The Settlement of Saulton
Sometime in the 1800s
“Keep walking, boy.”
The deep, mysterious voice kept replaying over and over in his head. He did as it told him though, not once questioning any motive. He wasn’t sure where he was, or who the voice belonged to, but he did know that he would regret it if he didn’t obey it. It was a gut instinct he had. Follow the voice, or else.
He had completely left his body and trusted the voice to guide him the correct way. He felt something gripped tightly in his hand, but didn’t question what it was. Everything he saw was hazy and disorienting. He felt cold air, but didn’t remember it being a particularly cold day. Maybe it was night? It was hard to tell.
The ground moved all around him, but he kept walking despite this perplexing anomaly. “Further,” the voice said. Things began to brush up against him, some of them scratching at his bare arms, some of them gently moving across his face.
“He’s close,” another voice said. This voice was deep as well, but didn’t seem to come from the same person. The boy assumed the voices were talking to one another. He didn’t interrupt them, or ask questions. He didn’t even want to speak. There was no need.
The ground became bumpy, like he was walking on an infinite number of thick ropes. He knew something was off now. The feel of the ground was all wrong. Where was he? And what was that…odor?
A sudden gust of wind wrapped the foul odor all around him like a thick blanket. He had never smelled anything like it before in his life. It reminded him of the slaughterhouse back at his family’s farm, but…older, more rotten.
His hand began to hurt; whatever he gripped in his palm was starting to tear into his skin. He found the strength, and opened his clenched grip. Something fell and shattered next to him. It was glass. What had he been holding? With the shattering sound, a new odor rushed up from the ground. He definitely recognized this one; sour milk. Growing up on a farm that specialized in dairy, the smell was all too familiar to him.
Is this our milk? he thought. With that idea, he started to remember things. He had been coming from his family’s farm in Saulton. “Doyle,” the boy said out loud to himself. He now remembered his name.
“Shh,” one of the voices responded. “He’s here,” it then said, presumably to the other one.
“Let him see.”
Doyle then felt pressure on both sides of his head, like fingers squeezing forcibly on his temples. He was now able to see again, and the pressure quickly faded. He stood in the middle of the woods, the dead trees surrounded him on a foggy, autumn morning. The odors were still very much present, as was the sight in his peripheral of the ground moving about wildly. He looked down, and the forest floor was covered in snakes. They slithered around, weaving in and out from one another, creating a bizarre sight where each snake was indistinguishable from the next. Doyle jumped to the side, and away from the snakes. Their numbers started to dissipate before his very eyes, eventually leaving just one snake. It was black, and its head was shaped unlike any he’d seen before. It came to a sharp point, and sheltered two blood-red eyes. It hissed and slithered between Doyle’s legs. He turned around to watch it more, but it was gone. Doyle looked up, and was met with the most unsettling sight.
Framed by a misty fog with only shadows of the woods coming through, two dead trees stood in the forefront, side by side. Two more were nestled behind those, and then one more, somewhat hindered by the fog, sat in the middle beyond that. Each tree had a rotting, decomposing body tightly secured to it by frayed ropes. The bodies had clearly been there for a while, considering their decrepit conditions. They were almost unrecognizable as former people, but the rib cages that protruded outward, and the shattered skulls dripping with old skin were too hard to ignore.
Doyle didn’t know what to make of it. He’d been led out into the middle of God knows where, to bear witness to five mutilated corpses. Why, he thought, why me?
He looked around, and all of his surroundings looked identical. “Help!” he called out, only hearing his haunting echo in return. “Is anyone there?!”
An answer never came. He turned back to face his only company – the five corpses. Who are they? He looked at them each carefully from where he stood, but couldn’t make out any distinguishing features. They were all of roughly the same size and build, and their tattered clothing hung off of them, likely having been pulled at by wildlife on probably more than one occasion.
Doyle slowly approached one of the first bodies. He held his breath, and pulled his shirt up over his nose and mouth. The smell was awful and created a nauseating feeling in his stomach. He leaned as close as he could without bothering the barrage of flies and maggots that infested the mess.
The rib cage was snapped in half, almost surgically. It protruded out with each individual rib coming to sharp, jagged points. He followed the ribs with his eyes, back into the messy cavity of the body, and saw that they didn’t even connect with the spine itself. They were fused with the tree. The spine was there, but separated from the rest of the bones, and it too seemed to have become part of the withering trunk.
Who are these people? Doyle thought. How had no one noticed them before? He looked around, once again realizing his disorienting surroundings. Where am I?
“You have bore witness to our fates, boy.” The voice spoke loud and precisely. Doyle looked around.
“Who said that?” he called out. There wasn’t anyone else around.
“You are now our protector.” Doyle couldn’t make heads or tails of the situation he found himself in. There was absolutely no one out there. Only…the corpses.
Doyle looked at the bodies on the trees. They were lifeless, torn and rotting from the inside out. But something about them, still seemed alive. They were dead, but Doyle now believed the voices were somehow vocalized from their lingering spirits. He walked closer to the one he had already inspected.
“Protector?” Doyle nervously asked. Flies buzzed around the skull, and maggots began to come out of the eye sockets in droves. Doyle backed away, stepping on something and rolling his ankle. He fell to the ground where the devilish serpentine struck at him. Doyle dodged the strike and the snake slithered off again into the dead brush. He looked down to see what he’d stepped on, and saw something smooth and shimmery beneath the leaves. He brushed the dead foliage aside and picked up the item.
In the palms of his hands, he held a swirling marble. It was larger than one normally would be, but still sat comfortably in his open hands. A little too comfortably…
Doyle looked at the swirling patterns on the smoothed over item, and concentrated deeply on them. The swirls began to stir, and he could feel it in the pit of his stomach, like nervous anticipation. He felt a lump in his throat and opened his mouth to breathe easier. What is it? Doyle thought to himself.
The voice was deep, gravelly, and ominous. Doyle’s eyes locked onto the marble and he fell into a trance, listening to everything it said, but barely comprehending it. There were five of them, five different voices coming from the marble, all speaking at the same time, and in languages Doyle didn’t understand. The voices warned him, as well as comforted him. They explained the hunt and the torture that left them in the woods to die. Doyle grimaced at the graphic nature of their words. Sometimes the voices would all line up and speak the same words in unison, only to each trail off in their own direction moments later.
“We’re gone.” One of the voices said.
“Gone?” Doyle said out loud. He no longer found himself holding the marble, or even in the woods. He stood in the kitchen of his home. His mother stirred the soup on the stove, and his little sister sat in the corner playing with a wooden toy horse.
“What’ya say, Doyle?” his mother asked from the stove. “Gone? Your father?”
Doyle just stared at his mother. This isn’t where he just was. What happened to the woods? The bodies? The marble…
“Your father went with the search party. Won’t be back ‘til late.”
“Search party?” Doyle asked.
His mother turned and looked at him. “In the woods. For those…” she motioned for Dessie, Doyle’s little sister, to scurry. The girl grabbed her toy and ran off. “Those bodies,” his mother finished.
Doyle’s mother looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “Are you feelin’ alright, Doyle?” She walked over to him and put the back of her hand to his forehead. He pulled away.
“What bodies?” Doyle aggressively asked again. His mother stood back and just stared at him:
“The bodies you said you saw. The ones tied to the trees.”
It was real. Being back home in the blink of an eye made him think he’d imagined the whole thing up. He looked back at his mother and nodded slowly. “That’s right,” he said.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” his mother asked again.
Doyle nodded, stood up from the table, and left the kitchen. He walked through the house until he spotted Dessie sitting by the crackling fireplace. “Dessie, let me ask you something.” He sat down by her side. His little sister held on to her toy horse very protectively. “What’s Daddy lookin’ for out there in them woods?”
Dessie’s expression never changed from a concerned frown. She appeared uncomfortable around her brother.
“What’s he lookin’ for, huh?” Doyle repeated.
Dessie looked down and mumbled a single word. Doyle couldn’t understand her. He lifted her head with his fingers and asked again. “What is he lookin’ for?”
Dessie stared into her brother’s eyes with an emotionless gaze. “Those bodies.”
Doyle let go of his little sister’s face and stood back up. He remembered the bodies. He remembered the awful odor that filled the dead woods. He remembered the voices, and the hunting down of the five men. They were bad men; practicing lives of evil, and honoring an infamous fallen angel. They were not accepted by the village. They were tortured and mocked by men, and gnawed on over the summer months by the rabid and feral wildlife. Doyle remembered the snake – the serpent with red eyes. Then he remembered the marble, safely kept wrapped in burlap under his bed.
Doyle dashed for the stairs, leaving Dessie sitting by the fireplace. He flung his door open and looked at his bed. He focused on it, and slowly crept up to it. He knelt down beside it, and reached under his bed.
Something wasn’t right. The burlap was there, but it was open and laying flat on the ground, not wrapped around anything. He lifted the sheets that draped to the floor and looked under the bed. The marble was gone.
“You lost it,” one of the voices whispered. Doyle stood to his feet. “The consequences will be dire,” another one said. A mess of other voices began to yell and scream all at once, and Doyle grabbed his head and shut his eyes. He grinded his teeth together as hard as he could until the screams came to an abrupt stop.
“Doyle?” he heard his father’s voice behind him. Doyle spun around and looked at his father. He stood there in the middle of the woods with a wool newsboy hat and a rifle over his shoulder. Two other men were quick to join his side.
“That your boy, Claude?” one of the men said. Claude approached his son, who appeared disoriented and lost.
“Your mama know you’re out here?” Claude said. As he reached his arm for his son’s shoulder, Claude was flung backward by an unseen force. He screamed until he forcefully smacked into a tree. The sound of all of his bones shattering at once exploded in Doyle’s ears. He tried to reach out for his father, but he couldn’t move a muscle. The two other men were then yanked backwards by the same invisible force. Both of them landed on their backs, and Doyle watched as their rib cages exploded outwards. Blood gushed like geysers, and then the ribs folded back into the bodies and out the back, lifting the men off the ground.
Blood poured from the corners of their mouths and their eyes rolled into the backs of their heads. Doyle couldn’t do anything. He was paralyzied. He tried to scream, but could only expel a painful hollow wheeze that stung his throat and sent a cold pain through his eyes. He closed them tightly to ease the building pressure. He strained to keep them closed, but what felt like little sharp hooks under his eyelids ripped them right back open.
Doyle was in his room, staring at the empty burlap cloth in his hand.
“Find it,” one of the gravelly voices said. If what he’d just witnessed was any indication of the consequences of not protecting the mysterious item he’d found in the woods, he knew he needed to find it.
Doyle rushed back down to the kitchen where his mother ladled the soup into small wooden bowls for him and Dessie, who now sat at the table. “Mama, did you take anything from under my bed?”
She looked at him with concern. She’d been crying.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
His mother sniffled. Her eyes were red and glassy. Doyle then turned to his sister. He saw Dessie had also been crying. She stared blankly down at her bowl of hot soup. He then noticed she was in a different outfit than moments earlier when he spoke with her by the fireplace.
He glanced into the other room and saw there was no fire. The house was unusually cold, and any lingering scent of a fire that would normally grace the house during the fall seemed to be absent.
“What’s going on?” Doyle pleaded, growing afraid. He was missing periods of time. “Where’s Papa?”
His mother broke down to the floor and wailed. Dessie jumped down from her chair and hugged her mother tightly.
“Where’s Papa?” Doyle repeated, louder this time. He ran out the door in the kitchen and stopped as soon as the brisk temperatures outside smacked his face. The air was cold. He could smell burning firewood around the village, and smoke billowed gently from chimneys. Men were working and children played, chasing each other during a game of tag. The dreary clouds that hung overhead threatened rain, or even snow.
There was another chill in the air. A more dreaded one. A sinister shiver erupted throughout Doyle’s body. He felt afraid and angry. His marble was gone. He looked around the village accusingly, assuming someone had stolen it. He charged back into the kitchen infuriated.
“Who was in our house?” Doyle demanded to know. His growl confused and upset his mother. She stood from the floor and wiped the tears from her face. Dessie remained on the floor sulking. “Who was in here?” he questioned again.
“What do you mean?” his mother cried.
“Who’s been in our house recently?”
His mother just stared at him. She was so visibly upset.
“Did we have a gathering? For..Father?”
His mother continued to look on in disbelief. Dessie looked to the floor and mumbled:
“You weren’t here for it.”
Doyle looked at his sister. “Look at me, Dessie.”
She kept her eyes down.
“Look at me!” he yelled in a deeper, grittier voice – one that was not his own. Dessie looked up instantly.
“What’s that smell?” his mother said. Doyle looked at his mother, and she repeated her question. Only, her mouth didn’t move.
“What smell?” he heard another voice. It was his own. It was muffled, and coming from the living room area. He turned around and faced the darkened doorway that led to the living room. He took a step towards it and entered the dimly lit living area. His mother stood by the closet. She had the door opened, revealing two wooden crates filled with milk bottles. The air in the room was sour.
Doyle walked in closer, surprised by the sight. He thought for sure he’d delivered those. He looked at each of the bottles. There were eight to a crate. Sixteen undelivered milks to his neighbors and acquaintances in Saulton.
“I don’t understand you, Doyle,” his mother sounded emotionless, hollow. Almost like she didn’t know what she was saying, but was still saying it anyway. “You didn’t come to your father’s memorial gathering. The whole town was basically here to pay their respects, and you were nowhere to be found. And now this milk? That’s three days worth of undelivered milk. People count on that milk.”
All Doyle heard, and focused on, was his mother’s words of “The whole town was basically here…” Here. His home. Anyone could have taken that marble. It could have been anyone in town. Doyle didn’t respond to his mother’s frustration. A calming sensation overcame him, and he fell into a state that seemed to lift his soul from his body. He didn’t care what his mother had to say. It didn’t matter. He was the protector of the five souls he’d found in the woods. He needed to protect them. He needed to find them.
Doyle lay in bed all night, wide awake, and unable to sleep. His body fought off any fatigue he might have felt, and he trembled with a dark anticipation. He wasn’t exactly sure what his body had sensed, or what it may have been anxious about, but he did know by dusk of the coming day, he would have what he needed. Door to door was the only way.
The rooster from down the way screamed as the autumn sun broke the horizon and shot through the woods like lasers, landing its light on the rocks and dirt all over town. A wispy fog began to lift from the ground, although slowly in the cold temperatures, and cast an eerie ambiance through the streets. A quiet, unknown sense of dread was building, and the townsfolk were ignorant to it. They went about their morning as they normally would. Mothers ushered their kids to the schoolhouse, the working fathers suited up and set out for their jobs, the lone postman walked his horse to the station, and Doyle stood outside his front door.
In each hand, he held the wooden handles to the milk crates. Sixteen spoiled milks clinked against one another as he stepped away from the door, and walked to his neighbors house. He stopped and looked around, making sure no one was watching him. He set the crates down and pulled a bottle from one of them. He gently sat the bottle on the porch step, and knocked on the door as he’d done a hundred times before.
Doyle had changed. He was emotionless, and determined. The marble was the only thing on his mind. He hadn’t heard the voices in what felt like days. He needed guidance. He was lost. He tried to communicate with the five souls, but when he opened his mouth to speak, he couldn’t. His throat was dry and the air that came from his lungs scraped his esophagus. It hurt like hell, and he let out a gutty wheeze instead.
He then knocked on the door. It opened a moment later, and an old woman, Ms. Mary Ellen, stood there. She looked at Doyle, and then down at the milk. She had a look of sympathy behind her gaze. “I didn’t get to see you at your home after your father’s passing. Doyle, I’m so sorry for your loss. It was tragic.”
Doyle didn’t respond. He held his hand out, palm up, hinting at the tip that Mary Ellen would usually slip him. It wasn’t necessary, but she always insisted. She smiled when she looked at his palm. “Of course. Hold on.” Mary Ellen turned and vanished into her home. Doyle dropped his hand and walked in right behind her.
He closed the door almost all the way, but avoided the clicking of it shut. Mary Ellen stood on the other side of the room, fishing through a small drawer for her money. She was oblivious to Doyle walking in the room behind her. He looked on the tables and shelves. He looked at the small kitchen table sitting in the other room. He then looked up toward the ceiling and wondered if she was keeping the artifact hidden under her bed like he had.
She turned around and saw Doyle standing ominously in the room, looking upward. The unexpected sight made her heart jump and she grabbed her chest, and then smiled in relief. “I didn’t know you were there, Doyle.” Mary Ellen laughed off her scare, and handed the money out to him. Doyle just stared at it.
“Where’s my marble?” he asked, impassively.
Mary Ellen was confused. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t play dumb with me,” Doyle growled in the voice that wasn’t his own. “It’s missing. You were in my home.”
Mary Ellen began to tremble. This wasn’t the little Doyle she knew from next door. This was someone else…something else. “Oh my,” she stuttered. “Doyle, I think you-”
Doyle charged her and pushed her into the wall. Her fragile body collapsed to the floor and she screamed out in pain, dropping the coins. They spun around and around and then finally rested next to her. Mary Ellen grabbed her chest. “My ribs!” she bellowed. Doyle looked to the corner and saw a fire poker. He grabbed it and held it firmly in his grip. He then stood before Mary Ellen, who painfully screamed on the floor. She looked up at her young attacker, and noticed his eyes were different. They burned with anger, and gave off a red-ish appearance.
Being a woman of religion, she knew what she was looking into the eyes of. And it wasn’t little Doyle from next door. He was gone. “Devil…” she whispered. Doyle raised the fire poker and smashed it down into Mary Ellen repeatedly.
The room was covered in blood, and he left a trail of bloody footprints as he ascended the stairs to the second floor. He scoured the two rooms upstairs, leaving bloody handprints everywhere, but came up empty-handed. The marble wasn’t there.
Doyle left the house, closing the door behind him, and picked up the two crates of spoiled milk. He calmly walked to the next house. He sat the crates down, put a bottle of milk by the door and knocked. The door opened and a small child stood there. The young boy looked at Doyle, who had been speckled by the blood of Ms. Mary Ellen. The young boy didn’t know how to respond.
“Who is it, Sammie?” a woman’s voice called from inside the house. Sammie didn’t respond to his mother. He just stared at the milk boy. Doyle forced his way in and spun yet another mess of blood as he violently tore through the home. The marble wasn’t there either.
He went to the next house, killed the older man who lived there, and scoured the house. Nothing. He then moved on, repeating his actions in each home.
He finally arrived at a small cottage near the edge of the woods. He sat a milk by the door and then knocked. A man opened the door. Doyle knew this man. His family had seen him every Sunday for the past several years. He was a man of God, and Doyle’s once innocent eyes now burned at him. He also knew this man had a son with a history of causing disorder and carrying out petty crimes, unbeknownst to his parents.
“Doyle…” Pastor Frank mumbled upon seeing the blood soaked youngster at his doorstep. “What’s happened to you?”
“Where’s Henry?” Doyle boldly asked. Pastor Frank noticed Doyle’s eyes were as red as his clothes. They didn’t blink, and appeared to not even make eye contact with him. Frank grew afraid immediately.
“What do you want with Henry?”
“I need to see him, Frank.”
Pastor Frank sensed a vile presence that accompanied Doyle’s physical appearance. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, knowing deep down what he was dealing with. Frank’s eyes shot back open and he said, “You need to refer to me as Pastor Frank.”
Doyle didn’t respond.
“Call me Pastor Frank,” the man of God repeated louder. Doyle still didn’t respond. He stared past him, and into the house. The pastor’s wife sat at a table, frozen in fear as she watched her husband and Doyle speak.
“I am a man of God, Doyle,” Frank said. “You must honor that.” Frank slowly reached off to the side, just out of view from the doorway, and grabbed a cross that hung on the wall. Doyle growled and pushed Pastor Frank hard in the chest. The man flew backwards and crashed into the table his wife sat at. She screamed and stood up in a panic. Doyle slammed the door shut behind him as he walked in, shaking the walls and dropping the cross to the floor. He approached Frank and saw the splintered table had pierced through his body and shards of it stuck straight up out of his body.
Doyle ripped one of the shards of wood from Frank’s body and approached his wife who whimpered and cried in the corner of the room. He stood over her menacingly and she shook in fear as she looked up into his eyes. “Where is your son,” Doyle asked.
The pastor’s wife didn’t know what to say. She didn’t understand why Doyle had just killed her husband. “Where is your son?” Doyle repeated.
Her voice trembled as she quietly muttered, “He left for Rustic Farms last night.”
“Rustic Farms?” Doyle had heard of Rustic Farms. It was another settlement, very much like Saulton. “Why did he go there?” Doyle asked.
The pastor‘s wife was terrified. She didn’t know what Doyle‘s intentions were, or why he was here. But she did notice something was off with him. This is not the same Doyle that she had seen every Sunday. Something had taken a hold of him and it wasn’t of the natural world. The scriptures her family had studied for years warned of evil like this. Like the kind hidden behind the red eyes Doyle now, so comfortably, possessed.
“Come back Doyle,” she whispered. Doyle was not having any of it. He lifted the bloody shard and impaled the pastor’s wife. Her scream shook the house, but it did not rattle him – Doyle turned around and left the house, leaving the pastor‘s wife to bleed out and die. As he exited the home and walked across the street her screams became faint and eventually stopped.
Doyle stumbled across the dirt street feeling lightheaded and seeing flashes of blood and the bodies that he had been surrounded by. He saw images of the five men tied to the trees in the woods and fresh blood pouring from them. He watched once again as his father violently died before him. He heard screams and a hollow wailing that terrified his soul. He felt the darkness follow him out of the pastors home and loom overhead like a stalking storm.
Doyle saw images of his mother and his little sister dead. He wouldn’t hurt them. Those were just images in his mind. They weren’t real. He looked around and found himself back home. The light outside gave the impression of dusk approaching. He had lost track of the entire day. He sat in the kitchen and all he could smell was blood. It covered him from head to toe, and covered the floor and walls of the kitchen. In one of his hands he saw a bloody knife. He gawked at it, wondering when and how it had gotten there, and what he might’ve used it for.
Doyle then heard a child’s whimper from the living room. Fearing it was his sister in distress he jumped up from the seat in the kitchen and rushed to the living room where he saw Dessie lying by the fireplace, a red fire crackling behind her. He rushed to her side and saw her body had been ripped to shreds. One of her eyes was closed, but the other one wriggled back-and-forth inside of her head. One last weak cough from her little body sent a mist of blood on to Doyle‘s face. She now lay still, dead by the fire.
Doyle looked at the knife in his hand, frightened. He made the assumption that his little sister had died by his own hands. His mother was dead too, he just knew it. And he was also to blame. Doyle stood up in a daze and walked to the rocking chair in the corner of the room. Silence filled the house, as well as all of Saulton. He dropped the knife to the floor and started to slowly rock back and forth in the chair. His eyes were lifeless as they gazed into the red fire before him. Voices came from the fire now. They told him he had failed in being the protector of the damned. His search through Saulton left him with nothing to show for his work. The marble was gone, stolen. He needed it back. There was no other option.
Doyle rocked back-and-forth in the chair, and the wood beneath him creaked. Time passed, and the settlement of Saulton drifted away. The years creeped by and nature took control of the town. No one was left to care for the grass, so it grew sloppy and wild. Rain dampened the homes to the point where moss began to grow all over the walls, inside and out. Wildlife found their way to Saulton and fed off the mutilated corpses of the town’s former residents.
Doyle still sat in the rocking chair, but it no longer creaked or moved. He was now a lifeless shell of the boy he used to be. His skeletal remains sat upright in the chair, as the rotting skin from his body had dripped off long ago. His eyes were still red, and a haunting sense of anger and desperation still loomed around his body.
There had been so much blood on his hands, so many accusations and punishments handed out, but he had nothing to show for it. His spirit lingered in unrest. Finding the marble was the only thing that plagued his mind. In life, Doyle – Saulton’s young and respected milk boy – could not prove himself to the damned that chose him. But in death, he had an eternity to do so.
Credit : Scott Donnelly
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