Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
I’ve often thought it likely, though have no way to really prove, that in every sizable town in America there is at least one area that feels a bit strange somehow. Maybe it’s a single building that was witness to a grisly murder or maybe it’s a slum full of forgotten people with forgotten dreams. Either way, those who set foot in the area will often describe an overhanging sense of sadness or malaise or even evil. This is, of course, far from a rational feeling and yet when even animals seem to avoid the area or cars consistently break down there, it makes even the most skeptical observer start to wonder. In our town, the most well known of these areas is called Placidity Row.
It’s not some old wealthy area filled with haunted Victorian mansions, nor is it a rundown urban redline. Though, this damn city has quite enough of both. Placidity Row is a product of the construction boom of the prosperous 80s. It was the sort of green little enclave that songs like Pleasant Valley Sunday were written about- full of smiling neighbors, idyllic little picnic areas, and soccer moms driving SUVs. Within a couple of years of its construction, it was already garnering accolades as one of the best places for thirty something yuppies making it big in the city to move with their families. Easy access, good schools, Placidity Row had it all. Note how I said, “was” and “had.”
Somewhere around 2005, Placidity Row changed. Despite being less than 200 yards from a cell phone tower, phones in the area completely died. At most they would display zero bars but usually they wouldn’t turn on at all. Days with the power out began to outnumber days with power. Wi-fi access was out of the question even for the communications companies. GPS was completely nonfunctional and even newer model cars would stall out in the middle of the street.
If that had been the only issue, we might have blamed signal blocking lead deposits in the ground or something. It was only the beginning of Placidity Row’s strangeness, though. Even on those rare days when the power came on, refrigeration began to malfunction. No, not malfunction. A better term would be, “cease to have any physical effect.” Meat bought new and kept in the fridge would rot like it had been set out at room temperature. Milk would curdle the same way.
Even the open air seemed to be almost soaked with death. Bananas would go from lush green to brown in only half a day. An open can of soda would be flat within an hour.
In the 90s, EMTs and police began responding to an increasingly bizarre array of 911 calls. A housewife, Susan Kimura murders her two year-old cousin in an oven because the knocks on her walls “told her to.” Residents claimed that strange lights in the sky would lurk outside their windows until viewed and then fly off at seemingly impossible speeds. An old man was nearly beaten to death by neighborhood teenagers and one middle-aged woman because they were convinced that he was a sorcerer. City workers reported finding a flock of geese dead on the outskirts of the development. Animal control is still completely baffled as to what could possibly have killed them.
One year ago the entire city was in a panic as a seemingly healthy 20 year old woman from the Row turned up dead on the playground from what all signs pointed to as being a strain of the Ebola virus. Yet, just as mysteriously as she turned up, there were no other infections reported. Furthermore, when the poor woman’s body was delivered up for autopsy later that day, she seemed to have aged 70 years.
The most common unexplained incident at Placidity Row, though, has to have been reports of a team of phantom horsemen. They would race through the streets of the Row at incredible speed either in the afternoon or the middle of the night. Both people who were outside at the time and those indoors reported hearing the hoof beats and snorts of the horses but most often seeing nothing even when it sounded as though the horses were passing within feat of them. A minority reported a loud human voice uttering monosyllabic commands to the invisible beasts. Only five residents, however, reported actually seeing the phenomenon.
The five witnesses; an elderly couple, a single man in his mid thirties, and two siblings aged ten and eighteen, are all for the most part consistent in their description of the “apparition.” The witnesses all agree that the horses passed in such a blur that it is hard for them believe that they even saw anything at all. The woman, one Maria Knudsen, apparently something of a mystic, offered the suggestion to police that the witnesses in fact perceived the horses only with their mind’s eyes and recommends full psychic examinations on each witness. The department is “taking the suggestion under advisement.”
They also all describe a team of four horses, ranging from dark brown to black in color with a light grey horse in the lead. All the witnesses differ on the question of riders. The Knudsen’s claimed to see five separate riders for five separate horses, each of them seeming to be bald men of indeterminate race clothed in loose fitting fur robes (ranging from splendid and colorful to faded greyish brown) with brass circlets on their heads and long swords at their sides.
The other witnesses give a similar general description but only report seeing one to four riders, though all mention the lead rider. The thirty-five year-old man, Victor Kimura (a distant cousin of the Mrs. Susan Kimura who murdered her child), claimed that two or three identical riders seemed to motionlessly phase in and out between the horses before vanishing. Mr. Kimura admits that he was highly intoxicated at the time of his sighting, however.
Eight years after the first recorded anomaly at Placidity Row, all residents have moved elsewhere. The city prepared to demolish the subdivision before the houses became unsafe, having finally despaired of attracting new residents to the area. My sister, Sophie, and I are insurance investigators with World Farms. Ours was one of several companies that rushed to clear out the remaining Placidity Row accounts on its books. On August 19, 2013, our particular task was to investigate three houses on the south side of the Row and assess the losses they pose to the company.
We arrived at Sunshine Street, Placidity Row at 9 AM. Although the drive in from downtown had been pleasant and sunny, when we arrived at the Row (we parked outside of it and walked in) everything in the atmosphere of the place felt as odd as the various reports made it out to be. The air hung still and not a sound could be heard. Everywhere, there was a strong odor of burnt rubber that neither of us could place.
“Well, this still seems like a happenin’ place,” said Sophie as she swept her eyes over the line of faded-yet-identical-save-for-color houses. “I can’t imagine why nobody wants to live here anymore.”
“Well, if you’re looking for excitement, maybe you can dodge some falling roof beams in one of the condemned houses round here,” I said. “Or maybe we can get you an invisible pony ride.”
Sophie and I can be kind of brutal to one another sometimes. It’s only because we’ve seen so much weird shit over the years on this job. When I think back on all the times we’ve saved one another in the nick of time from some floor collapse in an abandoned apartment building or tweaked out squatter with a shotgun… But, I digress.
The first house on the list actually happened to be the former Lars and Maria Knudsen residence. Despite having been empty for the past seven years, the place was still remarkably neat and clean. The Knudsens were some of the last holdouts on the Row, insisting that the horsemen were only there to cleanse the land of the guilty or something like that.
Being in their 80s, the Knudsens wound up leaving many of their possessions and furniture behind them when they left for what I assume was assisted living. Oddly though, in a neighborhood where everything seemed to rot somehow, the Knudsens’ old furniture seemed like it had been recently dusted and polished.
“Think we’ve got squatters?” said Sophie.
“Unusually clean yet suicidal stalkers, maybe,” I said, half joking and half hoping that’s what it was because honestly this house was beginning to freak me out a bit.
My thumb hovered over the stun gun in my pocket as I climbed the unnaturally swept stairway. Sophie stayed behind to check the ground floor for water damage. I was relieved to find that the second floor hallway, at least, was a mess of peeled plaster and drywall chunks.
I made my way to what must have been the master bedroom, what I could tell was dried blood caked the walls. In the corner was a small altar where someone had been sacrificing what appeared from the skeletons to be pigeons and rats. It was some kind of Norse pagan ritual judging from the runes smeared above it.
In the center of the room where the bed used to be was a large blue binder. I picked it up and leafed through what appeared to be rough facsimiles of old Viking documents. I couldn’t read anything but the flat, medieval illustrations made the subject matter clear. The Knudsens were apparently Shamans of some kind desperately entreating the Norse gods to either punish the people of Placidity Row (based on the first few pages which see our horsemen friends descending on a battlefield of dismembered limbs) or to save them (based on the following pages, in which the horsemen seem to turn on the male and female Shaman figures and cause them to cower beneath what seemed to be an image of a pagan god.
As much as we needed this paycheck, Sophie and I decided not to be stereotypical horror movie victims that day and began the long, nervous walk back to our car. We took the binder with us, planning to look for where the Knudsen’s were staying.
We took the route that we thought would at least lead us to Bill Kitchener’s team from Workman’s Insurance for some safety in numbers. I gritted my teeth knowing what macho man Bill would say about us getting a little scared of an area that had reported no criminal activity in years. Sophie just smirked and pretended not to notice.
A few blocks up the road, we found Bill’s team. They were dead in middle of the street. They seemed to have aged 70 years just like that poor woman from the Row. Their bodies were covered in small cuts and lesions, but there none of them seemed to break the skin more than a little.
“I can’t imagine these cuts killing a bunch of healthy guys,” said Sophie.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a man with black hair in a heavy brown overcoat lurking in the shadows beside one of the garages. He bolted as soon as I turned my head. We tried to give chase but I could have sworn he was running at 40 miles per hour. He turned a corner far ahead of us and disappeared. Loud sounds of hoof beats on asphalt accompanied by fierce yells seemed to come from all directions at once. We ran for the nearest house, not even stopping to notice that the door should have been locked.
Inside we came face to face with an Asian man looking to be in his mid thirties wearing a heavy brown overcoat and shotguning a fourth of whiskey. In the corner lay the body of an elderly Asian woman who I could tell right away was Susan Kimura.
“Victor, why did you kill your cousin?” I said on a hunch.
As he lowered the bottle to speak, I nearly recoiled at the sight of Victor’s face. He was more than just a haggard drunk. He looked like he should not even be alive. His skin was gray and blotchy. The tacks under his dull bloodshot eyes were so deep you could see red. His gums were almost black and his teeth looked ready to fall out at the slightest touch.
Victor hurled the now empty bottle aside, not even flinching as it shattered. “The bitch isn’t my cousin, she’s my damn mother. Besides, you can’t kill what was already dead.”
“Look!” said Sophie. I turned to the foot of the stairs to see a bald, yet beautiful young Asian woman in fur robes with a brass circlet on her head.
“My son and I are what in English are called Wild Hunters. We are tasked with regularly weeding out the souls of the foolish and rewarding those who show deference to the name of the old gods,” said Susan. “I came to this barren and spiritually dead city hoping to make a mortal life for my infant son away from so much carnage. But Nordic Shamans sensed our presence and sought to use us to bring revival to this place. When I resisted, they cast a spell of madness over me and I turned my only boy into… this ungrateful pup.”
“That’s right. Just blame the geezers for everything like you always do,” said Victor from the kitchen where he sat on the floor nursing a headache. “If you hadn’t just given up maybe I wouldn’t have to drink to keep the call of the so-called gods out?”
“I have accepted my inability to escape fate. You are a fool and a drunk who keeps fruitlessly trying to kill his own mother,” said Susan.
“I truly do wish you guys luck on this little family squabble,” said Sophie. “But unless you’re going to let us go, I think my sister and I have a few pounds on you with Victor being a little too hammered at the moment.”
Susan stunned us with a laugh loud as a trumpet while the hoof beats began again in the distance. “I’d kill you before you took a step. But I prefer not to get my hands dirty when I can avoid it.” Susan pointed us toward the now open front door and the sight of Bill and his two coworkers coming up the lawn in Wild Hunter dress, longswords drawn.
Sophie and I decided to take our chances on being faster than the burly guys and bolted out of the door to the side of the yard. As we sprinted down the street as hard as we could, we could hear the hoof beats getting faster and faster. Sophie screamed and fell to the ground as a hurricane force wind blasted over her and just missed me. For a split second I could see the figures of what I assumed to be the Kimuras in the wind at the reigns. Bill caught up with Sophie, who just barely dodged his inexperienced lumberjack sword swing and tased him in the gut.
I ran in a serpentine pattern, attempting to avoid the other two Wild Hunters as long as possible while hearing the horses bearing closer behind us. One of them just barely grazed my thigh as I felt myself lifted off the ground at incredible speed. As I was being hurled to the ground a yard away, I could see that there were now two other figures on the phantom horses. They seemed to be rapidly jockeying for position with the Kimuras.
Just as Bill was about to finish Sophie off, the horses bore down on him like a train. All four of us who remained watched stunned as his suddenly bleeding body was launched at least 200 hundred yards in the air, landing with a sickening thud on the roof of a nearby house. The other two drones were finished off in similar fashion just as quickly and the horsemen took off south of us. As the hoof beats died down, I suddenly realized that my cell phone had begun working.
Perhaps I should thank Odin or Thor that Sophie and I got out of there with only minor cuts. We would later find out that the Knudsens had died earlier that day within minutes of one another in two separate nursing homes.
Now that the anomalies have started to die down a bit, the demolition of Placidity Row is proceeding as scheduled. Sources are divided on whether city government plans to declare the area a wilderness preserve (for animals that still refuse to go near it, of course) or whether it is now hearing bids for shopping malls and condos. I wish the poor suckers luck. Something tells me the tradition of the Wild Hunt is going to live on.
Credit To – Cosmo Fish