Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
Beyond the Veil is Dark
And beyond Dark, the Heart That Must Be Slain.
The Veil is everything you know
And the Dark, Olcshire.
This was the message handed to me, as per my grandfather’s will. It was peculiar, but nothing unusual. As far back as my childhood my grandfather would impress my molding mind with thought-provoking riddles, cleverly scripted scavenger hunts, and the like. Even from the grave, it seemed, his last wish was to impart one last game of mental quandary. I missed him so, and the idea that this was as cherished to him as it was to me filled me to the brim with bittersweet joy only deep nostalgia could muster.
I knew the reference of Olcshire well, being a small town in the countryside far west. Few people were known to reside there, but many spoke eerie, ghoulish stories of the place. Journalists often visited its simple folk, bombarding them with inquiries that only proved to annoy. Eventually, after an instance of trespassing that ended in violence, visitors stopped harassing the town out of respect or fear for its quiet occupants. They just wanted to be left alone, is all. I could sympathize, and though I would normally never test such waters, I sought passionately to discover the answer to grandfather’s riddle. Surely, my intentions wouldn’t be met with similar animosity.
Optimism floated my spirits as the taxi ferried me to uneventful Olcshire. As expected, I was greeted with quiet, cobbled streets with even quieter residents passing me by on the sidewalk. At first I thought they did not want to bother with me, only to prove myself wrong when noticing several of the dreary townsfolk peaking at the corner of their eyes just before I left their view.
They were aware of my presence, all right. That same earlier optimism did not take long to sink into uneasiness. They were watching my every step, cold in their sideways expressions and silent in their vigil. It was already clear interaction would prove the most challenging aspect of my visit.
The town itself was simple enough. Everything from stores to houses sat side-by-side along a single, winding stretch of street; short enough to traverse easily, though long and curved enough to not see from end to end. The buildings were constructed without space between them, unable to journey behind them without having access to the structure’s back door. A dreary air of solitude lingered in Olcshire; the kind that could leave any outsider feeling unwelcome or out of place.
The light warped into scarlet as it sank behind the blue mountains in the west. I would need to find a place to sleep for the night soon. Eventually I came across an olden-day inn at the end of Olcshire and decided to make it my place of rest. Upon entering, I found the inside vacant with the exception of one middle-aged innkeeper behind his desk. His white, button-down, collared shirt was sloppily untucked and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He wiped his spectacles with an overused cloth as he listened to the radio static. I couldn’t understand a single word that buzzed from its speakers.
He heard me come in, and so adjusted his spectacles on the ridge of his nose to stare at me in the same manner I’ve become accustomed to.
“What you want, feller?” he questioned with a drawl.
“I would like to rent a room for the night.”
He sucked his teeth at my request and glared a moment longer before handing me a key.
In the same gruff, unwelcoming voice he uttered, “Sec’n floor, room ‘leven.”
I thanked him and offered to pay, yet he refused. He insisted I pay him in the morning; something about service before payment. Such professional response, given everyone’s behavior, sounded strange to me. In a way, it proved to further unnerve me. Grandfather must have counted on the social tribulation I would need to endure to solve his riddle. He was known to include unusual problems in his games, though never to this extent. I would have to muster all of my inner resources to solve this.
The way to my room was worn-down, almost decrepit. The instability of the stairs was unquestionable and the portraits hung along its ascent were dusty and faded. When I reached the second floor, the conditions were no different. The floor creaked unusually loud with every step and the wall paint peeled in many places. The doorknobs and hinges all rusted to a urine color. When I reached room eleven and shakily fit the key into the lock, something moved abruptly on the other side.
I froze then and there, my hand quivering with key in hand. I dared not move for fear of what lay beyond that portal. I gulped hard and slowly positioned my free hand on the pistol I kept secret on the inside of my pant’s waist. When enough courage was mustered, all motion appeared to slow as I slammed the door open. My pistol was drawn faster than I thought I was capable of, yet my aim convulsed under the stress. It pointed wildly into the darkness.
Nothing stirred beyond what I could see. Just to be certain, I waited a moment more before inching to the light switch. When I flipped the switch I immediately refocused my uneasy sights. Again, there was nothing.
The switch turned on a single lamp on the nightstand beside the bed I was to sleep in. The room, surprisingly enough, was practically spotless. The paint was perfectly level and without tears, the bed inviting in its presentation, and the curtains crisp. Nothing seemed amiss about this room; but, then again, that was even more unusual.
I did not withdraw my firearm until I checked the closet, bathroom, and every corner of the chamber. Proper furnishing aside, nothing was here. I know I heard something mere moments before. I dialed the front desk from the large phone that sat on the nightstand. The innkeeper answered, irritable as ever, ensuring no one had been in that room.
“Matter a’ fact,” he stated, “Ain’t nobody else checked in t’night.”
I apologized and thanked him for his time before hanging up. It makes sense, considering Olcshire’s infamous stance with outsiders. I should’ve expected as much, but such information did little to lower the hairs on my neck.
I retired for the evening, pistol under my pillow and lamplight on. I kept the bathroom light aglow as well, for who knows what deranged thing could stalk me from there. Nothing happened for the remainder of the evening, but I still didn’t sleep well.
At the first sight of dawn I readied myself for the day. My movements were sloppy and it was difficult to keep my eyes open. When I journeyed downstairs, I was met again by the innkeeper. Expecting his initial disposition, I made an effort to keep our transaction brief. I handed him the going rate without making eye contact.
“Thank ya kindly, sir! You have a bless’d day now, ya hear?”
My words stumbled away from me as my blood froze to his cheerful, glowing words. They were so bright, good-willed, and genuine. It was, without a doubt, the same man as before; yet what became of him? I must have stared at him long, since he tilted his head in concern.
“Ya alright, mister? Need me ta’ call the doctor?”
“N-no… I’m alright.”
I sped immediately to the exit. I knew he was waving at me with a smile; I could feel it. The second I reached the sidewalk a mother and her child passed me with a lovely “Good morning!” In fact, everyone who passed me did. They were merry, kind, and equally unnerving. It wasn’t right. Nothing was right.
I could feel my face contort the longer I kept the facade of cheerful replies. I had to get out of town. It was too much. There was something unnatural going on. No previous visitor to Olcshire mentioned this nonsense.
When I initially arrived in Olcshire, the police station was the first building in sight while the inn where I slept sat on the opposite end of the town’s snaking design. Yet, when I passed the police station, the inn greeted me just beyond it. It was impossible.
I continued straight, greeted again by the same people I passed along the way just moments prior. I encountered every store and home I already came across until, again, I found myself at the police station next to the inn. This time, however, two officers and the sheriff stood outside the station’s entrance.
The sheriff asked with a humored smile, “Ya lost, feller?”
I couldn’t do anything else but panic, desperate to escape this nightmarish place of smiles.
“I need out, but it keeps looping! This is insane! Help me get out! Help me out!”
The officers looked at each other before they marched toward me. They didn’t speak among themselves and the sheriff never once took his eyes off me.
“Take ‘er easy, stranger. We’ll be more than happy ta’ oblige.”
The officers wrestled me to the ground, forced handcuffs on my wrists, and relinquished me of my pistol. I was too exhausted to resist, so they took me inside without a fight. I was dragged into the station, containing only one office and two holding cells. They threw me in and locked the door behind me.
“When yer’ good n’ relaxed we’ll let ya out. Take ‘er easy ’til then.”
They brought my pistol to their office before leaving the station.I was entirely unattended. I sat there, bewildered at the recent events. The town looped endlessly, everyone smiled unerringly, and no one seemed aware of anything unusual about it. My questionably sane pondering was interrupted by a hoarse voice that addressed me from the other cell.
His clothes were torn, covered in dirt, and his brown hair was long and unruly. A sense of hopeless defeat hung in his glazed, unfocused eyes. His voice was strained, as if he gave up any need for it a long time ago.
“You fell asleep here, didn’t you?”
I nodded, to which he let out a heavy sigh.
“Welcome to Olcshire, kid: the happiest place in hell. Listen up.”
My neighboring cellmate proceeded to tell me about Olcshire; how the place we were in was not the same town we visited, that those before us who spent a night in Olcshire’s inn woke up in this ‘Othershire’.He also elaborated it was the townsfolk’s reason for being so disgruntled with visitors. They knew full well outsiders don’t wake up where they slept, so they changed their demeanor to deter unnecessary disappearances.Apparently, they only sought to let a few people reside in the inn a year.
“How do you know this? And why are there no missing person’s reports?”
“Learned it from the guy before me, who learned it from the girl before him, et cetera, et cetera. Also, no one knows we’re missing.We don’t exist in the real world anymore.At least, that’s what the sheriff told me.”
Any further questions failed to emerge from my gaped mouth. No one was looking for me. My family, my friends; no one knew I exist anymore. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it!
“Before you have the same freak-out I did, hear me out: Since you’re here, I’m going to be taken away. They have something under Othershire, something that made loud noises the night my first cellmate was taken away. If this is anything like the books and films, this crazy cycle might stop if you get out of here and kill it.”
He tossed me a crudely-crafted key through the bars that landed at my feet.
“It’s a skeleton key. I would’ve used it, but I don’t have the energy anymore. I’ve been here so long… You have what’s needed to end this, so you won’t need me anyway.”
I was confused for a moment at his words.
His eyes rolled at me as he pointed to the office across from us.
“The fucking gun! Shoot whatever’s down there. Stop those creepy, annoyingly pleasant phonies.”
The front door slammed open from out of view. I took the short time before they came around the corner to hide the key under my foot.
“Speak of the devils…”
The sheriff and his henchmen stood before us, first approaching my cell with long, nightmarish grins.
“Ya feelin’ alright ther’? Hang tight. We’ll have ya out in no time. As fer’ you…”
The sheriff took two giddy steps to my cellmate’s door. His officers unlocked the cell and hungrily lunged at him. He was so tired and worn, unable to muster any meaningful retaliation. They took him away with his hands cuffed and behind his back as the sheriff whistling a backwards tune.
I made my move no more than seconds after the front door closed behind them.I grabbed the key with my teeth and carefully unlocked my handcuffs, then released myself from my cell. I bolted for the office, using the key to unlock it as well. My pistol sat unprotected and still fully loaded on their desk. How fortuitous! I left the station, weapon in hand, and found myself in an ominously vacant Othershire.
The sky was crimson without the sun or mountains in sight. An unearthly tinge of light brown coated every building and cobbled stone which, for reasons I cared not to understand, appeared ancient and in disrepair. Mixed with the bloody sky, Othershire unveiled itself to be a nightmare town of rusted monochrome.
There wasn’t a soul in sight, but a haunting drone of chants hummed from the inn. I sprinted until I burst through the door with gun raised. I followed the horrid hymns, passed the innkeeper’s desk and into his office. There I found a hidden passage in the wall left open. It led to a spiral staircase and, with utmost caution, I descended. The depths it reached could be impossible, yet by then I was already aware of the impracticality in thinking anything ordinary as native to Othershire.
When I reached its bottom, only a dark, solemn corridor waited for me. I held the pistol in my right hand while I followed the wall with my left. It was like I stared into the gaping maw of the abyss, yawning into infinity from where no man should tread. The air grew thick with musk and the wall I felt was cold and damp. With each passing minute the chants grew from a hum to a loud chorus, so I knew I was drawing closer. It continued to stretch and echo on until I stumbled upon an open door at its end that flooded with a deep, scarlet glow. From just outside its entrance there hung a stench I couldn’t explain, but the hymns originated from just beyond it.
I quietly stepped in and there they were. The entire town danced and sang in crooked steps and speeches around a seemingly bottomless well. The chamber was impossibly large; its high ceiling and far walls blasted back their alien songs. They didn’t notice me, so I crept as close as I could with both hands firm on my pistol. At the well’s mouth I saw my cellmate, knelt on its precipice. He was smiling, staring into the well with a gleam of madness that had replaced the defeat in his eyes.
He loosed an inhuman shriek of delight before he tumbled forward into its depths. The celebrants cheered and applauded. I dared not imagine what they could have done to him to make him so willing to plunge. It was sickening.
The jubilation ceased abruptly, their last echoes painfully diminished in seconds. From the deep of the well was a crunching noise that forced shivers across my skin. In unison they turned to face me and the end of my pistol.
Their gleeful smiles were wide beyond normal facial expressions and their teeth more tall and crooked than any should. Their eye sockets were empty, yet I could feel them stare into me. I aimed in there general direction, for I was not close enough for them to grab me, but my hands trembled painfully under the weight of their joined, eyeless gaze. I couldn’t pull the trigger.It was too much.
They opened their mouths as if their jaws were unhinged, and in that moment came a roar that shook both the earth and my mind. It was shrill and otherworldly.For the time the room shook, my thoughts also shook away from of anything sane. Everything in my head warped and blurred to sights and colors impossible and improbable. The noise didn’t come from them; it came from the well.
Dozens of long arms erupted from the well’s unseen darkness. They were slender and multi-jointed with flesh of pale obsidian, each ending in clawed hands. In droves they seized the Othershire residents before dragging them down. After the first was taken into the well there remained a constant crunching noise; identical from when my cell-mate fell in.
I decided to take my leave amidst the chaos, yet the door from whence I came was no longer there. Instead, I was forced to watch the arachnid-like arms pick them off one by one. All the while, not a single one of them fought back or fled. They just continued to stare at me, still and unblinking.
When the last of them was taken, the arms remained on the surface. There must have been at least two dozen of them. They firmly planted themselves, shaped like hooks from the well to the ground. They tensed in their footing until their slender muscles lifted out the body from whence they came.
When it first rose, I thought myself mad for concocting such a phantasm of biology in my mind. Its torso was vaguely humanoid, though a number of shorter arms and tendrils grew from unusual places before descending into the slew of limbs that took the townsfolk. Its head was round, yet deformed; blood-soaked teeth hooked outward from its maw, spanning most of its skull’s circumference. A pair of scarlet-lit eyes beamed from above its mouth, accompanied by others more amphibious in appearance. It roared as it hoisted itself from the well, its immense size squeezing through the portal.
Barely seconds after it emerged the light in the room sank away into oblivion. I was alone in the darkness with this creature of madness personified. The only things I could see were the eyes of scarlet as they shined intently at me.
A single heartbeat pulsed that was not my own. It shook me body in a wave of chills. The creature-thing before me hissed and its eyes drew closer.
Again, the sensation resonated through me. This time, it was closer; yet, so was the creature.
A third time it came, only sooner than between the first and second beat.
Then again, then again; its pace was quickening.
I felt the pulses reverberate just beyond my pistol’s end, just below the scarlet eyes that approached and glared mere feet away.
Its heart: the Heart That Must Be Slain! It must be below the eyes. Its foul, warm breath extended over my whole body. I had to pull the trigger now, or it’d swallow me whole.
The shakes stopped. My right pointer twitched. A blast rang out. Something small struck the other end of the chamber. The heat and smell of its breath vanished, yet still I remained in the dark.
Hours seemed to pass, though possibly only minutes, before I gathered the courage to open my eyes. Everything was dark still; yet, at eye-level to me, the same scarlet eyes stared back. They didn’t move, nor did they blink. I knew they were watching me, waiting for me to open my own.
“You did well.”
My face contorted with shock. The rasp reminded me of its roar, yet it spoke in grandfather’s voice.
“You always were a smart lad; but, then again, I raised you to be that way. Groomed for curiosity since the day you form thoughts. Twenty-some-odd years, but it finally paid off.”
“What’s the meaning of this?!”
“The riddle I wrote lead you here, though it was obvious where here would be. ‘The Heart That Must Be Slain’, a seed of subtlety planted to strike what I made you perceive as my heart. Instead, you destroyed my shackle, and for that you have my gratitude.”
“Why are you telling me this? Satisfaction? Brag before you eat me as well?”
“No, no. You will live. I intend that as a gift for falling for my ruse, but it will curse you as well. You will remember this only in your deepest dreams, though no one will believe you.”
Its scarlet eyes closed as a vacuum pulled me backwards. I screamed something at it, though after I hit a solid surface behind me I couldn’t remember what. Everything was scrambled from then on.
My eyes were finally open, and the nurse was at my bedroom already. It’s time for morning medications, after all. I’d like to leave this place, but they won’t let me. I tried to give them my name, but there are no records I existed.Tests have shown nothing. No one knows of me, and no one has ever heard of Olcshire. Now they call me John Doe. I think that’s a nice name.
I’ve told many doctors my story, but none of them believe me. No one ever heard of Olcshire, and it doesn’t exist on any map. They all think I’m crazy. I know I’m crazy, but so what? I know what I saw in that nightmarish hellscape. It’s alright, though. I can’t say I blame them for not believing me. I wouldn’t believe me either.
Credit: Michael Angelo Yacone
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