Estimated reading time — 18 minutes
The following originally appeared in a train enthusiast subreddit on October 29th, 2015. The thread did not have an account attached to it, and the original post has since been deleted for spam.
Thank you for taking the time to read this message, and I hope you are indeed able to read it. This is probably one of the most surreal things I have ever written (to say nothing of the circumstances I’m writing it under), but it is undoubtedly one of the most important as well. If all goes well, this will be just one of several messages you should have received; the others are writing things, too, but we’re not sure what will arrive intact, or even if your side has anything able to ‘receive’ this.
What you are about to read may seem odd, and understandably so, but please – keep an open mind, and in the very least read through the whole thing before passing judgement on my tale. I apologise for any terms or concepts that seems strange or bizarre to you – I have been informed this message could reach a number of worlds where such ideas do not exist, and so I will, at points, try to clarify some of the more important things others point out as ‘issue concepts’.
My name is William Wolfstone, and I used to work as a law enforcement psychologist. A psychologist is a person who talks to people and tries to help them maintain mental health. As a law enforcement psychologist, it was my role to do this for police (you may call them ‘guards’, ‘security’ or something similar where you are). It was a role I cared about greatly, and had dedicated fifteen years of my life to. I was decent at the job, so much so I ended up being stationed in the capital city of my country. I was one of two psychologists who cared for the personnel who worked at the city’s police headquarters.
This position also put me in one of the best places to see what unfolded, it turned out.
It began a few months ago, when one officer, whose name I don’t feel comfortable noting these days, presented herself to me with what seemed like simple insomnia (inability to sleep). She couldn’t say why, but she was certain she was having nightmares when she did manage to fall asleep (nightmares are bad dreams).
She couldn’t really recall what they were about, just that the situation had been going on for the past month, and that almost every morning , she felt a sense of dread and unease that sometimes took the rest of the day from which to recover.
I didn’t think much of it, to be honest; this officer was a minority in the capital (and certainly the police force), and in addition to those pressures, she had, a few months ago, undergone a traumatic series of events. Those events had turned her into a media curiosity (the media in this case being people who exaggerate news to make money), and from what she described, it wasn’t uncommon for her to find the odd interview request or paparazzi awaiting for her when she got home.
So I chalked the insomnia and dreams up to simple general anxiety and some post-traumatic stress – I arranged fortnightly cognitive therapy sessions, referred her to a doctor for some anti-anxiety and sleep medication, and gave her my personal number should she need to speak to me at any time (sometimes people just need an ear available, and I was happy to accommodate).
But she didn’t call me. And the first few sessions showed progress – although it didn’t resolve the issues, the medication was helping a bit, she was getting full support from her family and friends, and she even found herself recovering from the dreams easier, although she still couldn’t remember them. I figured she was drawing on the strength of character she’d demonstrated during those aforementioned events, and was on her way to ‘willing’ herself through the issues, and it would all be sorted in a few short weeks.
Then something curious happened – one day, there was a knock on my office door, and another officer wandered in. He explained he was my patient’s partner and that he, too, had begun suffering from this insomnia. These dreams. His partner had insisted he see me immediately, although he didn’t seem pleased about it.
Whilst it was unusual for two separate persons to present with the same thing, looking through his files, it made sense he could be suffering similar symptoms – he too was a minority in law enforcement, it turned out he too had undergone the same series of events his partner did…
Another easy case to resolve.
After talking with him, it was also apparent that he had some lingering trust issues, and was perhaps a bit more emotionally sensitive than his partner (often making jokes and observations on others; classic mannerisms for those personalities). So in addition to the anti-anxiety and sleep medications, I scheduled him for weekly appointments, just to suss things out. He also seemed grateful when I provided him my mobile number – as I said, sometimes people just need an ear to lend.
Yes. It all seemed quite normal at the time.
But then, the following week, other officers began to show up to see me and my colleague, presenting the same symptoms – and it wasn’t just beat cops, or those who regularly interacted with the other two, either. It affected someone from dispatch, the police chief himself…
For some reason, a sizeable part of the station was beginning to have sleep issues, and it was quickly affecting both morale and performance. It was obvious something else was going on here; I consulted with the police chief, and we brought in the Centre for Disease Control to check out the station (a disease is something that can make people sick). They walked through the building and, as they couldn’t find anything initially, it was agreed that the department would be closed, the unaffected temporarily transferred to neighbouring stations, and affected staff placed on leave and strongly encouraged to stay home as much as possible (it wasn’t thought to be contagious, but it didn’t hurt to cover bases).
I assisted the investigation as best I could, giving my opinion and ideas on what could have been going on (which basically boiled down to ‘an expression of mass-PTSD? I’ve got nothing’).
I wasn’t providing them anything my patient notes and common sense didn’t, however, so they stopped consulting me directly.
The CDC’s psychologists had sniped most of my affected patients, deeming it easier to track them themselves than through me, but I still kept in touch with Patient Zero’s partner; as I previously said, he had trust issues, so the idea of having to talk to someone new, someone who worked as part of a group interested in poking and prodding him? It didn’t appeal, and the CDC allowed it.
I recall I was watching the mid-day news when I got his call – the story had caught my attention, as it was about a local nudist club whose members had begun to present with some sort of ‘illness’. After I reached for my phone and noted who it was, I greeted the officer, and asked how he was going.
He sounded panicked, exasperated – his breaths were heavy and he choked out incoherences. I left the room so we could talk without the noise of the TV – clearly, things were not ok. He needed that ear loaned, and now.
When we were alone, I asked him to calm down, and to tell me what was going on. He couldn’t. After a minute of reassurance and empathy, I was able to ease him to a state where he could form words. I asked what was going on once more.
He explained to me that he was staying at his partner’s place, so they could both deal with effects of the nightmares better. He’d moved in a few days ago with a few token belongings, ‘just until this blew over’, and it had gone well enough.
The previous night, the officer had been unable to fall asleep on the spare sofa, twisting and turning for what he assured me was several hours, before he gingerly woke his friend up and asked for advice. She apparently suggested they share her bed for the night – it’s my understanding Patient Zero lived in an apartment, so space was likely at a premium. I’m also of the impression their close friendship was beginning to test bounds and begin development into a more romantic relationship, but that’s pointless musing on my end.
At any rate, they shared a bed together, and both officers found it easy to fall asleep.
And then, he told me, the dream started. That admission took my interest – no-one had recalled these dreams before.
He told me it began in a field – he was laying in gold-green grass, and the scent of wildflowers filled the air. It was welcoming, comfortable, and the only detractor was that the sun seemed to shine a little too brightly, but he was happy enough to keep his eyes closed, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.
As he lazed there, he found his mind turning to the events from a few months ago – back during the racial unrest that plagued the capital, tested his partner, and spurred him into joining the force in the first place. The memories were vivid, and he could recall every moment with perfect clarity. He told me it was like a movie of those events, but compiled from his perspective.
It felt so familiar to him, laying like this, reflecting like this. So familiar, and so right.
But at the same time, a small, building nugget in his mind told him it wasn’t.
He’d shrugged it off at first, instead enjoying the reflection on his past, but it strengthened, persisted – it told him not to doze, but to awaken, to fight.
Eventually, it got strong enough that, for a moment, the officer decided to comply. ‘I only wanted to get up and stretch my legs’, he whined.
And that was when he found out he couldn’t. When he went to move his legs, his arms, they only responded lethargically. Panic began to rise within him, and he struggled more, and more – but achieving just as little.
He told me that everytime he struggled, the sun seemed to get a little bit brighter, his eyes a little bit heavier, and he realised that, when his eyes were fully closed, he could still see the images of his past before him – less like he was reflecting, and more like his memories were being stretched out into a film reel run before him.
Vivid, with perfect clarity.
A weight slithered up against his leg, and writhed up along his body, before coming to a rest atop his chest. A voice whispered to him.
‘No. Almost done.’
The officer struggled his eyes open, and through the now blinding glare, he saw it, smiling down at him.
There was silence after he told me that. I asked what the ‘it’ was.
The officer simply began to cry.
I assured him it was only a dream, and he didn’t have to tell me what he saw. When he was calm enough again, he thanked me.
That, he told me, was what the dreams were – he was certain of it. It was this thing forcing people to re-live a period of their life every night, and he didn’t know why. I didn’t really know what to say – I had no-other patients to compare his experiences against, and whilst logically this experience was surely only unique to him…
Something told me he was right.
I stayed with him on the phone for a while, generally trying to calm him, whilst trying to make something of this new information. He was in the middle of telling me about the time he booked a friend for speeding, when he just…stopped.
For a moment, I thought the phone had died, either on his end or mine, but I could still hear breathing, so clearly that couldn’t be.
I asked him what was wrong. He didn’t answer.
And then I heard something else. It began quietly, but rose steadily, and surely – it was…laughter. The officer was laughing.
Again, I asked what was wrong. Then there was a noise, and the laughter became more distant – I can only assume he dropped his phone. I called after him, increasingly concerned, but he never picked it up again – the laughter drifted away as he presumably wandered off.
I’m told that’s normal by the others, and that there was nothing I could of ever done for him.
I went into my living room to use the house phone to call the paramedics – I figured I could call emergency services, whilst also staying on the line with my patient should he pick the phone back up. I was reaching for the phone when I glanced at the TV, and saw the news was still on.
As was something else.
I’ll be honest. I don’t like recalling this part of my life. I don’t think any survivor, either of this world or the others, ever fully deals with this particular moment. The moment when it was all over. But it is important to recount, for myself, just as much as you.
On the TV screen, there was some breaking news. The scene was an overhead view of Downtown, from the point of view of a helicopter camera, focused on police headquaters – my place of work. It took my mind a moment to grasp what I was seeing – for a moment, I honestly thought the things I saw in the image were something like those floppy balloons used-car lot have to advertise (a used car lot is a place where hustlers con good people for dubious vehicles).
But it wasn’t.
What it was, was…I assume you’ve seen something rotten before, yes? Fruit or flesh, particularly rotten, with writhing maggots and fly larvae? If so, that was how my workplace now looked. Except the ‘maggots’ were long, and had faces, rodent faces, whose thin flesh had been pulled taut across the bone, revealing every skeletal edge and angle. Strips of blood streaked down at points where the flesh had simply torn from the apparent strain, and thick veins snaked their banded bodies. Inside their exposed, cheekless mouths, their teeth clicked excitedly.
I remember the camera zoomed in on one as it was gnawing on an exposed girder, and how the large, swirling eyes inside that creature’s skull swiveled up to meet the camera almost immediately, like it knew it was getting it’s fifteen minutes of fame.
The creature’s entire body writhed towards the hovering chopper. It stopped, and its face split into a grin. Those wide, lid-less eyes fixed right on the lens.
And it began to laugh.
The rest of the day isn’t as clear to me after that. I remember watching that smile approach the camera, the screams of the people on that chopper as the image died, then me trying to pack, then just finding myself just running down the street. Part of me wanted to go to my friends, my parents, all of which lived in the inner-city. I wanted to get them out. But I’m afraid to say I didn’t even try. I lived in one of the outer suburbs of the city anyway, Cliffside – I don’t think I’d of made it to the inner-city in time the way those things…spread.
I don’t know if people were just stuck in their homes scared by what they were seeing on TV, or they simply didn’t know what was happening Downtown, but there wasn’t chaos when I ran down the streets of Cliffside. Just some people leaving their homes very quickly – if you’ve ever experienced it, it felt like that moment, the one before a riot happens? The calm before the storm.
I tagged along with a small group that seemed like they had supplies, and moved like they had purpose – a family, two guys and an older woman. We made it to a jetty down by one of the cliffs. One of the guys owned a boat, a small yacht-thing, and we planned to leave the city that way.
And we did.
It became obvious very quickly that we’d been lucky. The capital got a lot worse, fast; we didn’t see many other boats out on the water, and the news reported that those worm-things had begun emerging in other places around the city. That person-sized, cheetah-fast beings had begun swarming from those spots, murdering anyone they came across, dragging the bodies away to parts unknown…
The news also reported that the areas around the ‘emergence points’ were starting to ‘brighten’ and ‘soften’, but I’m still not entirely sure what that means; the mainstream news stopped broadcasting after that, and the people here don’t feel comfortable talking about it. They just say that it’s bad. Very bad.
The internet (a system that allows communication between people, instantly) stayed up longer than I expected. Wasn’t too useful though – online news sources either didn’t know what was going on, or simply stopped altogether. The general public was a mish-mash of doom-say and unbacked theories.
The only thing everyone did agree on was that the capital fell after just two days.
We headed down the coast to ‘Burrow, a neighbouring town renowned for its agriculture, but apparently things were starting to get unpleasant there, too. So we decided to wait for a while on the open water, skirting the coast. We did stop at one place, Stag’s Rest, but the people there were dangerously keen on the boat, so after that, we decided not to risk towns. We heard news that Stag’s Rest fell only three days after our visit – these things were spreading out.
We decided not to risk land in general after hearing that.
We kept traveling for a few weeks. Edging three months, I think. That’s a long time to live within 20 metres of eight other people. Tensions ran high. Supplies ran low. Things got desperate. Things I’d rather not talk about happened, in that time. People left. People died.
In the end, it was just me, the older woman, the guy who owned the boat, and the little girl who’d been part of that larger family. We’d traveled more than this small yacht was ever intended to, and everywhere we went, the news was the same; desperation, death, things that seemed to move in the woodlands that curtains the shore…
It was bleak.
Then, one morning, the ship radio picked up something – the first broadcast in weeks. We’d left it on just in case, but to actually hear something…
It called survivors to an oil rig that had been set up as a shelter, and it promised food, supplies, and that ‘the truth would be revealed’. The co-ordinates weren’t too far away, either. The boat owner thought it was a cult or a trap. I did too, truth be told, but a cult had food, and a trap meant death, and at this point…
I convinced the boat owner to set sail. We reached the rig that night.
The oil rig was large, and surrounded by boats – others who’d heard the call, which I later learned was sent out very rarely and only in short bursts, for safety reasons. The boats were the main reason we’d spotted the rig in the darkness, actually: the oil rig itself had just the minimal lighting on, a few splashes of yellow and red here and there. Again – safety reasons.
We exited the boat using this make-shift ladder to help people up onto the rig – the original gangway wasn’t intended for things as small as ours and the other boats, and the one that was was too dangerous to use this time of year because of waves.
At any rate, the oil rig was the sanctuary it promised itself to be – exiting out of the entrance into the main deck of the rig…it’s something I’ll never forget. People danced and sang around rusted equipment, and talked in clusters holding cups of honest-to-goodness hot food! I’m not afraid to admit I cried when I saw this place; I think everyone of our group did a little. It had been so long since we’d felt civilisation, after all.
We were quickly guided by a welcoming committee, who’d been informed of our arrival by the people who’d helped us up (I later understood why they wouldn’t want new arrivals to see too much before they’d been educated). We were guided into the ‘arrival area’ – a break room in the main building – and told we’d begin integration in the morning. We were also told we’d find out the truth then, too.
The next morning, we were guided into a nearby room that I assume was where rig staff received daily briefings. The community representative came and greeted us, learned who we were, and what our previous occupations were. For half the day, we worked with him and a few other ‘buddies’ from the community to figure out how we’d fit into this society, and what we could do to help.
Near the end of the day, the community head took me aside, and asked me questions about the state of my group, if I had any concerns about them, what I already knew of the events that had occurred…and general statements clearly probing my openness to new concepts and ideas. I wasn’t the leader of our group – the boat owner was – but I guess they deemed my background in psychology allowed greater insight. I assumed some of these questions related to that whole ‘reveal the truth’ thing, and decided to confront him on that matter directly; I’d seen some horrific things by this point, I was quite ready to accept many things, and I suspected the rest of my group was as well.
He conceded, and guided me to another room, where I’d meet someone who could tell me what was going on in private. The community representative assured me he’d be there and that although this person looked weird, they were friendly, and unrelated to what was happening to our world.
I braced myself when the door opened. In all honesty, I was expecting some sort of three-headed insect, drooling blood (that is something that does not exist on my world), but what walked in was…
I’ll be honest; I understand this appearance is apparently a common one across multiple worlds, but you have to understand, nothing like it really exists on mine, so I apologize if I come across as offensive in my description.
The being was about my height, and composed of tawny flesh that completely lacked hair or fur except for the top of his head, his eyebrows, and his beard. He wore a black, wrap around tunic, white pants, and golden shoes with curls on the end. He had a face and body structure similar to a family of mammal that went long extinct on my world; they were called ‘primates’. I’d seen artist depictions on TV documentaries, but they’d never been created to be so bald. It was quite odd seeing this being look back at me: no muzzle, snout, tail, paws, or claws. Again, I don’t mean to be rude, and whilst I was relieved to see another mammal, it still felt so alien to see something lacking such rudimentary features.
The man’s race are apparently called ‘humans’ in most realities. Hello if you are one, or know one.
The human shook my paw, let me recover from the surprise, and sat opposite me. He let me probe him with basic questions – something he was quite used to by this point – and answered some of my own. Even now it’s still remarkable to learn that mammalia in its totality don’t usually ascend to sapience; that, on some worlds, beings like myself still roam savage like my ancestors once did. A fact I’m sure a certain bigoted vice-mayor of the capital would of loved to know that back in the day, but I’m getting off topic.
The human, Aamir, then asked me a different sort of question.
‘Tell me, Dr. Wolfstone – Have you heard of ‘Disney’?’
It seemed odd, but I told him that I had. I hope it’s a word that means nothing to you; I’m sorry if you, too, understand it.
Disney is an ‘entertainment company’ – on my world, that meant they made cartoons and computer animated feature films (a computer is basically an electronic device that allows people to write, draw, play games and another way to use the internet). On some worlds, like Aamir’s native Arabia, they wrote books and made toys. At any rate, Disney was indeed something I knew of.
He explained to me that he was originally a guardsman from Arabia when his world began to undergo what was happening to mine now.
He’d been closer than I had been when it started, though. Very close.
The Sultan of his land was informing a crowd about reforms to tax law when it began – Aamir was a guardsman near the back of the crowd, waiting to keep dissidents in check should they disagree with the announcement.
The Sultan had just finished greeting the crowd, when he suddenly stopped. Mid-sentence.
Then he began to laugh.
The crowd had shifted uneasily as the Sultan continued to laugh – some were mad, assuming the Sultan meant to laugh at them.
But then, the Sultan began to choke. The crowd gasped, and aides rushed to his side, fearful he had fallen to some poison or malady. The Sultan clawed at his throat, before throwing his head up to face the sky in a sudden jerk. His body trembled and, from inside his mouth, a thing erupted forth – thin, gangly, and the off-white. It grew in height, and width, straining the Sultan’s mouth, before popping the jaw off his head. The crowd screamed.
The thing grew a rodent’s head with taut flesh, and grinned at their fear. Laughed at it.
Aamir tried to guide the crowd at first, but the thing on the balcony just kept growing larger and larger, soon breaking the balcony under its weight. He could see evidence of other such things emerging from over the rooftops, and the city beginning to burst in blended screams.
So, like me, he had begun to run.
And also like me, after he somehow escaped the chaos, he hid, far out in the desert with other survivors from his city. They were heading towards the next city when the group had encountered a group of foreign-looking people, ‘beast men’ like myself, and other creatures, all travelling behind a group of small, winged beings flying along – fairies. Fairies that had taken it upon themselves to guide survivors through the tears that opened up when Disney began to break a world down much further.
From them, Aamir and his group learned the truth – it was not just Arabia that was doomed, but the entire world.
The curse of Disney had come to them, as it had their worlds. As, Aamir apologised, it had now come to my own.
Disney, he explained, was not so much a company, as opposed to an entity – an insidious, living thing lurking in the space between spaces, a thing without form, only agenda. It wanted power over a world quickly, easily, and unopposed, and in order to achieve that, it needed to build ‘presence’ in the minds of that world’s people – an ‘in’ to pry through and enter a world more completely.
To achieve this, it seeded itself in various realities when it could sneak through opportunistic cracks in defenses – a ‘drop’ of itself that always set itself up the company, always in entertainment, always by a catalyst named ‘Walt Disney’ or a variant thereof.
It made sense the more Aamir explained it – Governments and entities could be opposed easily enough. If you formed a country and tried to take over the world, yes, you’d be known – but you also risked being crushed. Forgotten.
But something everyone needed, everyone wanted, like mere entertainment? A company that provided that well enough would grow, and eventually grow unopposed.
In almost all realities, Disney would work as inoffensive ‘feel-good-learn-a-message’ entertainment for younger audiences, because these audiences could create the largest market demand for Disney merchandise. Plant the most awareness of it in the most minds the quickest.
And eventually, when Disney finally gained enough power, enough presence to enter into a world and actually affect a world…? It would seep in quietly, and watch. Wait.
‘Wait? Wait for what’, I’d asked. Aamir looked at me with a weak smile.
‘A moment,’ He answered. ‘It waits for a moment it can use. It can re-purpose.’
He reached within his tunic, and withdrew something – a DVD. ‘Disney’s Aladdin’. A classic movie.
But, looking at the cover, it seemed…off. The Genie wasn’t an elephant, Aladdin no longer a fox, Jasmine not a tiger.
Instead, they all looked like humans.
‘This,’ Aamir explained, ‘Is something I picked up from a shopping centre in a place called Seattle, Washington. From the last world we went to.’
He looked at it grimly.
‘This abomination is also what remains of my beloved Agrabah.’
In that moment, as my eyes widened and chest wrenched, I understood. I knew.
Every Disney movie I had ever seen flicked across my mind.
How damned many?
Understandably, it was a lot to take it. When they were told, the rest of my group took time to adjust to the idea, too.
But in the end, we did accept it. Our world was gone. The essence was being snatched through a moment to create…lures, for people elsewhere.
How could we deny it? It was madness either way.
And that is why I – why we – are writing to you today. We can no longer do anything for my world, but we can do something for yours. The last world the survivors went to (the one that went on to compose the property ‘Pig Hero 6’) provided an example of technology that could send things between realities. Send things before Disney tore the barriers. We’re testing the technology with simple things, like this data transmission, before we try anything more…substantial.
But if things go to plan, we will use this not just to find safety and warn others, but to fight.
If the word ‘Disney’ is foreign to you outside this message, and no such thing exists where you are, then be thankful, and watchful. Keep this message hidden, and let no-others know unless it emerges. If Disney is where you are, however…
Fight it. Don’t watch the movies. Don’t buy the toys. Don’t spread the stories. Ignore it, starve it of its desired power and influence. Protect your world by letting ours die. Stop Disney from achieving market saturation, from beginning to watch your world for that one moment it can use against you all.
We will never meet, and I don’t know if I will ever find a place I can call ‘safe’ ever again. The fairies say the barriers are beginning to tear again, and the group must move on. But no matter what happens to me, to us, I want you to know we believe in you, and that, if you try, everything will be ok. We believe in you.
Goodbye, and good luck (luck is…a concept that doesn’t matter, because you don’t need; we will win).
Dr. William Wolfstone, PsyD”
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