Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
The Night’s Hook
I am writing this to occupy my mind before its sanity disintegrates by thinking about the horrors lurking outside the window behind me. I suppose this will serve as a warning to any survivors in case they target others as well, for I expect the neighboring lands are impregnated with them in densities equal to here. I can hear their shrill wails despite the stifling, outward wind in their direction.
I am usually too sick and frail to interact with the townsfolk, but I still can hear the chatting of loud children in the distances and the servants often relay to me stories they’ve gathered from the local town and of their own hometowns. The cold, constant breeze of the autumn season here brings me many hints of occult happenings in the dense and sprawling forest that encircles my own house as well as the entire town.
While most towns are built upon the shipping routes of rivers or the lands of fertile soil, Axton was built almost secretly in the forest after a family of supposed thieves and charlatans were forced to relocate north from Maine over 200 years ago—or so the rumors tell. The veracity to this tale is disputed by many of the proud and educated residents as it seems too sensational to be true, but they rarely offer any evidence to the contrary and soon leave for bigger places than here.
Axton, anyhow, then began to make its living by becoming a logging town, making use of the thick woodland in these hills and doubled its population to nearly 1000 about 150 years ago, but the logging suddenly stopped when most of the prime lumber was cut and the nearby forest could no longer be seen except from the higher vantages of the hills; there is seemingly little market for expensive hardwoods anymore. Since then the forest has mostly returned even thicker than before. And the town began to shrink again, leaving a few deserted houses along the border of the town and the forest.
My family, which owned most of the logging company, had enough money to sustain themselves through other investments and we retained this estate nestled in the southern pocket of hills deeper inside the forest. I am the youngest and only member surviving the main line as semi-distant relatives have sought—mostly successfully—to start other businesses in the cities and my parents and their siblings have all reached and passed the time when human death draws certainly close. Leaving me to remain here and watch over the affairs of the Milton estate with the few servants I can afford.
Camille, the maid and cook, once told me a story about a certain creature, called a Night’s Hook, in the hills of her distant French-Canadian town that would linger in caves and dark forests during the night to infrequently feed on deer and other small animals. The disappearances of any small children during autumn and spring would also be blamed upon them. They had never been spotted in any bright setting, so their appearance was merely guessed upon, but they were hinted to be anthropoid in shape with long, slender bodies and limbs. And making large thuds in the air like that of a partridge as their voluminous wings beat about. Rare calls like bleating screams of yelps were heard and said to belong to them as well. This story had agitated my younger self as to leave me scared of any darkened forest setting and of the nights as well. As I matured, the frequent tales of horrific beasts, such as the Night’s Hook, would gradually lessen the effect, but my general uneasiness of mind remained—Oh god, I heard the worst cry outside. . . . As you can read, the uneasiness in me is apparent now. The other servant, Derrick, at my requests had told me similar tales of beasts, but of much more prosaic and fantastic origins than the ones Camille was able to tell me about.
Six months ago, near May’s Eve, there were talks of demolishing the abandoned houses finally after some children had hurt themselves on the decrepit wood floors and the collapsing walls as well as general complaints of the recent manifestation of mass rodent infestations. With no one coming to claim the houses, their demolitions were agreed upon and planned. Before they were carried out, though, one of the children who had hurt themselves had disappeared from their backyard after becoming well enough to walk and play again. The town searched the surrounding forest to no avail. I asked Derrick who it had been, but he refused to name their identity for some unknown reason to me.
The warm air of coming summer had instilled in me the ephemeral health to amble, so I enjoyed short walks on the surrounding property and the edge of the forest. The infrequent silence of the woods was novel to my quiet-soaked mind from inside the house. There wasn’t a minute that wasn’t filled with the chirping of several species of birds or the buzzing of innumerable insects. The forest was close to the estate, but my slow walking speed made it feel much farther away and the strip of sun-soaked grass before the shady, loamy soil of the forest floor much wider. I had heard the shrill chuckle of a partridge when a gust of wind had swept through the forest carrying the eldritch shriek from an unknown bird-thing calling “qwree, qwree. Qwree, qwree.” Becoming distraught, I had turned around to stumble home when Derrick appeared close behind and escorted me back to the safe confines of inside.
For weeks I heard no news about town from Derrick, so I had resorted to asking Camille to probe the townsfolk for information on what happened to the child and other things unbeknownst to Derrick. It seems several small skeletons corresponding to that of youths had been found stripped almost bare, save for strips of flesh and tendon, had been found in the hills and one of which was presumed to be the recently disappeared girl—her name was Elizabeth, she told me. The houses were promptly demolished afterward as they were considered to be bad omens of whatever was happening around the town and the forest. Camille’s face became more and more distressed as she recounted what she had learned and didn’t hesitate to compare it all to what happened in her previous town.
The next day Camille had vanished with only a portion of her few possessions missing from her room. Derrick and the other servant, Bartholomew, had decided to divide her responsibilities amongst themselves. With Derrick handling the cooking and shopping and Bartholomew handling the cleaning to the best of his abilities until another servant could be hired, which Derrick guessed would be a few weeks at minimum. I discussed the matter with Derrick and he had come to the conclusion that her superstitious fear of fictitious creatures drove her to escape Axton permanently.
Down to two servants, the house felt lonelier than before and the dark of the forest had begun to shadow more of the lawn. I was still well enough to walk about, but chose to pace inside and busy myself with the studies Derrick had assigned to me from the library. Still hoping that Camille would return, I had left her room untouched and asked the servants to do the same, but a month had passed then and we received no letter of apology or explanation. I slipped into her room late at night down the back hall of the house. Her room was neatly tidied with a few books stacked atop her bedside table and her few dresses hanging in the corner closet. I glanced through the books, all of which in French it seemed, but could gleam little. A few had recipe-like instructions numbered vertically and appeared to be cook books of some sort and the others were long and journal-like with ancient-looking handwriting and dozens of missing pages torn out. Finding nothing useful I returned to my room that night and slept poorly.
The coming summer months had been so hot and dry as to stifle any movement from me, confining me to my bed and sometimes to my writing desk near the window. The dry flittering of the leaves in the wind would filter through the open window and I would spend a lot of time that summer listening and then subsequently becoming lost in thought, thinking about what was happening in Axton. The summer had not been easy on Derrick nor Bartholomew as no replacement for Camille could be found and Derrick turned out to not be a very good cook. Finally, the darkening skies of near-autumn came around serving as a balm for myself and the servants. Derrick was able to make some appropriate stews from the harvest of local farmers and I was able to walk about more comfortably, but the imposing shadow of the treeline had become more and more oppressing as its dark interior became more shrouded by the rustling of fallen leaves and crepuscular gloom.
I found myself having more and more horrid dreams as All Hallows’ Eve drew near, and the “qwree, qwree” yelping from before had returned to the internals of the forest. Unable to find repose, I asked Bartholomew to thin out the nearby forest for the ostensible purpose of gathering more firewood for this winter, but also to lighten up the yard which had a tenebrous atmosphere I had never noticed before. Bartholomew obliged, but only after some convincing. After a week of work, the treeline had receded a three-to-four meters away and was much brighter.
Reports of the town from Derrick had begun to come back in frequent pattern, but only the minutiae of the town life. I could tell Derrick was hiding something, so I sneaked off one morning to the nearside of town to see what happened of those skeletons and demolished houses. My shoes were ill-fit for hiking on the muddy ground of the cleared path to town and I left an obvious trail behind me as I started to limp because of my hurting knees. I thought I had heard a motorcar coming down the path, so I slunk into the thicket of the forest parallel to the road and waited to see the coming passerby. It was Derrick in the motorcar, but it seemed by his speed that he had not noticed the trail of footprints I had left. Unsure of when he would return, I remained inside in the thicket and traveled closely parallel to the road, but far enough that I could not be easily spotted.
The gloomy clouds of frequent autumn rain had formed and cast the landscape, as if in twilight, despite the afternoon time, so I begun to lose my way. I seemed to have wandered more and more off-road and eventually stumbled upon a meager, decaying shack which had seemed to survive the wave of spring demolitions. It had only two south-facing windows and a single peaked roof covering what looked like one or two rooms by its outward design. Interested to see if the rumors Camille and Derrick told me were true, I decided to peak inside the shack. I espied in the corner opposite to me, inside the shadowy interior piles of grayed and decayed wood furniture, a picked-clean skeleton with only the hair and nominal bits of thin flesh clinging to various parts of it. A small family of rats were scuttling about—presumably eating the remnants of meat on it. My legs weakened and I leaned my back against the outside of the building for a few moments, listening to my hurried heartbeat and the hollow din of the quiet forest as I fortified myself. I peered back in to look at the skeleton again, its thin form collapsed on its back with its long, ocher-and-graying hair scattered about its head. The thought that it might be Camille distressed me and I quickly slumped onto the cold ground again.
What had Camille being doing here, or was her body brought here? How certain is it that it is Camille’s body? I wondered about these questions, too scared to go in. Then I had heard that accursed squealing of “qwree, qwree! Qwree, qwree” far, far behind the shack, but its chilling scream caused me to imagine it much closer. I panicked and awkwardly run-hopped away towards the path to town. My disjointed steps caused me to stumble frequently and I soon fell and spun backwards, facing my coming direction.
I noticed the shack in its slight clearing was now quite dark and to the back-and-side was some thin, quivering thing which caused my joints to almost lock and conscious mind to freeze. Its dark form was hard to distinguish from the shaded backdrop, but I could recognize a certain waviness to its tall, humanoid form, as if its torso were an undulating spring parallel to its long arms. It was so dark I could only make out its moving parts, but it appeared like an appalling dancer in the distance and it then continued to cry “qwree, qwree” in a clearer, thicker, raspier tone than I had heard before. If only the abomination would stop that alien quiver I would have been able to get up more quickly, but my straining eyes were transfixed in obsession and fear.
For what I now assume to have been half a minute of staring at it, I hoped to comprehend fully what I was seeing, but also hoped to not. Finally, the far-off rumble of Derrick returning in the motorcar and the glint of the headlights had drawn my attention and I was able to turn around and produce a painful jog. It was my screaming that Derrick had thankfully noticed and he stopped the car to quickly scoop me up in the back of it. While driving us home he asked questions about my petrified expression. I recounted the experience to him as he frequently asked me to repeat the details in both disbelief and concern.
Apparently Bartholomew had just left too, leaving a lengthy note about the stress of having all of the increased responsibilities in addition to needlessly clearing the nearby forest, which is why Derrick traveled to town that day to search for him and ask for a reconsideration. Unable to find any trace of him, he returned to find me. Along the way, when my willpower weakened, I would glance back into the forest and I would sigh thinly each time I did not see whatever that Night’s Hook-esque thing was.
Arriving back, we hurried inside and Derrick carried me into the kitchen to prepare dinner and keep me company as I still shivered in distress. Derrick assured me that what I saw was just a delusion brought on by tiredness and poor lighting and that the sound was likely an injured bird of some sort in the area. I wanted to believe him. I felt much better after dinner had been made and eaten, and I do not remember much of the rest of the evening as I seemed to have fallen asleep soon after.
I woke up in my bed and looked outside at the near-night twilight. The winds had picked up and the jagged branches all clawed at the dimly glowing sky. As my thoughts slowly organized I scanned the horizon more deeply. The horror I saw was in the forest, and interspersed between the trunks of the trees were countless other shadowy figures of winding qualities. I called for Derrick as loudly as I could and he arrived as I nudged the window open weakly to see if their cries would prove their existence in the forest. Derrick quickly entered just as the chorus of screams began and gave me a look of absolute turmoil. “Qwree, qwr-qwree-ee, qwree!” He hastily closed the window and ushered me back into my bed, telling me to stay there for a moment and that he would return for me after arranging some things.
I expectantly stared at the clock, jostling about my bed and avoiding looking out or being seen from the window, for 25 minutes until his return seemed like it would never come. I noticed an orange glow from outside that countered the coming dark I expected from the night. The tree line was ablaze with Derrick pouring what appeared to be gasoline from the spare containers over the trees. He worked diligently across my window viewpoint from right-to-left and frequently glanced back up at me with a forced smile and some form of a dismissive hand wave that I had trouble interpreting. He continued to spread the gasoline across the tree around the entire house until I could see him no longer.
This was two hours ago from now and he has still not returned. The fire—and more specifically the light—appears to keep those horrid things at bay. The damp, thin trees around here will not burn much longer, I reckon, but the winds have picked up again spreading it a little longer. But those screams . . . I still hear them chanting that dismal cry as if laughing at me and the fire is waving much like those twisting shadow-things. I can’t expect the fire to last the night and the townsfolk are unlikely to come to the epicenter of the blaze. . . .
Oh god, they’re coming now. They’re all coming.