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The Settlements Continue

the settlements continue


Estimated reading time — 23 minutes

Ooo weee, come in, come in! I’m glad you’re here early; it’s shaping up to be a bad one out there. The wind has a bite even I can feel. We might have a blizzard on our hands in a few hours. Make yourself comfortable, I’ve had a fire going each night since you left… although, if I had any sense I’d only bother when it stormed.

… I don’t rightly know why, but the weather has been that way ever since the last bunch tried to live here. It’s like… this place’s version of a welcome party.

… Gosh, hard to remember when the last settlement came… What was it, Trish? 1870’s? 80’s? It’s one of those, but I’d have to look to be sure. Don’t worry, we’ll get to them in due time. Tonight, we’re going to skip ahead a couple years so I can tell you about the fifth settlement and what my brother learned in the mountains.

… No, unfortunately he returned after the refugees arrived, but I think you’ll be pleased with the story. It should answer a few more of those technical questions you’re so fond of.

… Absolutely not; you don’t have to worry about Trish’s mom. Gale had a run-in with some campers a few days ago. She’ll be sleeping it off a while longer.

… Not sleep in the way you understand it, but close enough. Oh, before I forget, here’s your battery thing. I can’t thank you enough for the extra phone time.

… You brought us another one? You are the truest of friends! Well, if you’re all settled in, we can get started.

—————-

May 10, 1679

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There is little I have written in the last two years that does not induce sleep, but now I find myself regretful of complaint. Often, I have resented the dull happenings here, as if new settlers would somehow justify my brother’s absence. Had I not been so consumed by desire to fill this journal with new information, he would be here now. Sometimes, I dream James returns safely, his journey successful; other times, his corpse returns, and the once confined evil spreads across the river to devour us all.

How long does one hold hope in their heart before it is time to move on? Should we risk more lives by sending another group in search of the first? It shames me to admit relief the decision does not rest on my shoulders, but the fact remains, something must be done.

This morning, a small group of weary travelers wandered into our village. They looked defeated; their clothes were torn, they carried no supplies, and had not eaten for days. As chance would have it, I was speaking with Tim when they arrived, and we were first to greet them.

We offered the starving men food to break their fast and heard their tale. Three weeks ago, their village was burned to the ground by a Comanche War Party. The survivors followed the river, searching for a safer location to rebuild. Yesterday, they discovered the abandoned settlement at Dirge Lake and thought it a gift from God. The men we met were searching the surrounding areas when they discovered our town.

My brother and I launched into desperate explanations as to why it unwise to remain there, but I fear we only succeeded in appearing as madmen. With the offering of food to carry to their people, they waited whilst I gathered supplies. As I collected any useful items we could spare, I implored others to greet the newcomers and share their own tales.

Unfortunately, I only worsened the situation, for they were gone upon my return. The moment they saw our darker-skinned residents, they called us fools, and left without further delay. Their parting sentiments expressed the desire we reap what we sow in trusting the devil’s own. I cannot help but appreciate the poetic irony of their words.

We should not blame the travelers for their fear. I cannot fathom what it must be like to watch your home burn as your people die around you… but if they do not heed our warnings, I fear they will be doomed to repeat the same fate.

Tim has ordered a wagon be filled with supplies, and at dawn, we will begin the difficult process of crossing the river. Doctor Gordon and Eric Newman will accompany us. Perhaps if wounds are treated and bellies are filled, they will be more amenable to conversation. With any luck, tomorrow’s entry will document our success.

—————

May 11, 1679

I do not know why I hoped to appeal to desperate men with reason. They readily accepted our gifts but remained reluctant to speak with us. We congregated in the church where we could address the people as Doctor Gordon saw to the injured. The wounds were minor; those with serious injuries perished in the first few days of travel. Even so, the physician worked at a slow pace, providing us more time to explain the peril of their current situation.

The men who appeared to be the leaders remained for the duration of our visit, actively engaging in the debate. Others came and went in a constant rotation, never speaking. It quickly became apparent they wished to hide their true numbers from us. At first, it was argued we were ignorant to the danger from our own people, and we were invited to join them. We continued in that manner until all wounds were treated, but as we prepared to leave, we noticed a frail, young lad hiding in the corner. Several men shouted for the boy to go, but at our continued insistence, they allowed him to be examined.

While all suffered from early signs of starvation, the lad, Daniel, is naught but bones. It is clear he has been in this condition much longer than three weeks. After failing to answer the doctor’s questions, a gray-haired man by the name of Frederick Barnes explained the child to be a mute orphan in his care since the loss of his parents two years ago. He then offered the boy as payment for the wagon of goods, claiming him stronger than he appeared. Thankfully I managed to hold my tongue as Tim accepted this proposal without displaying disgust.

When it became clear neither party would bend to the other’s wish, we returned home, disheartened. Before departing, we made it known they remain welcome should their resolve falter, but our words fell on deaf ears. How long will it be before the killing resumes? How will we know when it does? It is clear they do not relish the idea of our friendship; we can only hope pride does not prevent their seeking help when it is needed. Although… after speaking with Daniel, I do not feel guilty in expressing my own wishes that certain men do not make it to Jamestown.

On the walk home, we shared our lunches with the lad. Aside from hoping to ease his fear, the doctor says it is urgent to increase his weight. Daniel eyed us suspiciously as he ate, but it was clear he understood our words and listened closely. Imagine our surprise when the boy we believed mute showed an aptitude for speech even I envy.

A sickness ravaged their village two years ago, when the boy was only eight, and his parents were among the first to perish. A cruel uncle took him in for a short time, which is where he learned it was better to be thought mute than risk words that incur beatings. Three months later, the uncle was killed by a man to whom he owed a large debt, and that is when the child began living in the woods. When desperate, he performed odd jobs in exchange for food, but he was not treated kindly.

The day the War Party came, Daniel was in a tree, hiding from an angry farmer. He saw the large group coming over the horizon, ignorant to who they were or what their purpose may be. As they drew closer, he became fascinated by their painted faces and how they moved without making a sound. When the men were almost visible to the village, they dropped to their bellies. Suddenly, nothing remained but a field of tall grass.

It wasn’t until they crawled past Daniel’s hiding place that he began to understand their intentions were nefarious. His fascination turned to fear as he watched the strangers disperse through the village, silent as shadows. Flaming arrows were shot into homes, and black smoke filled the air. He described the screams as animalistic, and while men died quickly, he is still too young to understand why the women suffered so much longer… or why the scalps were removed afterwards.

Even after witnessing the War Party’s departure, Daniel was too afraid to leave the tree. It wasn’t until the next morning, when other survivors emerged from the forest, that he descended. Little could be salvaged, and those without living family remained unburied when the villagers set out in search of new land. The boy followed at a distance for the first two days, afraid he would be abandoned if discovered. Instead, they put him to work and resumed his beatings. I did not share my suspicion that he was kept for more sinister intentions, but I am sure my companions thought much the same.

Gordon has adopted the boy, wishing to keep close watch over his health. The doctor’s own son did not survive infancy, and his wife never again conceived. It warms my heart to know they will make a fine family. At our return, many were angry upon learning the results of our failed venture. Some are advocating for drastic measures, arguing we should remove the newcomers by force if necessary; thanks to the lad, we now know they only number forty-six. I, however, believe that would only serve to reinforce their assumptions of our character. Even if it were a morally acceptable response, women and children are present. Tim would never allow such fiendish actions. It seems all we can do, is wait.

I do not believe there were any arguments we could have used to change the newcomers’ minds, for they know they do not have the resources to build from scratch. To happen upon an empty village as they have, must truly feel like a blessing. I only hope they have time to recover from their journey before they must battle the evils of their new home. Perhaps when they experience the Cursed Woods firsthand, they will wish to reopen discussions regarding Jamestown.

I should retire for the night. This is the most I have written in years, but I should not press Trish’s patience. I have a feeling I shall soon spend many hours with this journal.

—————

Hope you don’t mind a quick break, but we should tend the fire. I don’t think we’ve had a blizzard like this in fifty years! Good thing I stacked the logs in the kitchen, because that door ain’t opening til the sun is up.

… Yes indeed, we aren’t taking any chances after Gale’s little outburst. Besides, Christmas is just around the corner, and I don’t think I could face eternity knowing I let my best friend’s soul get sucked into a black existence of endless suffering. Talk about ruining the holidays, am-I-right?

… What was that? Hold on, I can’t hear you from the kitchen. I’ll be right back.

… … … One more second, friend. Ethan, get off your lazy ass, and grab some of these logs! Can’t you see my hands are full?! Here we are, centuries later, and he still has no manners. I shake my head in derision at you, boy, but you can’t see it because I’m carrying this damn stack of wood!

… … …. … … … Ah, let’s see, where were we?

…. … Yes, of course, the day we brought Daniel home. I hope you believe me when I say it is a kindness to fast forward a bit. Our time is best served by skipping to the next entry regarding the fifth settlement.

—————

May 29, 1679

It has finally happened. This afternoon, a traumatized young woman stumbled into our village. How she crossed the river with an infant… in her state… I cannot imagine, but they are recovering at the Newman residence until permanent accommodations can be arranged.

It seems we exacerbated her fears in our frenzied welcome. Those present when she arrived rushed to her side, eager to hear news, but it did not appear so innocent from her perspective. The women were quick to remedy our folly, taking her into their inner folds and tending to the child. We men were left to wait out of doors as our wives learned her name and reasons for flight.

Our guest’s name is Rebecca Hughes, and her tale is enough to give me chills. It is one thing to read of events long past, but it is quite another to know these horrible things are happening as you sleep soundly in the neighboring village. Perhaps removing the settlers by force would not be the extreme measure I previously believed… but again, the decision does not rest with me.

Trish, knowing I would wish to record every detail, was kind enough to take notes as the girl recounted her daring escape. Since exhausting their limited provisions, her people have struggled for each meal. Even though the lake is green, it still holds many fish. Yesterday, at dawn, four men swam into the slimy waters with two large nets.

Those who have read these journals will know what came next as surely as I did when hearing those words. Rebecca and the other wives watched from the shore as their husbands divided into pairs and chose their positions. They caught several fish quickly, doing much to raise their spirits. As moods lightened, sounds of laughter filled the air.

It was Rebecca’s husband, Gilbert, who first yelped in pain, but he thought his leg cut by debris. Then his partner, Jameson, shrieked in surprise, dropping the net in his frantic flails. He spun in circles, kicking about wildly as he yelled claims of something slimy wrapping around his ankle.

Gilbert admonished him for the panic, insisting it was only seaweed which entangled him. The other pair began swimming toward the commotion, unsure if their fellows needed assistance. As they hurried across the lake, Jameson calmed his erratic movements. All seemed peaceful once again, and their friends were returning to original positions when Andrew Foster, was pulled under.

He was gone instantly, and the resulting ripples disappeared as quickly as Mr. Foster himself. The remaining three stared at the empty space, dumbfounded for several minutes before the wails of Andrew’s wife spurred them to action. The men took turns diving into the murky depths until Jameson also failed to emerge.

Rebecca blames herself for Gilbert’s loss. She begged he swim ashore when Jameson did not return. Her desperate pleas freed him of his terrified stupor; he lunged forward and screamed as he was roughly yanked beneath the surface. The last man, Terrance Fulton, was able to escape as the lake monster (for we know the truth) devoured Mr. Hughes. The incident compelled some to finally consider our warnings, but most believe a predatory fish at fault.

The information we find truly troubling are the conditions under which Rebecca was forced to flee. The Fultons also wished to depart, but Mr. Barnes forbade any from leaving. He deemed each person vital to their survival, and that to abandon the settlement would be akin to murder. The man’s methods of control are sickening. Rebecca left home in secret just before dawn, and it is a miracle she made it here.

Timothy has called for a meeting to discuss what actions, if any, should be taken in effort to assist those held against their will. We may outnumber them, but they are frightened, desperate people; few things are more dangerous.

My head throbs from weighing the choices in my mind. Perhaps a good night’s rest will lend clarity to the situation. Tomorrow, I will write of what has been decided.

—————

May 30, 1679

We will not cross the river. I thought myself in favor of lending aid, but now I am certain Tim was right to refuse. I considered only the human obstacles we would face, failing to acknowledge the ghoulish deceit I have spent so many hours studying in that first, old journal. There would be no way to ensure we did not fight amongst ourselves as we struggled to free people who may ultimately decide they did not want our help. Would the Fultons still wish to join us if we were forced to harm their friends in the process?

There is simply too much at risk on both sides. All we can do is welcome any who make it this far and defend our homes against those who would seek to do harm. We think it is unlikely men of their nature have the courage to face us in real confrontation, but Tim has arranged night sentries for the foreseeable future. If they serve no other purpose, Trish tells me Rebecca is most comforted by their presence.

Our new friend is opening up to the women more now that she is rested and her grief for Gilbert has set in as reality. The poor girl is in good hands with Mrs. Newman; she can mourn in peace knowing she and her child are safely away from danger.

It is difficult not to dwell on thoughts of James as I write at this desk each night. Perhaps it would be wise to retire early; I desperately require the additional sleep.

—————

May 31, 1679

I am fortunate for taking the extra rest; much has developed during the course of this day. We have new arrivals from the settlement who were able to tell us of events since Rebecca’s departure.

After discovering her missing, Frederick ordered everyone indoors while he and two men scoured the forest. It is unknown if they truly searched, for upon their return they reported discovering Mrs. Hughes body; or more accurately, what remained of it. He spun a tale that strongly implied any others who dare leave would likely meet the same fate.

I do not consider myself a man of violence, but I find myself plotting various way of preventing Mr. Barnes from reaching Jamestown. If he survives a few more nights – rest assured dear, future reader – he will crawl on his knees before us, pleading for shelter; but for now, I must bide my time and relay what horrors next plagued the settlement.

A farmer moved his family into the old Brown residence, and it seems they fell victim to the same strange, creature as the previous tenants. Once again, the elders refused to elaborate on their knowledge of this monster, but they are quick to correct any who refer to it as a demon.

George Miller and his wife, Bethany, moved into the farmhouse with their five children immediately upon arrival. They added additional rooms, and with help from neighbors, put much work into preparing the land for new crops. In that time, nothing thought to be unnatural occurred until last night.

After supper, as Bethany and her three daughters sat knitting, the boys prepared an evening fire. It was the eldest son, Jack, who was tasked with retrieving extra wood. When he did not return, they assumed he found need to chop more. When he still did not return, George sent his other son, Jonathan, to check the cause for delay.

The younger lad was gone mere seconds before he burst through the door, white as a sheet and breathing heavily. He spoke in a rush, reporting Jack to be calling for help from the forest. Mr. Miller leapt from his chair, retrieved two rifles, and thrusting one into Johnathan’s hands, they ran outside. Stopping to light the torches, George called to his other son but did not receive answer.

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Bethany stood at the door with her daughters, watching nervously as her husband stalked the tree line, searching for signs to indicate Jack’s passage. Finally, they heard footsteps to their right. Instructing Jonathan to hold position, Mr. Miller cautiously made his way through the brush.

Moments later, the snap of a twig inches to his left made George drop his torch, and the fire extinguished with a loud hiss. In the same instant, he discharged his weapon, and the sound of his retreating footsteps could be heard. Jonathan called to his father, but before he could do more, the burly man emerged from the tree line. Without pause, Mr. Miller grabbed his remaining son and dragged him along in his desperate flight.

Once all were inside, George barred the door, ignoring his family’s frightened questions. He proceeded to latch the shutters while shouting for the others to follow suit. When no more could be done to secure their position, he reached for his pipe with trembling hands. After dropping it for the third time, he broke down into tears.

Unable to cope with another moment’s wait, Bethany slapped her husband’s face. When the man was finally able to communicate, his family crumpled at the news of Jack’s death. In the forest, when the twig snapped, George was able to take in one horrendous sight before the torch extinguished. He saw a creature so tall, its head was lost in the darkness above; its body was that of man, but covered in a thick, deer-like hide. It had two arms and legs as humans, but the arms were so long, its fingertips brushed the ground.

At such a description, I am not sorry to lack its facial features. What stuck clear in the grieving father’s mind, was the image of his son’s severed head. The creature held it aloft, as if offering Mr. Miller a gift. The family hugged as they cried but wails of grief quickly evolved to screams of terror as loud, heavy footsteps were heard outside.

All sounds in the home ceased as the steps seemed to pace across the porch. Bethany held her daughters close as George stood, motioning for Jonathan to follow. Careful to make no noise, they steadied their rifles, training them on the door. When the steps next passed, they halted at the entrance.

Loud bangs shook the door, bending it further inward with each strike. Hearts pounding, the terrified family waited with breaths held, expecting the wood to splinter any second. After several minutes of this, a distorted child-like voice of indistinguishable gender said, “help, dad” before retreating steps could finally be heard leaving the premises.

After two silent hours, Bethany put the girls to bed. She and George remained on guard, and Jonathan dozed near the fire. No one stirred as the creature crept alongside their home, and they were not sure if they truly heard the short but sharp crack of a shutter torn from its hinge; but chaos ensued when the loud shattering of glass and shrill screams pierced the night.

The screaming continued as all rushed to the girls, weapons at the ready. Two children sat huddled in a corner, pointing to the broken window. Bethany was first to notice Elizabeth’s absence. She forced her way past George, screaming for her youngest child. Glass forgotten, Mrs. Miller knelt, peering under the bed, but nothing was there. Bloody streaks trailed across the floor as she continued her desperate search. When she reached the corner where her remaining daughters cowered, she shook them violently, demanding answers.

The eldest, Laura, barely spoke above a whisper when she reported a giant deer-man reached through the window and carried her sister away. George, forced to drop the rifle, restrained his wife when she continued shaking the frightened child. He released her moments later when Bethany ceased struggling, but she knocked him to the ground at first opportunity.

Taking the gun on her way out, Mrs. Miller ran from the home, screaming for her lost children. Her husband gave chase, pleading for her return, but stopped short at the door, too frightened to continue. He thought it was so the children would not be orphans, but now he is unsure if that was his true motive. After a sleepless night, he and his surviving children fled at dawn with all they could carry. They did not tell anyone of their departure, knowing they would not be allowed to leave regardless the reason.

I am glad those three children have an intelligent father, for there is no doubt they would be orphans… or worse… had he pursued his wife. Even more certain are the actions Mr. Barnes would have employed at the discovery of his intentions.

Goodness, the time! It seems I have fallen effortlessly into my old habits. Perhaps when these endeavors are finished, I will finally come around to writing that poem for my beautiful wife.

—————

That was a mighty hectic three days! Next is the part where James finally comes home, so this is the last good place for a break if you’d like to stretch your legs a bit.

… That sounds mighty fine! Some good old-fashioned popcorn would be lovely. It’s been a coon’s age since I smelled that buttery goodness! Trish, could you be a dear fetch a pot?

… … Mmm mmm, the sound of them kernels popping sure does take me back. Tell you what I’d like to try – popcorn balls! We was watching a movie few months back where some folks made ‘em. They looked like sweet, gooey balls of pure delight!

… Yes dear, you’re right.

Sorry, friend. Let myself get riled again. Anyway, I guess we should get back to our story; let’s focus on that instead of all that howling outside.

… Psh, nothing to worry about, probably just the wind… almost surely. You just relax and eat your snack; I got this.

—————

June 1st, 1679

My brother has returned, and they lost only two men on the journey. Despite all the hardships we have endured, I am jubilant this night! James is well, and we now have new information that will certainly prove vital. I could hardly believe my eyes at the sight of his thin, bearded face. There was a fine celebration with a feast I will still feel the weight of come morning.

We received no new settlers this day, and I am almost grateful, for I have much to write. It is almost a shame to dampen such high spirits with talk of the wicked things James learned in the Great Mountains, but it is a task that should not be delayed. My brother, ever the wise man, kept a journal, documenting his experiences each night. He claims it was to free himself of my hassling upon his return, but I know he jests. He understood the importance of this journey and would not undertake even the smallest task without his very best efforts.

I must return his journal when I am finished, but I will transcribe his conversation with the Mountain Elders here; it is best if more than one copy of the knowledge exist.

—————

Copied from the journal of James Cooke:

I thought the hardest part of our arduous journey behind us when we reached the Great Mountains, but the last several months spent proving ourselves to these strange people has been more difficult by far. Thankfully, our patience and efforts have finally been rewarded this day. They revealed to us a passage leading deep inside the mountain and showed us their true village.

When their ancestors first came to these parts centuries ago, they were pursued by a superior tribe. Crawling in the brush, desperate to lose their enemies, they stumbled upon a small opening in the mountain. Surprised to find a tunnel which opened into a large cavern, they quickly hid their people inside. As the years passed, they dug new pathways to expand their home. It was there, deep in the heart of the mountain, the Elders gave us the information we sought.

They sat in a round cave with only one entrance. Torches lined the walls, and a dozen people sat solemnly. When I attempted to relay the information given by the Shaman, Kawani, they surprised me further by already knowing his words. The frail woman who spoke sat in the center of the Elder’s circle, staring into space; noticing her strange, white eyes, I realized she was blind.

I only note the fact due to the number of times she claimed to “see” Kawani when they spoke. The Shaman was a descendant of their tribe, and therefor able to commune with them in death. Even with my experience in the unnatural, I found this concept difficult to accept; yet I must believe it true, for there is no other way she could possess such knowledge.

I know it will trouble my brother to learn we cannot express the demon’s name via written word. We are only able to communicate it verbally, and even then, only when absolutely necessary. The reason is still difficult to comprehend, but I will do my best to explain a concept of which I understand little. Even so, I fear it will not do justice to the long, elegantly delivered, account I received.

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Normally, when we die, our souls pass on to the Spirit World to be at peace, but there are exceptions. Ghosts are the souls who, for a variety of reasons, cannot pass on to the Spirit World at all. Each individual’s circumstance is unique, making it impossible to fully document each possibility, but I am fairly certain Alexander already has information regarding this topic.

When a truly vile, evil person dies, their soul can never be at peace; instead, it is pulled to a different realm of the Spirit World, one where they remain in a state of pain and terror, always aware of their suffering. It is in this realm, demons are born. They are physical creatures, formed as a byproduct of Hate and Chaos. They devour the tormented souls, becoming more powerful with each consumption. They can never be destroyed, only banished, back from whence they came.

Long ago, a mortal performed a ritual to summon a demon to the Cursed Woods. Man, by nature, is fallible in his greedy desire for wealth and power. Even those with good intentions often fall prey to the belief they hold some unique quality that entitles him to stand above his fellows. It is exactly that trait upon which the beast will prey.

Demons are capable of influencing dreams of the weak minded, employing masterful manipulations to achieve their goals. They promise to fulfill their victim’s greatest desires, yet are somehow able to maintain the illusion of honesty… I do not understand how one can think such a creature would honor an agreement. The easiest way to banish the entity requires the summoner, therefore it will dispose of that person immediately.

Without aid from the one who brought the demon forth, we must use an alternative method. I was gifted with a beautifully carved bow, and three special arrows. The runes carved into the shafts reminded me of the ceremonial dagger our father passed down to Timothy. The Elders confirmed either would harm the demon, but the bow allows for attacking from a distance.

The creature can only be banished in its true form; if it has taken possession of a human, it will be forced from its shell, but not injured. Once it is truly wounded, the weapon must not be removed, and great effort should be made to avoid physical contact with the demon, even in that state. It should then be burned to ashes, which will be scattered into a body of salt water, never fresh.

I think what frightens me most, is knowing the demon does in fact continue to grow stronger with each victim it takes. I pray we can be rid of it before a fifth settlement comes to pass. It is unfortunate I cannot write its name down, for it is a difficult word. Our language does not possess all the sounds necessary to convey it correctly, but the Elders say it is still too risky. There are few things more powerful than a true name, especially when written.

Ink does not fade away as the sound of a voice; it remains, as would the power it infused within the demon. I must make sure to stress this point to my well-meaning brother, that he cannot for any reason, commit the name to paper. I should not even speak it more than once when I return.

My back screams in protest at the thought of the journey home. My desire to travel has been filled; I hope to never leave Jamestown again. What I have seen and learned here was worth the effort, but I miss my family dearly. I pity whoever will be charged with use of this fine bow. I greatly desire to keep it, but the price of ownership is far too high.

——————————

I envy James’ experience with the Elders, I yearn to see their mountain and caves, but I know I could not endure years away from Trish and the children. The demon’s name is indeed difficult, but even if I were allowed to write it, I do not know how I would spell such strange sounds.

My hand throbs from exertion, and I must wake with the sun. With this new information, it would be a monstrous act to abandon the victims at Dirge Lake. When the demon is gone, perhaps it will finally make a good place to settle. I would be remiss to behave as if this will be an easy undertaking, but I feel as if we have come too far to fail.

If I do not return tomorrow, dear family, know I cherished you more than life, and I do this to secure your futures; may our children never experience the horrors of the Cursed Woods.

—————

June 2, 1679

In all my life, I have never experienced such horror as what we saw this day. We arrived at Dirge Lake, but there was not a soul in sight. We felt a dark presence watching as we knocked on several doors and peeked through windows. Finally, when no one came to greet us, we entered the church.

The stench was overwhelming; it penetrated anything we used in attempt to cover our faces, there was no escaping the smell of death. Mutilated bodies were posed all around us. Two young girls sat in the front row, hands severed at the wrists, but clasped together in their laps. Behind them, a man and woman sat together, their heads placed on the wrong bodies. Everywhere we looked was more of the same.

After confirming no survivors remained, we wished to leave quickly. The floor was slick with blood, and in my hurry, I fell to my knees. After seeing my hand rested on someone’s intestine, I proceeded to lose my breakfast. We knew we were too late; they were all dead, but we had to try anyway.

When we had a moment to collect ourselves, we searched every home for survivors, but only found more gruesome murders. The things done to the poor children were beyond horrendous… but knowing we could do no more for the dead, we discussed the larger issue at hand. Most wished to return home, reasoning there was no point facing the demon if none were left to save, but I could not be satisfied until I saw the corpse of Frederick Barnes.

The two men who were always with him were found dead in the church, their… members… removed and inserted into their mouths, but I needed to know their boss was also gone. I do not mind admitting that what little courage I possessed fled from me at the gruesome sights we beheld, and yes, I was willing to abandon plans of fighting the demon for as long as possible; but I would never sleep soundly again without knowing Mr. Barnes was deceased.

We found him outside, dead but animated as the demon’s new husk, watching us from tree line. When we saw him, he emerged with the most hauntingly sinister smile I have ever seen. He told us to get off his land, still pretending to be Frederick, but we stood our ground. We tried to position ourselves to obscure the demon’s view of Timothy, but he saw my brother ready an arrow and understood our intentions.

He moved with inhuman speed, but somehow, Michael Stephenson shielded Tim, buying valuable time. We rushed to aid Michael, but his skull was crushed instantly. As the demon turned to locate my brother once again, Henry Davenport leapt onto his back, securing the last moment we needed. Unfortunately, it came at a great cost, for the creature reached his arms back in a disturbingly unnatural way to break our friend’s neck effortlessly.

Suddenly, an arrow plunged deep into Frederick’s chest, knocking him to the ground. We descended upon him, watching as black ooze gushed from the wound. The creature laughed maniacally until only a hollow shell remained. When the last drop of the tar-like substance was soaked into the ground… or evaporated, I am not sure which, we wasted no time in leaving.

I have had enough adventure in my life. I hope no one enters those Cursed Woods again, but if they do, may it be long after I am gone. Trish made me promise I would not cross the river again, and I eagerly agreed. If it were not out of concern for my brother, I would not have put her through the worry of going today. The only thing I want now, is to sleep for a few days.

—————

Good grief, look at the time! The sun has been up for hours! See, this is what happens when you shut the world out. I don’t even remember hearing the storm stop… uh-oh.

… … Whew, thank goodness! Thought we might be snowed in, but you can crawl over that little mound no problem. I was worried we’d have to shoot you out the chimney for a second. Anyway, one day you should remind me to read James’ journal. That tribe in the mountains accidentally opened a cavern that still had something ancient living in there, and all sorts of shenanigans ensued; it sounded like quite a time.

… I’m starting to think you’re never going to be satisfied. No matter how much I read, you want to hear more. Well tough cookies, because we have barely scratched the surface. If you want to know more, we’ll pick up with the sixth settlement later, but we have to skip the rest of my journals to do that.

… Huh? What makes you think I died over here? Nah, the plague got us, but I couldn’t just leave my journals behind, could I?

… … Goodness, no. I didn’t bring them here… no, we can’t get into all that, you’ve stayed too long as it is. That part of the story isn’t even interesting, hell I’m not sure if it qualifies as anecdotal! Just set that brain of yours back to pondering the new stuff you did learn.

… I’m glad you enjoyed it! I hope we see you again before Christmas, but if we don’t, you have just the merriest one, ya hear. Now, go on, scoot.

Credit : Page Turner

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