Looky here! Trish! Ethan! Our friend is back!
Shame it had to be another cold, stormy night like this. Just once I’d like to enjoy some company under the warm sun, but I guess that’s not how this place works. … Goodness, where are my manners? Come on in here before something catches your scent. I’ll let you get settled while we fetch the firewood.
… So, tell me, what brings you back to our humble neck-of-the-woods? Curiosity got the better of you is my guess. You probably want to hear more about this place, am I right?
… Ahh, no. Sly-Fox had little patience for writing. What you heard was his only entry in Pappy Grant’s journal, but don’t be disappointed. We have more to read thanks to one of his grandsons.
Sly-Fox died in 1611, and his sixth grandson, Wise-Owl, was born in 1617. Jamestown was a growing village, and while a majority were Cherokee, the population grew more diverse with every failed attempt to settle the Cursed Woods. After experiencing so much grief and terror, they had no concerns for trivial matters of skin color or culture. Shared loss brought shared acceptance.
As Wise-Owl grew, he began to travel, yearning to see the world. With his lighter skin, he found himself accepted in most white settlements if he dressed differently and used the name Samuel Cooke. At the age of twenty, he married his wife, Sarah, and started a family.
His father died six years later, and the eldest son, Striking-Snake, became Chief. The brothers were opposites, but mostly worked well together. The older prided himself on brute strength and speed, while the younger was known for intelligence and resourcefulness.
Samuel began writing when his brother decided to master the Cursed Woods. They tried to discourage the stubborn man, but he was all antsy to prove himself. I think you’ll enjoy the story, though. At the very least, it’ll answer a few of the questions rattling around in that skull of yours.
November 2nd, 1643
It is a good thing I continue this journal. Its knowledge must not be trusted to oral history alone. If only it were possible to duplicate these words for more to read; all people should know these texts and heed their warning. I often wonder how many cursed places exist in the world but fear I would not like the answer.
I care deeply for my brother, but the man is a fool! Since the first settlement in 1565, two more attempts have been made to inhabit that cursed place across the river. All met violent ends; it is as if the evil grows stronger with each life it takes. I do not understand why Snake believes he is destined to conquer the abominations. He thinks he will build a bridge to expand Jamestown after the land is cleansed; it is lunacy.
My brother has taken five of his best men into those woods this day. I have a cold dread in my gut that not all will return. One of the men is a highly respected Shaman. If he returns from this I’ll-conceived venture, I hope he will allow me to record some of his knowledge here. He may be able to provide useful insight into what those things are.
One-hundred and three Spaniards built the second village in 1612, but only fourteen survived to see Jamestown. My father warned them to no avail until they threatened his life. Nothing happened for three months, but then two children disappeared, and the search party was never seen again. A few came to us after that. Most believed the monster could be killed, but survivors eventually fled with attitudes properly adjusted.
In 1635, a British colony of ninety-one souls arrived. I accompanied my father on his visit, bearing gifts, seeking friendship to earn their trust. We hoped to be taken in earnest when we begged them to build elsewhere. We offered the help of our people to ease the burden of relocation, but they would not hear it. They called us superstitious savages and bid us a rude farewell.
They lasted almost a year before the final nineteen came to Jamestown. The men shared their horrors in great detail, and over the next few days, I will leave record of it here. Perhaps, together with my great grandfather’s accounts, these words will not be taken so lightly. I only hope my brother’s tale will not end the same. Some think I am foolish to waste my time with these endeavors, but I shall prove them wrong.
November 3rd, 1643
My brother’s group returned intact. I am grateful for their safety but fear a lucky venture has filled them with unfounded confidence. This morning, he departed with ten men. Their intentions are to stay until the demon is vanquished. I shall be restless with worry. First, I must tell of my conversation with the Shaman, Kawani. I stole him away upon their return and believe his knowledge vital. I began by showing him the passage of old man Herbert’s words from so long ago. He was able to expand upon the information more than I dared hope.
The statements regarding the spirits of the deceased are accurate enough, though there are exceptions. While one alone cannot cause physical harm, they grow stronger under certain circumstances – such as gathering in groups or feeding on a demon’s energy. Kawani is certain the entity of the Cursed Woods is a demon, for the spiritual activity surrounding the area suggests it is very old and powerful. He says he can destroy it if he is able to see its face and learn its name.
His confidence was unwavering. I asked if the demon were killed, would the ghosts be gone as well, but the answer was less encouraging. Perhaps some would finally be able to pass on, but each spirit would be a unique case. Plus, there will still be the matter of the thing in the lake. The demon is the most vile and deadly entity; therefore, it must be destroyed first. If it remains, more sinister creatures will be drawn by its power. Kawani was called away before we could speak further. I hope he survives long enough to learn more.
One day I hope to record details of the second settlement, but for now I will begin where memories are freshest. The third colony named the area Mallard Lake, though it is now known as Dirge Lake. Perhaps our warnings instilled some caution, for they lived six months without incident. The survivor I speak to most often, Peter Evans, says they rarely found need to enter the Cursed Woods. Instead, their trouble began in the lake.
On a cloudy, summer day, three boats of six people rowed to the center of the lake and began fishing as usual. They waited quietly, hooks in the water, until there was a loud thwack as something collided with the middle boat. Its passengers gripped their seats, rocking from the impact as water splashed over the sides. One man shouted, jumping to his feet, when something slimy touched his hand.
“It was only a fish, sit down before you put us all in the water.” Peter shouted.
At the same instant, the boat was struck again, and the man fell overboard. He came to the surface sputtering, yelling something about his leg, but the words were cut off as he was suddenly pulled under.
The man’s brother, who was in the lead boat, dove into the water. The others watched with bated breath as seconds ticked by. Finally, the second man broke the surface, gasping and pleading for help. Others reached to him as he desperately swam for safety. They pulled him up, and a pasty, gray-blue tentacle slapped the side of the boat, barely missing its target.
“Get to shore!” Several screamed in unison. Fishing gear was left to fall where it may as they scrambled to rowing position. The lead boat was hit hard before the first paddle touched water. The resulting waves spread across the lake as three more sickly, pale tentacles came out of the water to wrap around the boat. The monster pulled it apart easily as a child’s toy. Two men were pulled under as the rest were rescued.
The remaining fifteen made it safely ashore. Survivors from the lead boat claimed they saw more than tentacles. They say the monster had a large, round head, several beady eyes, teeth like a saw, and a long, thick body; it’s as if a snake with octopus tentacles had a spider’s head. To the men’s credit, they did not try to hunt it, they merely stopped using the lake.
Nothing more happened for several weeks. Just as life resumed a sense of normalcy, disaster struck in the night.
…Blast, Sarah calls for me. I must end this here for tonight.
… Of course, this is a fine spot to take a break. We’ll stoke the fire, and I’m sure you remember where the bathroom is. Don’t forget to leave those curtains closed!
… Well, judging by how loud they are now, I take it you ignored them just fine! Great job, you’re a natural! I tell ya, I have always been an excellent judge of people, and you, my friend, are damn good people. Oh! I just remembered!
Trish, where are the supplies those hikers left behind last week? … Excellent, Ethan, why don’t you be polite and pour our guest a drink? Good lad!
I hope you like wine. We can’t partake ourselves, but it looks like a fine year. I believe the owner intended to propose judging by the fancy ring hidden in his socks. Baby, show our friend that beautiful rock on your finger. Yep, you have no idea how hard it is to get nice things out here.
So, how’s the drink?
… Wonderful! You’re welcome to keep the bottle; someone should enjoy it.
… Anyway, if you’re ready, we’ll continue our story. Things are about to get interesting, much more interesting than all these questions about hikers.
November 5, 1643
I did not have a chance to write yesterday for I went to Dirge Lake myself and only returned this afternoon. I could not withstand another moment wondering. I arrived before the sun reached its highest point, finding Tom and Little-Hawk at their temporary camp. I was relieved to see it set beyond the forest borders but could not rest easy so close to a demon’s lair.
Unwilling to go further, I waited for Snake’s return. His face was full of disappointment when they came for the noon meal. I noted only seven were present but did not have to wait for explanation. They lost Echo the night before, which explained the silence of Tom and Little-Hawk.
At dusk, they discovered a path believed to be the very one searched for by our great grandfather. Kawani believes the demon itself waits at the end, in the Heart of the forest. They entered the trail single file with Echo at the rear. After forty meters, a thick fog seeped through the forest and wound between each man, restricting their sight even further.
The Shaman stood at the lead with Snake and called a halt to the procession. Though I have yet to learn the exact methods of his technique, Kawani performed some kind of ritual involving the burning of certain herbs as offering to kinder spirits. The fog cleared, leaving only blood splatters where Echo once stood. He died without a sound. Knowing the path would not be there in the light of day, they left colorful markings before retreating to camp.
Both Tom and Little Hawk refused to enter the woods again. They returned to Jamestown with me earlier today. I do not think it will be long before the others realize they should have followed. The eight who remain plan to traverse the trail while tied together. I think it will only serve as a greater hindrance, but they will not listen to reason.
I was only able to speak with Kawani briefly, but he informed me he’s had disturbing dreams since entering the Cursed Woods. He believes the demon is seeking a vessel so it may travel beyond its territory. He is certain that land is more prison than home. I do not know if I find this information comforting or terrifying, for I see no way humanity could survive such a thing roaming about freely.
The Shaman is still unable to identify the creature in the lake. His inability to label it seems to trouble him deeply, but the demon remains priority. He believes once he has seen its face, he will be able to call upon his ancestors to learn its name.
I shall write about the third settlement before I retire for the evening. It seems I was about to tell of the night Peter Evans’ wife, Judith, perished. Life has a way of carrying on that makes us forget our past traumas. The incident at the lake was buried in the back of their mind, nearly forgotten as Peter lay in bed with his wife all those years ago.
Peter and Judith were almost asleep when a loud creak sounded in the hallway. Thinking it one of the children, Peter walked quietly to the door, opening it suddenly to catch the sneak red-handed, but no one was there. The hall stood empty, and no sounds of retreat betrayed a child’s escape.
Puzzled, he returned to bed. The moment his feet left the floor, two loud knocks banged against the door. Judith let out a short gasp of surprise. Peter ripped it open in anger, but once again, the hall stood empty. Furious, he donned his robe and marched downstairs. Each child slept, doors and window were locked, and the home was once again silent. More confused than ever, he returned to the bedroom.
He saw Judith crouched in the corner, pointing at the closet and muttering of something inside. Peter approached it with caution, stomach churning with venomous butterflies. As he reached for the knob, the door rattled on its hinges, and his heart tried to flee his chest.
He only hesitated a moment; he ran from the room but was back in seconds. He turned the knob slowly, standing to the side with the mallet raised over his head. The door swung open, hinges creaking loudly, scaring Peter enough to swing the weapon. The weight carried him through the hanging clothes and into the closest floor. After a few moments of flailing in panic, he realized the closest was empty.
Judith rose to her feet, leaning on the wall for support as her shaky legs carried her to the closet. She paused by the window, gripping its ledge for support. “What’s happening, Peter? Are these the ghosts those primitive people warned us of?” Her voice quivered with fright. She turned, looking out the window, and screamed loud enough to wake their neighbors. She ran from the room, terrified.
Peter only saw a glimpse of the corpse in the window before she disappeared. He says it was a child, soaked as if fallen into a lake. Her long, black hair draped over her face, and the dark bruises of large hands were prominent on her neck. He only stood frozen an instant but was returned to reality when Judith’s screams were cut off with a sickening series of dull thuds.
Swallowing the hard lump forming in his throat, Peter forced his legs to carry him downstairs. Judith lay in the floor, neck broken. In her haste to flee, she tripped on the steps. The children were woken by her screams and discovered the sight moments behind their father.
I fear that is all I can withstand this night. Writing of such morbid things is giving me unpleasant dreams. It does not help I must live each moment wondering of my brother’s fate.
November 6, 1643
Two more of Snake’s expedition returned this afternoon. I am pleased report my brother still lived at the time of their departure, but three more are dead. Now only Snake and Kawani remain to slay a demon older than recorded history. Bear-Trapper has reported all he can, but it is not much. To learn more, I must once again go myself. I have not yet found the courage to inform Sarah.
The seven men returned to the area with the mysterious path, but none of their markings remained. They could not distinguish where the trail once existed. Forced to wait for dusk when the path is revealed, Kawani prepared himself with incense and incantations. When they later embarked on the hidden trail, they used a length of rope to ensure none could be separated.
As I predicted, it only served to cost more men their lives. Had they not been lashed together; two additional men would not have been carried through the tree-tops by a ravenous demon. They were lucky the fourth man was able to cut the rope before more were lost.
Snake and Kawani wanted to press forward, but the other two refused. In the end, all returned to camp, though Snake would not come home. He insists he and the Shaman are still capable of killing the demon. The man has never been able to concede defeat. For our mother’s sake, I must try to save him. Regarding the third settlement, I will finish their tale this night, for I do not know if I will live past tomorrow.
There were some who believed Peter murdered Judith, for no similar deaths occurred immediately after, but nothing could be proven. Roughly two weeks later, Reverend Michael delivered an unusual Sunday sermon regarding the book of Revelations. The calm in his voice accented the horror of his words as he explained the end times were upon us. The congregation listened in stunned silence as the speech finally concluded; at which point he merrily announced the afternoon picnic behind the church.
Normally, everyone would attend, enjoying the chance to socialize, but not that week. Many felt disturbed by the Reverend’s words and simply wished to go home. Though it started on a sour note, it soon turned into a lovely afternoon. The clouds covered the sun, and a cool breeze blew as families ate and laughed.
After eating, when the tables stood empty and punch bowls were drained, children played while adults gossiped. The children were the first to get sick. The only two doctors fell sick shortly after. The Reverend poisoned himself as well as his congregation, leaving the survivors no way to seek justice for the fifty-six lives taken.
With less than thirty people remaining, chaos ensued as several men argued to be heard. Many did not wish to settle in a “village of heathens” as they called us, but others only wished to bury their dead before fleeing. By working together on the shared goal, the unpleasant digging was completed before nightfall. Those who wished to stay ignored any words of caution, believing the only monster to be lying dead in an unmarked grave.
Those who wished to come to Jamestown locked themselves indoors, waiting for sunrise. Most accounts of this final night are similar in detail. Peter’s is the only unique experience, for he lost his children at the picnic. Suicidal and drunk, he fell unconscious early in the night and did not rise until morning. He says he considered living a fate worse than anything they could have inflicted at that point.
Harold Jenkins was twelve when this night transpired. He lived alone with his father after the poisoning of his mother and sister. They barricaded the bedroom door and window, but as the hours passed, they grew tired and began to doze. Harold remembers dreams of walking corpses breaking into their house, killing his parents. He tried to protect his sister as they huddled together behind his bed.
Harold only had his father’s rifle and little ammo. His sister begged him to shoot her before the monsters could take her. Even though he is no longer a child, it is still unnerving to hear him speak of her urgency. He only describes it as a dream now, as an adult; at the time, he insisted the vision was real. He claimed to feel hot tears fall onto his arm as she pulled at the gun to prevent him from wasting more ammunition.
Finally, as the undead closed in and skeletal hands reached for his sister, he shot her in the chest. She was blown backwards, slamming into the floor. He tried to turn the gun on himself when a pair of hands wrapped around the barrel, pulling it away. Before he could react, a sharp, intense pain bloomed across his face. When his vision refocused, the hoard of undead were gone. Only a rifle and Harold’s father, mortally wounded, remained. He died begging the boy to stay awake at any cost.
Others lost loved ones to the forest, such as the Kingston family. They were one of few remaining couples, and two of their four children still lived. The two older children attended the picnic with friends, but the others returned home due a sick baby. After putting the children to sleep, Ethel and Bill stayed awake in the den.
Late into the night, Ethel was stirred from snoozing by the sound of light footsteps. Seeing Bill fast asleep, she granted him a swift kick on her way to check the children. She met the four-year-old in the hallway, just outside her door. When she questioned the child’s actions there was no answer. Lifting the child into her arms, Mrs. Kingston returned her to bed, making sure the baby still slept before leaving.
Entering the den, she saw Bill’s empty chair. Assuming he woke, she began to explain the happenings with their daughter. When the also empty room was in her full view, she called for her husband; again, there was no answer. She continued searching but was overcome with a dreadful certainty upon discovering the front door ajar. She saw his bare footprints leading away from the house. She prepared to follow but stopped at the sight of her daughter once again in the hallway.
Ethel spent the remainder of the night holding her daughter with one eye always on the baby. Bill Kingston was never seen again, but his wife and daughters survived the night.
When the sun rose on the next day, nineteen people emerged from their homes with sleepless, drooping eyes. Carrying little more than the clothes on their backs, they crossed the river to Jamestown. They were welcomed without question, free to speak in their own time. Eventually, they all talk, for keeping such darkness inside is poison to soul. If nothing else, they speak to hear others confirm they are not crazy, to know they are not alone.
That concludes the story of the third settlement. I must sleep now, for tomorrow feels as if it will be a long, trying day.
… I agree, friend! I think ole Sammy is begging for trouble! That wine sure has loosened you up; if I didn’t know better, I’d think you was having fun.
… Aw, come on Trish, I’m just messing around. Maybe the alcohol is contagious. It makes sense, don’t it? We can feed— er, I mean, feel, yea that’s the word — their emotions, can’t we? So why can’t that include a good buzz?!
… Hold on a second, friend, it isn’t like that at all. Not feed like ‘taking in for sustenance’ more like ‘emphatically influences our emotions in a very literal way’, can you see the difference? Don’t get inside your head about it, we can’t help it any more than you can help converting oxygen to carbon dioxide, but we don’t go judging you. We aren’t like those guys who go around blaming their heinous actions on the victim’s fear and anger, nope, not this family.
… That’s okay, we know you didn’t mean nothing by it, it’s just a sensitive issue for us. Now, let’s forget about all the technical mumbo jumbo and get back to that Shaman fella. I think we have just enough time for one more journal entry.
November 9th, 1643
I write this to record of what transpired in the Cursed Woods on the evening of November seventh through the early morning hours of November eighth. I have much work to do as the new Chief and will no longer have time for these personal indulgences. It is no matter; I have lost all passion for the written word anyhow. The only reason I bother with this conclusion at all is to detail the last knowledge imparted by Kawani.
I traveled alone, for others believed Snake already dead. I knew I would not be able to live with myself if I did not try to bring him home. I left in the early morning hours, but the closer I came to my destination, the more intensely I felt eyes upon me. I told myself it was imagination. I felt as if I were being watched because I expected to feel it. It is a common complaint through the journal.
I was surprised to find both men in camp, sharpening spears. Brother said he was expecting me, but I should dash any hope of swaying his decision. He was confident his warrior’s prowess combined with Kawani’s medicine would triumph now that the ‘distractions’ were gone. We have known those dead mean since childhood, it boiled my blood to hear them labeled as distractions. Not that it matters now.
Snake excused himself for meditation before I could give him a piece of my mind. Finding myself alone with Kawani, I implored the Shaman to share all he learned. He was eager to do so, for his dreams had grown worse since we last spoke. He too tried every effort to convince my brother to abandon his quest, but the man will not hear it.
Kawani believed the demon’s possession of Striking-Snake to be unavoidable. In fact, it had likely already begun. His dreams showed the demon wearing my brother’s skin as it returned to Jamestown in his place. Our little village would not satisfy it, nothing would. The Shaman has seen its bottomless pit of hunger, and it would consume the world.
Most importantly, he wants us to know there are Shaman stronger than he in the great mountains far to the west. The dreams also showed him the demon’s true appearance. He believes another Shaman may be able to tell us its name. I did not have the heart to tell him there would be no others foolish enough to attempt such a quest, but I will record the description all the same.
The demon is two meters tall, with a drastically humped back. Its skin has a sickly yellow tint with oozing pockmarks. The head is elongated, the eyes are bulbous and glowing, taking up half its nose-less face. Its mouth is the width of its head, appearing as if its jaw would fall off if not for the jagged sinew stretching between its lips, connecting the sides of its gaping, black, vortex-like mouth. Its elbows bend the wrong way, and it has the long feet of a hound.
Only love for my brother held me there after hearing this description. I still shudder at the image and look forward to immediately forgetting it upon closing this journal for the last time. We talked of what I must do if the worse were to happen. I would be Jamestown’s last hope should the Kawani fail in his duties. What kind of world do we live in where a man is driven to hope a Shaman kills his brother, so he does not have to?
Snake did not return until just before dusk. I entered the Cursed Woods with them, agreeing to go as far as the demon’s path but not one step upon it. The air was thick with tension, and I felt suffocated by the silence. As often as I imagined the quiet described during the search for Ester Jones, never had I come close to understanding the totality of it. I know it sounds an odd phrase, but the silence was deafening. That is the only way to convey the sensation. It instills a deep unease, as if activating a primal alert system within us.
The feeling of being watched was no longer a mere sensation one could pass off as paranoia. It became indisputable fact the longer we walked beneath the canopy of trees. I could feel those giant, glowing eyes boring into me, prodding at my soul the way one does a pig before slaughter. The scrutiny reached a climax as we came into view of the demon’s path. My brother did not even pause to say goodbye. Kawani barely spared a glance back, maintaining his focus on Snake.
I watched them traverse the path until the fog concealed them from me. I waited; eyes locked on the trail for any sign of their return. I have no way of knowing how much time passed, only that there was no moon that night. When the sun fell behind the horizon I was left in total darkness. It occurred to me then that Kawani may not have factored in dangers from other entities while the demon was occupied with him. There were moments I thought I would die of sheer fright, but although slowly, time continued moving forward.
I heard faint footsteps before I saw the soft glow of the torch. After what felt like hours later, Striking Snake’s face became visible as he drew closer. My heart found new life as it resumed its maximum speed. This would be the moment of truth. Without speaking, I followed him out of the Cursed Woods. Only once returned to the relative safety of the campfire did I dare speak.
Being casual as possible I asked if Mary and I could have the pleasure of hosting a celebration in his honor. He heartily agreed, showing signs of his old, boisterous self for the first time since father died. He clapped me on the back, nearly knocking me over in his excitement, and we began packing for home. He said there was no point waiting for morning now that the dangers were gone.
Though he expressed deep regret at the loss of Kawani, he would not go into further details, only that he died a hero. Before we could extinguish the fire, I realized my wedding band was no longer on my finger. Anxious to be on our way, we searched for it on hands and knees. Situating myself behind Snake, I steeled myself as I cut my brother’s dead throat with the Shaman’s ceremonial dagger.
Thick, black ooze poured onto the ground. The demon barked a dark, sinister laugh as its blood soaked into the earth. When I stepped back, it turned to face me with my brother’s glassy eyes until the husk fell to the ground, empty. I stared at his corpse well into the daylight hours, still unable to move. Eventually, thoughts of Sarah and the children spurred me into action. I do not have the luxury of wallowing in pain or pity, I have others I must care for. I must make sure no one ever gives the demon a chance to escape again.
… Nope, sorry. That’s really all he wrote. Wasn’t that enough? Besides it’s getting light out. It’s about time to hit the trail, trust me. If you spend too much time around here, you’ll start losing your marbles. I like ya far too much to see that happen. Tell ya what, next time you drop in, I’ll read ya my own journal, how’s that?
… Why sure I did! You don’t become a spirit without being alive at some point.
… Okay, you got me. Yes, Samuel was my father, I took up the pen in my thirty’s.
… Well, I can’t tell ya why without explaining a whole mess of other stuff first. If you want to hear this story proper-like, it’s gonna take a few visits. You can’t just cram centuries worth of history into a couple nights of storytelling.
… That’s right, you come back anytime. We aren’t going anywhere; I can promise you that much. Now, are you sure you’re sober enough to make it alone? It’s really no trouble, it would do the boy good to get out more.
… Alright, I won’t pester you about it, I’m no nag. You just be safe out there. Remember, sometimes they really are out to get ya.
Credit : Page Turner
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