn’t exist. Nice try though. Buh-bye now.

Chameleon01: It’s a pre-production bootleg. It’s not supposed to be out until next year.

00Raven00: We still would’ve heard of it as an upcoming release. Besides that, how would you even get a hold of such a thing? Geez, some people!

Chameleon01: I work for the developer. That’s all I can say. Do you want to play it or not?

00Raven00: What system?

Chameleon01: PM me. I’ll get you the version for whatever system you need.

The more Paul read into the depth of the thread, the more his interest was piqued. He wondered whether or not 00Raven00 had gone on to request the game from this stranger. He hovered his mouse over the link to Chameleon01’s profile, then clicked it and began composing his own private message to the unknown user. He was hesitant at first to give out his home address, but he rationalized it away by telling himself it wasn’t any different than the hundreds of random strangers using eBay that had already obtained his personal information over the years.

A yellow padded envelope with no return address arrived in Paul’s mailbox four days after he sent the private message. Inside was the game disc in a paper sleeve. On the disc, crudely written in ink, was: Willow Creek: beta v. 1.0.

“Ah, so this Chameleon guy is in charge of beta testing. That makes a little more sense,” Paul mumbled to himself. His mouth then broadened into a partial smile. “Well, he didn’t have to be so cryptic about it.”

A young boy came running into the kitchen where Paul stood looking over the rest of the day’s mail.

“Who you talkin’ to, dad?” the boy asked.

“Oh, no one, Scotty. Just myself.” He shuffled through the bills and junk mail.

Scotty was ten years old, an above average student, but a typical boy all around. He loved playing the seemingly endless stream of video games that his father was constantly bringing home. They had partnered up for many adventures on most of the multiplayer games (unless Paul deemed the game to be too mature for Scotty), and even when games were single player, Scotty loved to watch as his father solved all the puzzles and defeated the toughest bosses. Paul knew that Scotty’s mother would probably not approve of all of the games that they’d played together, but she hadn’t had a say in the matter for nearly a year now.

“We got a new game,” Paul announced to his son, holding the disc out toward Scotty.

Scotty took it from him. “It looks fake,” he said.

“Well, it’s a beta test. We’ll be among the first players.”

Scotty’s eyes lit up. “Cool! Can we play it tonight?”

“Sure, if we have time. You make sure you get all your homework done first though. Okay?”

Scotty hung his head as he placed the game disc on the kitchen table. “Alright,” he replied in a resigned voice, remembering how much homework awaited him that evening.

It was getting late when Scotty finally finished his school work and came barreling into the living room, begging his father to play the new game.

“It’s already 9:30, bud. You need to be getting to bed soon.”

“Can we at least start it?”

Paul hesitated for a moment. “Okay. But you’re not staying up past ten.”

Scotty’s excitement boiled over as he grabbed the game disc and booted up the console. He handed his father the first player controller. After a brief title screen, there were three level options listed from top to bottom. The only option that was active was “Level One”. The remaining two levels were grayed-out. In the background, behind the text, was the still image of a closed door depicted from inside a dark room with light radiating from the gaps at its edges.

“What’s this about?” Scotty asked.

“I don’t know exactly. But it’s supposed to be scary so I may be sending you to bed if it gets too bad.”

Scotty groaned. Paul confirmed the selection of level one and sat back as the game loaded. “It looks like it’s only one player so you’ll just have to watch me play for a while.”

“That’s okay.”

After a few seconds of load time, a cut scene appeared. Paul and his son watched the animated footage – a first-person perspective as the protagonist entered a door with a frosted glass window into an antiquated office environment. On the window, decaled in thick black lettering, was “Detective Charleston”. Somber ambient music droned in the background. The scene reminded Paul of the way many of the classic film noirs he’d seen over the years had begun. Right away he realized that this would be more of a puzzle solving game. An intellectual’s game.

Paul caught on to the gist of the game relatively quickly. He played as Detective Charleston, traveling all around the virtual town of Willow Creek and finding clues that could be pieced together to advance the storyline. In level one’s mystery he was introduced to the story of James Braxton, a man that worked the third shift at the Willow Creek Steel Mill. One night while having an argument with a coworker, James was pushed into the blast furnace. The perpetrator left the scene and there were no other witnesses. It was up to Paul to find all of the evidence and have the murderer convicted.

During one particularly realistic cut scene of the murder, Paul had ordered Scotty off to bed. Scotty protested at first, but soon relented. Paul finished solving the case by himself, and was pleased with his work when the police finally slapped the handcuffs on the murderer in the final cut scene of level one. The game automatically saved his progress.

Paul’s phone rang. He looked at his watch – 12:37.

“C’mon, you’re going to wake up Scotty,” he whispered as he reached for the phone. He answered it.

“Hello?”

“Thank you for setting me free.”

Paul pulled the phone away from his ear to glance at the screen – unknown caller. “Who is this?” he demanded.

“James Braxton.”

“Who?”

“James. From Willow Creek. You solved my case.”

Paul was taken aback. He glanced at the television screen which now displayed a dialogue box, beaconing: Continue to Level 2?

“Who is this really? And where did you get my number?”

“I told you – I’m James from Willow Creek. I just wanted to thank you for solving my case. Now I’m free. I only had about six weeks left before reaching the dreaded one year mark. Thank God you came along. No one else had solved my case yet. I even-”

“Where did you get my number?” Paul interrupted.

“From Chameleon, of course.”

“What the…” Paul trailed off as the phone slipped from his hand and landed with a thud on the carpet. His mouth slacked open in disbelief. He looked down at the phone. The illuminated screen stared back up at him. He could still hear the muffled voice at the other end. He grabbed the phone and shut it off as quickly as he could.

Paul’s heart was racing and drops of sweat began to form on his brow as he switched off the game console and the TV set. He was bathed in silence and in the darkness of his living room. After a long moment to gather his thoughts and to allow his pulse to settle, he quietly snuck into Scotty’s room where he watched his son sleep peacefully for several minutes. Paul was not able to fall asleep himself until nearly 4:00AM. He could not shake the uneasy feeling of the phone call. His last thought before finally drifting off into slumber was how useless he was going to be at work later that day.

– – – – –

Paul awoke in a fog at first, but then jolted upright when he saw the time on his bedside clock – 10:23. The room was washed in dim shades of gray as a heavy rain beat steadily at the roof and windows. Apparently Paul had forgotten to set his alarm amidst the chaos that followed his completion of level one. After the utterance of a few choice profanities and throwing off the bed sheets, he darted into Scotty’s room. His empty bed was neatly made. In the kitchen Paul found a note:

You were sleeping so well, I made my own breakfast. I have to catch the bus soon. Love, Scotty

Paul sighed and felt like such a failure as a father. It was in moments like these that he wished Laura were still there. He missed her in so many ways, and her penchant for organization, though annoying at times, was something he undeniably needed in his life. Paul stared into blank space as he relived in his mind the accident that took her. Once he snapped out of the vision he decided to call in sick to work. Afraid to turn on his cell phone, he made the call from his land line.

After a quick breakfast, Paul debated with himself about whether or not to continue the game. He finished off a cigarette as he rehashed the events of the previous night. As unnerving as it had been for him at the time, it now seemed like nothing more than a strange coincidence with a wrong number. A very strange coincidence, but how else could it be explained? Besides, Paul was never one to back away from a challenge. He had to finish the game.

The console booted up, the disc spun, and the title screen gave way to the dialogue box: Continue to Level 2? Paul confirmed the “Yes” selection.

The second case for Detective Charleston was that of a housing developer who had dug up human remains while leveling a lot for construction. The site of the discovery was roped off and it was the objective of the player to properly collect all of the evidence and determine who the remains belonged to and what had happened to them. Paul was meticulous in his actions and was careful to think of every possible piece of evidence. He collected samples for DNA testing. He interviewed the former landowner, the construction foreman, and the equipment operator who had made the discovery. He pored over photographs of the crime scene.

Little by little he pieced together the story of a woman that had been kidnapped and murdered. She had been carjacked and a fiery accident was staged to cover up the disappearance. She was then held captive by her abductor until he finally did away with her and buried the remains. The case was solved in its entirety when the DNA test results came back. There were two DNA profiles in the samples – one for the perpetrator, who turned out to be a known troublemaker in Willow Creek – and the other for the victim, Laura Donovan.

Paul threw the controller aside. His pulse immediately increased to the point that he could feel his neck throbbing. His ears rang and he began shaking.

“There’s….no way.” He choked on the words. Tears welled up in his eyes as he recalled the circumstances surrounding Laura’s death. The car had burned beyond recognition. The funeral was closed casket. Had something more happened to her? Had she not died at the scene as this game was suggesting?

“What are you?” he screamed at the television, his face dark red. There was no answer, just the ever-increasing throbbing of his pulse, now audible in his ears, and the prompt on the screen: Continue to Level 3?

Paul rushed over and unplugged the game system. The TV screen shone solid blue. With the exception of the pounding rain outside, silence enveloped the house. He paced around the living room, wrestling in his own mind for answers. How was this possible? There’s no way it was all a coincidence!

The wall phone rang.

The sound of the mechanical bell was jolting, threatening to split Paul’s head in two. He agonized at the thought of the caller’s identity. Most people did not have his home phone number.

“No! Please, no! Don’t do this to me!” His initial reaction was one of terror, but what if it really was Laura calling? What if he’d somehow released her from the clutches of the game just as James claimed that he’d done in his case? Ridiculous! Paul thought, She’s dead! He made his way over to the phone mounted on the kitchen wall.

“Hello?” Paul said this with great caution, the way an intimidated child would approach an angry parent.

“Paul Donovan?” It was a woman’s voice.

“Yes.”

“This is Janice Pendleton from Roosevelt Elementary School. We were just calling to check on your son, Scotty, since he was absent today.”

Paul was at a loss for words.

Janice continued, “We couldn’t reach you on your cell phone, but we found this alternate number in Scotty’s file.”

“You’re telling me he didn’t show up today?”

There was a pause of confusion before Janice delicately replied, “Yes sir, we found it odd since he rarely misses a day. So we wanted to check…” She trailed off.

“He left for school as usual this morning,” Paul said, “I mean, I was sleeping, but…” He realized that no matter what he said next it would make him sound like a negligent parent. He began to weep and tried his best to hide this from Janice, but she was able to pick up on it.

“Mr. Donovan, if you’re saying you don’t know where he is either… Do you want us to notify the authorities?”

No longer attempting to hide his sobbing he managed to blurt out, “Yes. Please!” then wept uncontrollably, dropping the phone receiver. It hit the kitchen wall with a hard thud and swung there by its cord as Paul sank to the floor.

– – – – –

Paul spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening at the police station. He answered a barrage of questions from multiple officers and detectives. He filled out endless amounts of paperwork. He pleaded with everyone he encountered to stop wasting time and find his son. The officers convinced Paul that they would do everything in their power and then persuaded him to go home in case Scotty returned. “That’s how many of these cases resolve themselves in the early stages,” one officer had told him.

The rain had subsided by the time Paul returned home, leaving wet streets and walkways. He unlocked his front door and entered the darkness. The house was silent.

“Scotty?” he called, standing in the doorway. “Are you here?” But there was no response.

Paul knew that if he were to simply sit around the house waiting he would go insane, so he booted up his computer to revisit the message board thread about the game – and to give this Chameleon guy a piece of his mind. As the computer was starting up he gazed at a framed photo on the desktop. The picture was of himself, Laura and Scotty taken at a family reunion during a much happier time in their lives. He fought tears again and then turned the photo face down on the desk. The computer was ready.

He navigated to the message board and found the thread. He noticed two things that had happened since he had last been there. First, the user Chameleon01 was no longer listed. Everywhere he had posted, his username was replaced by an icon with the text No Longer A Registered User. The other item of interest was that the tread had been locked by moderators after the argument about the mysterious game grew much more intense. As Paul was reading the heated exchange he heard the front door open. A sigh of relief washed over him and an impossibly large smile crossed his face.

“Scotty!” he yelled. He ran down the hallway. “Scotty, you’re home! Thank God! You had me so worr-”

Paul stopped dead in his tracks when he turned the corner to face the front door. Scotty had not come home. But Laura had.

– – – – –

Even though she had lost weight and appeared sickly, Laura’s embrace felt like home. It was comfortable and familiar, although it had been almost a year since Paul had experienced it. They lingered in the doorway in that position before either of them spoke.

Finally, Paul pulled back, his hands remaining on her shoulders, and asked, “Laura, is it really you? How is this possible?”

“It’s really me! You freed me! It’s so good to be home.” Paul was awestruck as they resumed the embrace. They kissed passionately for several minutes. Once the disbelief of her presence lessened, Paul led Laura over to the couch to question her about all that had happened.

“I don’t even know where to start, Laura. I was playing this video game and I-”

“I know, Paul. I know. Let me tell you everything that happened to me.”

Paul nodded and listened intently.

“I didn’t die in the car crash,” Laura began. “He took me.”

“Who took you?”

“This ‘thing’ that calls himself The Chameleon.”

Paul’s stomach sank and his brow creased as he tried to make sense of this.

“Took you where, exactly?”

“After he abducted me and burned my car, I woke up in a holding cell. There were hundreds of us in there, stacked in cages lining the walls. I don’t think the place is even in this realm. He told us that if someone solved our case in the game he would send us back to ‘the real world’. And when I was released, I passed through some sort of portal and wound up in the sewer tunnels under Hamilton Square.”

“What in the world? That sounds crazy, Laura!”

“I know it does, Paul. But you’ve got to believe me. It’s happening.”

“But what is he getting out of this? I mean, why not just make a game without the human collateral?”

“I think the human collateral is the point. It’s some kind of a sick game to him. The cages are stacked around the perimeter of a very large warehouse-like room. In the center of the room is a stage where people whose cases aren’t solved within one year are creatively…” she began crying, “…dispatched in gruesome ways.” Laura leaned over to embrace Paul again, her tears dampening his shoulder. “I saw terrible things, Paul. And my time on the stage was only two weeks away.”

The gravity of this hit Paul like a ton of bricks. He rubbed her back.

“You saved me, Paul. Thank you.”

“I have to tell you something, Laura,” he said after a contemplative pause, “Scotty is missing.”

“I know,” Laura replied somberly, “he’s in the game.”

– – – – –

Paul sat in the dark living room and stared at the prompt on the screen. Continue to Level 3? After selecting “Yes” and while waiting for the case to load, he closed his eyes and hoped beyond measure that the case he would be presented with was Scotty’s. Laura watched silently from the couch. The familiar cut scene played showing the entrance into Detective Charleston’s office. Once Paul had control of the game, he opened the last case file and began reading.

He nearly burst into tears of joy when he read about a missing ten year old boy. His objective was to find the boy and have the kidnapper brought to justice.

“It must update through the internet connection,” Paul said to Laura. “The disc is just a gateway into the game. I’ll bet if I went back to level one again it would not be James’ case, but something new – one of Chameleon’s latest victims.” As Paul was saying this, he had the sudden realization that this would never end. He would be compelled from then on to spend every waking moment of his life playing this game, lest someone experience a gruesome death that he might have prevented. His conscience would never let him put it down.

Paul refocused on the task at hand. He worked the level three case as diligently as he knew how, talking to possible witnesses in Willow Creek and collecting evidence from the playground where the boy was last seen. Soon, he was at an impasse. He did not have enough evidence to figure out what had happened and he had no further ideas on how to proceed.

“What’s that store next to the playground?” Laura asked.

“I think it’s like a convenience store,” Paul replied.

“Can you go talk to them? Maybe there’s a security camera or something.”

“Brilliant!” Paul navigated Detective Charleston into the store and spoke with the manager. Moments later he was able to obtain the security camera footage from the time of the disappearance which showed the boy being stuffed into a car with a clear license number. Back at his office Detective Charleston ran the plate number and located the kidnapper. After the handcuffing scene, Paul was treated to a congratulatory message for having solved the case in level 3.

And they waited.

The house remained quiet, and it did not take long for Paul to become frustrated. He paced nervously in the living room.

“Where is he? I solved his case.”

“Give it more time, Paul. Remember, it took me several hours to make it back here after being released.”

Paul nodded, but it did not calm him. He stepped out onto the front porch for another cigarette and to watch for a boy to come running toward him in the distance. When this did not happen, he darted out into the middle of the front yard, gazed out into the darkness with his arms outstretched and yelled, “Give me my son back! Take me instead! You hear me? You come take me instead!”

Dogs barked in the distance. Paul collapsed onto the lawn. When he finally looked up, he saw Scotty moving toward him. He wasn’t running, but walking slowly. He was reaching up with his left hand as if being led by a much taller adult, but Paul did not see anyone walking next to him. As Scotty approached, Paul could barely make out the vague outline of a tall cloaked figure holding Scotty’s hand.

In a moment, Scotty was in Paul’s arms. The outlined figure stood over them. It was not translucent, but entirely solid, yet it took on the perfect semblance of the surroundings behind it. If Paul were to reach out and touch it, his hand would not pass through it, but meet resistance as real as any other body. It stood motionless and silent – and waited.

Laura burst from the front door and off the porch into the yard.

“Scotty!” she called to him.

“Momma?”

“It’s me, baby! It’s really me!”

As they hugged and wept together, Paul turned his attention toward the nearly indiscernible cloaked figure. It was at least eight feet tall by his best estimation. Paul was still kneeling when the figure’s cloak parted at the bottom, revealing a blackness that could only be rivaled by the deepest, darkest cave. The entity stepped forward and absorbed Paul. The edges of the cloak reunited and all was silent.

“No!” Laura’s scream was drawn out and ended with hysterical wailing as she realized that only she and Scotty remained in the front yard.

– – – – –

Somewhere in an inaccessible nether world Paul slowly awoke in his fourth-storey cage. He heard the wailing of all the other occupants in their cells, though he could not see them. On the wall in his small dark cage was a placard with two dates written on it. The first was the date of his imprisonment, and the second was the date exactly one year from then. Suddenly there was commotion below as a slightly overweight man was led by the cloaked figure onto the spot-lit stage in the center of the arena below. The man was manacled to a post with a sinister-looking mechanical device positioned behind him. Paul had already closed his eyes by the time the machine was started up. He did not want to see what it was or what was going to happen to the man. However, the screams he heard would never leave his mind.

– – – – –

Seven hundred fifty miles away from Paul Donovan’s earthly home, a middle-aged man known in certain internet gaming circles as 00Raven00 opened a padded envelope that had been sitting on his kitchen counter for several days. He inserted the plain disc into his gaming system and watched the opening sequence. Once he had control of the game he opened the file folder on Detective Charleston’s desk. Apparently a man named Paul had been pushed in front of a subway train by another person who then fled the station, according to witness statements in the file.

Being primarily an action-based gamer 00Raven00’s patience wore thin quickly, and he spent only fifteen minutes exploring for clues before giving up.

“Psssshh. This isn’t even scary,” he declared, and switched the system off.

Credit: moonlit_cove