The Tree of Dark Desires

The Tree of Dark Desires
Felix Galt stood at the very edge of his fifteen hundred acre estate, gazing across a low stone wall, into the woods, at a very particular tree. Unlike the thousands of trees at his back, the one he was observing did not belong to him, but he wanted it. The towering evergreen was very likely the oldest tree in the forest. It was certainly the grandest, in his estimation. Unfortunately for Felix, the tree lay just beyond his reach, in the very center of that part of the forest to which he had not yet been able to lay claim, despite his most devious efforts. That section of woodland, a mere ten acres, belonged to his despised neighbor, Roger Cares, who didn’t even have what Felix considered the decency to be a businessman, and would not even meet with Felix to discuss the possibility of selling. No, Mister Roger Cares had merely inherited the land, and lived off of it instead of making a living out in the civilized world; the world which knew that everything had a price.

Felix gnashed his teeth, thinking about the grubby little trailer sitting at the other end of that patch of forest, the grubby little garden that surrounded it, and the grubby little man who lived there; the man who dared to defy the will of Felix Galt! The man who owned the tree, he was a particularly irritating thorn in Felix’s side. There was simply no reasoning with him. Felix had offered a more than fair price for the property, according to the market value. Mister Roger Cares would not sell. He had tried arranging logging rights, to no avail. Mister Roger Cares would not allow it. But, Felix wanted that tree, and he would have it. This grubby little man could not be allowed to defy him so.

As Felix stared at the object of his covetousness, the tree itself seemed to brood. It was an odd specimen. Majestic, of course, but dark and mysterious, as well. It seemed to be the only tree of it’s particular, unidentifiable, species, in the entire forest. It was obviously an evergreen of some kind, over a hundred feet tall, with needles so dark they were almost black, and a thick trunk with black bark as well. Large black cones, a bit smaller than a human head, hung from the branches. There was an odor associated with the tree, which permeated the forest for miles around. It smelled like molasses and roses mingled together with something deeper, earthier, and beyond identification. It was at once alluring and terrifying, beckoning to the ancient memories deep in the core of the human brain, remnants of those aeons before manlike things were blessed with the gift of humanity.

Felix fantasized about what he would do with the tree once he had acquired it, as he surely intended to do. First, he would transport it to his mansion, and set it up in front as a Christmas tree, a rich surprise for his granddaughter. It would be an expensive process, but he could easily afford it, and he intended to make that money back with the wood. Once the holidays were over, he would have it processed as lumber, and build a house out of it. A house made of that wood was guaranteed to bring a huge profit. He had a sample of it, in his hand, a single branch that had been fashioned into a cane by his grandfather. Felix never knew the story of how his grandfather had acquired that branch, but he had always been fascinated by the wood itself. It was dark and reddish, with black striations from the growth rings, and absolutely unyielding. To Felix, this was the most beautiful wood in the world, and he had become obsessed with it at the first sight of that cane, when he was a child.

Felix used the cane to push open the old iron gate which was set into a stone archway in the wall that separated the two properties. An early November snow had begun to fall, and he intended to visit the object of his desire before the snow began to drift. Stepping confidently through the gate, he began to stamp through the low underbrush with his usual unswerving determination. A small minded person might almost think him heroic in his avaricious zeal.

A ten acre plot may be crossed rather quickly, even in an unkempt forest, and Felix was only going half the distance. Still, it took him nearly half an hour to get through. It was as if every weed and vine had conspired to trip him up or hold him back, but he had persevered. He stood at the outer edge of the tree’s perimeter, looking up toward the crown. It was glorious. He inhaled the tree’s exotic aroma. It was intoxicating.
Walking around the tree, he spied the male cones. Some people are surprised to learn that coniferous trees have both male and female cones, but Felix had already been aware. Nevertheless, these particular cones were rather unique, perhaps even a little alarming, in their appearance. They were bright red, like poinsettias, but with a perversely squid like form. There was a lumpy central mass with a dozen or so long, slender appendages coiling outward like tentacles. Each tentacle was covered in fine red hairs. Felix jostled one of the cones by poking it with the cane, and the tentacles appeared to make a sort of flexing movement, like the limbs of a cat while falling and finding it’s balance.

Suddenly the calm of the forest was broken by a screeching voice as something emerged from under branches at the base of the tree. Felix raised the cane to protect his face as gnarly hands swung a needled branch at him. He deflected the swatting assault a second, third, and fourth time, before tripping and falling backward into the brush. A small but powerful foot, just as gnarly as the hands, landed with force on his chest and pinned him to the forest floor. He gasped in pain and surprise. Blinking back tears, he was able to get a look at his nimble assailant. It appeared to be a person, small of stature, dirty, clothed in a short tunic made of squirrel pelts, with matted white hair jutting out from it’s head. The angry, ancient looking face had a petite but misshapen nose, and a withered jaw that held a single long tooth that lay over the top lip and almost touched the right nostril. On top of the head there was an arrangement of long, curved, spiky shapes that Felix first took for antlers, but quickly realized were actually small branches. Just beneath the branches, poking out of the hair on the sides of the head, were a pair of enormous, pointed, ears.

“Haha!” the little person crowed in it’s screechy voice. “Hasitnow! Killaneatit! Killaneatit!”

Felix’s mind reeled. He kept trying to decide if his attacker was male, or female, as if it would help him determine the level of danger he was in. He soon decided that he was under maximum threat, and swung his cane into the little person’s side. It rolled off of him with a howl. Felix scrambled to his feet and brandished the cane like a rapier, shouting.

“Go on then, you miscreant! Give it your best shot! I’m not afraid of you!”

“Ohohoho, notafearednotafeareditis! Doesnotknowitthendoesnot! Noknownoknownonono!”

“What the hell are you, anyway? Did Cares put you up to this? Are you his guard dog? Well, you can tell him he’ll have to do a hell of a lot better than this, to stop me from getting what I want!”

“Ohho! Hellthehellthehellyousay! Hellitisanhell Hellandgothehellwithyou!”

Felix roared and charged the little person with his cane, missing completely as it leapt over his head and disappeared back under the branches of the tree. Felix chased after it. The ground beneath the branches was devoid of other vegetation, but there was a thick buildup of needles and cones. It was difficult to see very far because of the heavy shade of the branches. He stepped close to the trunk of the tree, and the toe of his boot collided with a large, flat stone. Taking a closer look, he found that the stone was covered with some kind of runic inscription, and that it was arranged with several other identical stones around the base of the tree. He noticed that all of the stones were at a slight upward incline to the trunk, which bulged slightly over top of the edges. They seemed to have been purposefully placed in a tight ring around the tree, possibly many centuries in the past. Felix followed the stones around the trunk, and nearly crashed into a small hut that was built around the side of the tree, using it’s own branches. It was a highly effective camouflage.

Suddenly, the little person leapt out of the shadows, smacking Felix in the face with a handful of red dust. It danced around, cackling maniacally as Felix sputtered and coughed.

“Oogity Boogity Boogy Bee, Yiggity Draggoty Seely See!”

The acrid powder stung his eyes, nose, and throat. Tears streamed down his face, leaving trails in the dust.

“What the godamn hell, you little fucker! What are you trying to do to me?”

Felix struggled to see, and stumbled out into the more brightly lit forest. His head was swimming with strange sensations, and he could see several dark shapes approaching him through the falling snow.

“Who’s there? More miniscule miscreants? I’ll kick your asses!”

The shapes came closer, and he could see that the newcomers were very different beings from the little person. There were three of them, standing seven feet tall, skeletally slender, seeming to merge with the shadows like thick billows of smoke in the shape of something almost human. The snowflakes seemed to pass through them. He couldn’t discern any facial features, but he could feel them leering at him malevolently.

“So what do you want? Is this the part where you tell me the true meaning of Christmas? Hah? Are you going to offer me a chance to mend my wicked ways? Or tell me I’m being tested? What?”

“You perceive us,” a sepulchral voice rang in his head. “Interesting. But you are mistaken. We do not offer redemption. Your fate is sealed, Felix Galt. The suffering you have caused in the world has drawn us to you, and you belong to us. We will feed.”

Felix felt the blood drain from his face. For the first time, he was truly afraid. He did not know how to fight these mysterious beings who laid claim to his life. He realized in horror that he was facing a power far greater than his own, greater than any he had dreamed existed, and was helpless. A scream of terror erupted from him as his mind shattered. The dark beings closed in on him.

A voice called from the forest. It was a human voice, and that of a man. Someone was calling Felix’s name. He looked out in the direction from which it came, and saw the man approaching. It was Roger Cares, rushing toward him. Felix laughed. It seemed somehow absurd to him that another human being should, at this very moment, intrude upon this macabre scene. But here was Mister Roger Cares, not grubby and small as Felix had portrayed him in his mind, but tall and hale and heroic. Felix felt a rush of relief and gratitude. Roger Cares would save him, surely, and in return Felix would abandon his designs on the cursed tree.

The little person in the squirrel skins and branches suddenly emerged, and placed itself between Roger and the dark beings, chattering incoherently. The dark beings took their chance, and pounced on Felix, entering him through his every orifice, like smoke into a chimney. Felix screamed and screamed and screamed, as his body was swiftly digested from within. In a moment, nothing remained of Felix Galt but dust. The dark beings dissolved into mist and were seen no more, having obtained that for which they had come.

Mister Roger Cares sadly picked up the cane that lay within the pile of dust. He looked at it for a moment, and then presented it to the little person. The little person snatched the cane, and disappeared into the branches of the tree. Roger watched it go, and then sadly walked away from the tree.

The Arena On The Mountain

Bawepat cautiously crawled along the base of the immense, round, stone building at the center of the ancient complex, taking great care to remain hidden in the shadows. He knew that there could be Anephal brutes lurking anywhere. This ruin was their home, on their mountain, and Bawepat’s people had not been welcome there since the ice had divided the seas. Bawepat’s people, the Atrissua, had been at war with the Anephal periodically for more than a century, and it could not be resolved without the extinction of one or the other. Recently, an Atrissua elder had been given a vision by the one of the gods, a son of El named Yamhe, which could end the war forever.

In the vision, the great god El would use his veil of glory to melt the ice lands which surrounded the habitable lands of the world, causing a flood of water to run through the valleys of the mountains where the Anephal lived, washing them all into the mouths of the twin serpent rivers, overflowing their banks and destroying the villages of the Atrissua along with the Anephal. Only one family, of the Atrissua, and their herds, were to be saved. The patriarch of that chosen family, who must be of pure lineage, would have to construct a single building that was large enough to hold all of his family and herds, and coat it’s sides and floor with pitch to seal it, or they would not survive the raging waters that were prophesied.

Bawepat had come to the mountain of the Anephal to spy on them, and discover whether they had any means of surviving the coming apocalypse. If they did have, then Bawepat was to steal it so that his own family may make use of it, or, if it could not be stolen, to destroy it and ensure the extinction of the Anephal. He took a moment to observe the state of the surrounding structures. Each of the dozens of circular stone huts was accessible to a stone path which connected all of the buildings. The buildings themselves were arranged in a double spiral around and facing the much larger building, inside of which Bawepat was currently trying to find a way to peek. Curiously, the huts all seemed unoccupied at that moment, although several torches were burning at intersections of the path.

Bawepat remembered as a child, being told stories from ages before his birth, telling of the great arena where the Anephal held their infamous blood sports. Engraved signs on the stone huts showed where various animals could be purchased to toss into the arena to fight or be devoured by lions or cave bears, and the people would place wagers on the deaths of beasts and men. If a combatant were killed without being bitten, then the Anephal would roast it, and eat it’s flesh, even if it were a man. There were few who saw one of the Anephal up close, and lived to tell of it. Those who did survive such an encounter claimed that the Anephal were at least a head taller than any ordinary man, with a mane of thick hair all over their face and head, which they braided and decorated with bones. They had broad, hairy, muscular shoulders which gave them enormous strength, low foreheads with thick brows that jutted forward from over their eyes, bulbous noses, thick blubbery lips, and wide jaws filled with teeth as wide as a grown man’s thumb. The Atrissua considered them barely human, but according to legends, many of the Anephal were the descendants of human women who had been sold as slaves for entrance to the blood sports, and had been taken as wives by demons.

Bawepat felt his way around the arena’s outer wall, trying to find a crevice or peephole. Finally, he discovered the chink in the stone that he had been hoping for. He had to drag a stray piece of stone over next to the wall, to stand on top of, because the hole was at a greater height than his head. He winced as he pressed his face to the wall, as the foul odor of sweat and offal reached his nostrils. Once his eye was pressed to the hole, it took several seconds to adjust to the gloom inside. Torchlight flickered across the nearly naked, hairy flesh of a hundred or so entranced Anephal. They were all heaving and grunting in muted unison, their beady eyes fixed on the tableau at the bottom of the arena. A great stone pillar stood at each end of the court, engraved with shapes of animals and human figures from bottom to top. Bawepat noticed one of the human figures appeared to be moving, and then another at the other end. Something was holding them up against the pillars, where they writhed in pain, or ecstasy, or both, but his vantage point was not sufficient to see past all of the Anephal bodies in his way. Eventually one of them shifted, and Bawepat wished he hadn’t been straining so hard to see, that he couldn’t see what shambled, wiggled, and slithered on that cold stone floor. From a pulpy black mass as large as a horse emerged innumerable tentacles of various sizes, two of which entered the pair of struggling humans through their anuses and exited through their mouths, holding them erect against the pillars, so that they resembled a part of the motif. The Anephal weren’t just enjoying gratuitous violence. They actually appeared to be worshipping some sort of monstrous abomination.

Horror filled the heart of Bawepat, and he reflexively vomited, choking on his rising bile. One of the Anephal heard him, and looked into the hole in the wall from inside. The brute saw Bawepat and began to bellow something in it’s own language. Bawepat could not understand the words, but he had a good idea of what they must mean. He moved to run, forgetting that he was perched on a stone, and fell to the ground hard, twisting his ankle in the process. He could hear several of the Anephal passing through the exit on the opposite side of the arena, bellowing at each other. He scrambled to his feet in terror, and frantically limped away, desperate to find a place to hide.

By some miracle, he made his way out of the complex without being seen. He hoped that his good fortune would hold long enough to make it down the mountainside, as he lurched from the shelter of one rock outcropping to another, crouching and looking back to make sure the Anephal still had not seen him as he did so. He felt that he would be safe if could only reach the valley that served as unofficial border between the home of the Anephal, and the road which led down to the plains where the Atrissua villages were. Unfortunately, just as Bawepat crossed an open space between two great boulders, he heard a roar from up the mountain. The Anephal had spotted him. He had put a lot of distance between them, but they would close that distance much quicker than he would be able to get to the valley.

Bawepat needed to hide, quickly. He scrambled up into the rocks, away from obvious paths, casting about for a cave, or an overhang, anything that he might get inside so that his pursuers might overlook him. After several minutes, he saw something odd in the near distance. There was a small shrine, alone, in the shadow of the rocks and just barely visible. Bawepat could hear the Anephal closing in on him, and swiftly decided to go to the shrine. As he entered the shadows, a foreboding seeped into his bones. It was a feeling not unlike his revulsion at the sight of the Anephal’s blasphemous god, but Bawepat was desperate. He approached the shrine slowly, looking it over. It seemed to be constructed from acacia branches, bound together with lashings, and coated with something that resembled pitch. The over all effect gave the little building a gnarled and grotesque appearance. There was a single door, and carved into it’s surface there was a strange symbol, which gave Bawepat the impression of an eye that was staring into his very soul.

Suddenly, his revery was shattered by the sound of the Anephal’s bellowing. He turned and saw a trio of the brutes standing upon the rocks, looking down at him, close enough that he could see their faces. By the gods, they were hideous. It wasn’t just the ways in which their visages differed from his own that gave Bawepat an unsettling feeling, but the ways in which they were the same, almost but not quite right. They were slowly coming toward him, bit by bit. They seemed wary of the shrine. Perhaps it was not theirs. Certainly, it was of a vastly different design than the buildings in the arena complex. Maybe, Bawepat reasoned, they would not approach the shrine. Maybe he would be safe from them inside.

No sooner had the thought formed in his head, than the door of the shrine swung open. Bawepat saw only darkness inside, and an odor, like truffles, wafted out. As he peered deeper, a small green light appeared, as though at a great distance. He looked back at the Anephal, and they had stopped coming toward him, seeming to be disconcerted by what they were witnessing. Bawepat sneered at them, walking backward into the shrine, pulling the door closed behind him. He stood, panting, his hands resting on the door, listening intently for any sound from outside. He stayed that way for a long time. He heard nothing. The Anephal brutes did not follow him.

Slowly, Bawepat became aware of another presence, something that was behind him, and all around. For some reason that he could not have articulated, he was loathe to face what he could only imagine was some dark, forgotten god. Black, slimy tendrils crept around his legs and gently grasped his shoulders. He began to shake uncontrollably as fear gripped his heart. What had he been thinking, to choose the unknown that even the Anephal had feared? But it was too late now. The black tendrils engulfed him, and drew him into the bosom of the shrine.

The Curious Corpse

When Pretorius Dark’s Carnival of Curiosities rolled into town, it brought with it an old familiar face, though that face was somewhat diminished by time and the dessicating effects of arsenic preservation. This was no trouble, however, since the vast majority of the carnival goers had not yet been born when last the macabre visitor had graced their streets with his presence. Indeed, their grandparents would still have been in the throes of puberty in those long gone days.

They had, as their grandchildren would, pressed as close to the glass case as the velvet rope would allow, peering intently at the mummified man who had reportedly assassinated the President of the United States.

Some watched to see if the mummy would breathe, others demanded to know why it was called a mummy when it had no bandages, some adults claimed to recognize John Wilkes Booth, but Reverend Stanis declared the body to be an errant fraud made of wax. Indeed, the fiery Reverend declared the carnival itself to be a den of devils, accusing the proprietor, Pretorius Dark, of being Satan himself in mean disguise, come to pervert the souls of the citizens. Admittedly, Mister Dark did somewhat look the part in his cape and wide top hat, his waxy and barely moving face, and his long reddish hair sticking out like dry straw. But the citizens didn’t buy it. They were used to the preacher’s outbursts, since there wasn’t much in town that he hadn’t sworn was of the devil over the years. From Nick’s Old English Pub, to The Scratch Pool Hall, the Ritz Cinema, the Country Club, and the Hidey Hole Gentlemen’s Lounge, all had felt the heat from Reverend Stanis and his Church of Divine Wrath. The congregation had been determined to remove every bit of entertainment that might be competition for the church. Only the Hidey Hole had succumbed in all the years that the church continued it’s puritanical mission.

The mummy of John Wilkes Booth, if the specimen on exhibit was indeed the same body, had recently returned to the carnival circuit after decades of banishment. No one could say where it had been for all those years, or perhaps those who knew just didn’t want anyone else to know. Surprisingly, it was drawing a much larger crowd than it ever had on it’s first tour of the country.

The Dark Carnival remained in the fairgrounds for the week leading into Halloween, a perfect time for leering at a corpse. There were many who came early on, and then visited again later in the week, but most people waited for the weekend, so it was the Saturday just before Halloween when the largest throng gathered at the tent containing the mummy of John Wilkes Booth. Hundreds came and went, each with their own ideas about the mummy’s authenticity. None of them noticed the small boy who slipped in with one of the first groups, and didn’t leave the tent all day. He was able to hide underneath the cloth that covered a crate which had been turned on it’s side as a makeshift pedestal for a display case of artifacts that had supposedly belonged to the deceased Mister Booth on the last day he drew breath in the mortal world.

When the evening was spent, and the last carnival goers were making their way to the exit, the boy roused himself and stood looking at the objects that had been over his head for many hours. He chewed his lip in consternation while examining a disk of black stone. That was how Mister Dark found him when he entered the tent to extinguish the single light which illuminated the interior.

“Well, well, what have we here?” asked Mister Dark in a vaguely menacing tone. “I thought all of our customers had seen all they cared to see of John. I trust that you have paid the fee, son?”

“What a laugh,” replied the boy without turning to look at his inquisitor. “I’ve paid more than you’ll ever know.”

“Indeed!” retorted Mister Dark. “How extraordinary. Would you care to enlighten me?” The menacing tone had quickly given way to one of plaintive curiosity.

“No” said the boy. “Do you know this is wrong?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The spirit mirror. It’s the wrong one.”

“The wrong one? Whatever do you mean, child?”

“I mean it’s not – his. It’s a different one.”

“And just how would you know that?”

“I just do, that’s all. If it was the right one, it would have his initials carved on the handle tab there, and a symbol like a sideways number eight.”

“Gracious me, aren’t you the perspicacious one? Perhaps we’ve inadvertently switched it out with the one that belonged to John Dee. These things can happen from time to time. But what I’m wondering now is, however do you, a young child, know these things?” Mister Dark’s eyes narrowed with increasing suspicion as he peered at the boy.

“Nevermind,” the boy muttered. “It probably wouldn’t work again anyway.”

“What wouldn’t work? Tell me your name, child.”

“My name,” the boy replied wearily, as his shoulders sagged, “might be John, or George, or David, I can’t remember anymore.”

“What a remarkably unlikely answer. You appear to be much too young for such heavy thoughts.”

“Perhaps I’m an old soul.”

“Indeed?”

Mister Dark reached out his hand toward the boy, intending to grasp his shoulder. The boy suddenly darted out through the tent exit, and Mister Dark chased after him into the fairgrounds. The boy was too quick to be caught, swiftly disappearing into the night, and Mister Dark shuffled back toward the mummy’s tent, hands clasped behind his cape, head down, pondering. His curiosity was well piqued at this point. He sensed an opportunity to exploit, if only he could decipher the clues in the speech of that odd boy. Abruptly his attention was diverted to sounds coming from the tent. There was a loud thump, and the voices of at least two people, arguing. Were the carnies taking down the displays in there? Normally they would wait until daybreak, at least. He quickened his pace to investigate, momentarily forgetting about the boy. As he approached the tent, he could hear the words being spoken by whomever was inside.

A rather sonorous voice said, “Even with the legs cut off, I don’t think he’ll fit in the bag. We’d better get the arms and head off as well.”

A high pitched, scratchy sort of voice replied, “Well then you take this damned saw and you do it.”

“All right, Mister Grumpypants, hand it over.”

“Here. I still can’t believe I’m going to all of this trouble for a bit of mellified sweets, especially when your recipe probably won’t even work.”

Sawing sounds were now audible, and the sonorous voice responded. “What makes you think it won’t work? I’ve got thirty gallons of honey back at the shack. It should work just fine.”

“No,” screeched the other. “I’ve read up on this, in my studies. You’re supposed to feed the honey to the victim while he’s still alive. This man has been dead for half a century!”

“Oh, is that all? Don’t worry about it. The honey I’ve got is meat honey, from carnivorous bees.”

“What? That’s ridiculous! What difference does that-” the voice trailed off as Mister Dark burst into the tent.

“What the Hell is going on in-” Mister Dark failed to finish his loud outburst as his eyes beheld the two characters in the tent. The first gave him the immediate impression of a scabby sort of black squid crossed with a star nosed mole, and the second was a very tall man decked out in voodoo paraphernalia reminiscent of Papa Legba or Baron Samedi. There was a moment of quiet tension as they all regarded each other. The moment was broken when John Wilkes Booth’s head, a bone saw halfway through his neck, snapped off and fell into the patchwork sack being held open by the squid like person. Mister Dark’s eyes followed the head as it disappeared, and then he roared, “Thieves!”

He produced a whistle from his belt and began to blow it vigorously. Voices rang out from across the fairgrounds as carnies rushed to his aid. The two corpse thieves grabbed their sack and bolted from the tent. They had managed to remove both legs, the left arm, and the head from the mummy. Mister Dark stared at the ruined remains in disbelief, and mounting fury. One of the carnies entered the tent in a rush.

“I haven’t seen anyone strange, boss. What happened?”

Mister Dark gestured at what was left of the mummy, and gave the carny a description of the thieves. The carny, a portly fellow with light hair and dark wells beneath his eyes, still wearing a red jacket with tails, ran out to spread the word amongst the other carnies. Mister Dark began to clean up the tent, desultorily. Then, he remembered the boy. Of course, the boy, who had distracted his attention while the strange burglars plied their gruesome trade. Obviously he was a part of the plot! All that strange talk was just an act, a script written by his older partners. It had to be so.

A bell began ringing outside, and Mister Dark went out to investigate. Someone had heard noises coming from one of the storage wagons, and had discovered an intruder rummaging through one of the trunks. The carnies had shut and locked the door, posting guards outside. Mister Dark arrived with fire in his eyes, imagining the unholy vengeance he would wreak upon the bodies of the thieves that had destroyed one of his most valuable exhibits. But when the door was opened, it was only the boy, seated on the floor and sobbing uncontrollably.

“Well, John, or George, or David,” Mister Dark raged, “your monstrous cohorts may have escaped, but we have you, and you will pay dearly for their crime!”

At that the boy began wailing, in a manner most unlike the confident detachment of their earlier conversation. He hardly seemed like the same boy at all. This, thought Mister Dark, was all the more proof that the boy had been reciting some script to beguile him then. He grabbed the boy by his collar and hoisted him up to look into his eyes.

“Now then,” he said menacingly, “Who in the unholy fires of Hell are you, really?”

The terrified boy looked at him through tear filled eyes and whimpered, “My name is Josiah Harkin. I don’t know where I am. Can you help me find my daddy?”

“Ha! If your daddy is one of those villains who cut up my mummy, I’ll do more than find him, I’ll stretch his neck for him as well!”

The boy looked confused. It dawned on Mister Dark that Josiah might not actually know what he was talking about. He recalled some bit of news from one of the small towns that his carnival had passed through to the north. It seemed that name, Harkin, was attached in some way to the unfortunate mummy of John Wilkes Booth, but in the moment Mister Dark was not able to recall the connection.

“Did you say Josiah Harkin? Are you from a town called Wheatfield?”

The boy nodded as best he could, eyes wide.

“Yes, that’s where I live, mister. I want to go home.”

“Oh for pity’s sake,” growled Mister Dark as he dropped the boy to the floor. He sat down heavily on the trunk in which the boy had been rummaging. “What were you looking for in here?” he demanded.

“I don’t know. I don’t think I was.”

“Really. And I’m expected to believe you, I suppose?”

Josiah shrugged. “I don’t know where I am. I was in a field with my daddy, and he was digging up a box. I wasn’t to touch what was in the box, but I did, and now I’m here, and I just want to go home. Please can I go home?”

Mister Dark noticed something on the floor, amongst scattered fliers and fished it out. It was the black stone disk that was supposed to be in the mummy exhibit. There was a bit of burned paper adhesed to it’s surface with candle wax.

“Does this look familiar, Josiah?”

“Yes sir, that looks like the thing that was in daddy’s box. I’m sorry that I touched it.”

“Well, I will be damned again,” Mister Dark muttered to himself. “No wonder the blasted thing would never work for me. I don’t have the right mate to it.”

“What is it?”

“Eh? This is a bit of ancient occult technology, fetched out of an ancient Aztec treasure hoard. Very useful, under the right conditions. I got it with the affects of my late mummified man, John. Someone has used it recently.” He looked accusingly at Josiah, who ducked his head and shook. “Your mother was ill recently, wasn’t she, boy? Or someone else in the family? A friend, maybe?”

Josiah nodded. “Mommy had the fever. A doctor came and said nothing could be done. That’s why daddy wanted the box, I think.”

“That fits,” Mister Dark said, sighing deeply as he rubbed his temples. He sat, deep in thought, as Josiah stared at him.

“Mister,” Josiah said, breaking the silence. “Can I go home now?”

Mister Dark looked at the miserable child as though for the first time. “Right,” he sighed. “That. Boy, hand me one of those newspapers over there.”He gestured to a pile of old papers tied up with twine in the corner of the wagon, and Josiah obediently went over to fetch one. As Josiah wrestled with the knot, Mister Dark began removing various bits of brass machinery from the many pockets of his costume. The overall impression one might get from the odd arrangement of parts could be of a brass sextant that had been exploded into all of it’s discrete bits, but as Mister Dark began fitting the pieces together, it took an altogether different form. There was a sort of platform with a frame, and spindly armatures arching above, with a multitude of knobs and levers attached to these at intervals. Josiah brought the newspaper to Mister Dark, and looked at the contraption in wonder.

“What’s it for?” he asked.

“I’m going to check on your parents,” replied Mister Dark, as he took the paper and laid it into the frame. Reaching back into his cape, he produced a large crystal lens, and fitted it to the armature assembly. He then took out a candle and a match. He struck the match on the bottom of his shoe while muttering an incantation, then lit the candle as he intoned, “to see, by me, for thee, agree, alee, alee, oxenfree.” He then handed the lit candle to Josiah and bid him to stand in a certain spot. That being accomplished, Mister Dark peered through the lens at the paper, muttering incoherently. At length he stopped his muttering, raised his head with as dour an expression as his waxy face could hold, and blew out the candle. He then proceeded to dismantle and put away his apparatus, in silence, as Josiah nervously watched. When the last piece was put away, Mister Dark straightened his waistcoat and spoke in a subdued tone. “Josiah, I have some bad news. It seems that your mother did not recover from the fever. Tragically, your father was imprisoned for mishandling her body. It doesn’t appear likely that you will see him again for many years.”

At that, the boy began weeping uncontrollably. Mister Dark let him cry it out. He was getting an idea.

“Josiah. You appear to have no place to go. No home to return to. I can give you a place. You would have to work, of course. And help the other carnies. But you would have a place to sleep, a roof over your head, and food in your belly. Think about it. We pull up stakes tomorrow.”

He placed Josiah in the care of two of the young lady carnies, with instructions to feed him with hot sausages, popcorn, cotton candy, toasted peanuts, and whatever else he wanted. He knew that Josiah couldn’t help but choose to live in the carnival. It was his best option, and it wouldn’t take long for him to realize that. This could work out well for Mister Dark, to have a new apprentice, already touched by the occult. It was good to have options.

http://www.granburydepot.org/z/biog/BoothJohnWilkesOnTour.htm

Rachel and the Corn Maiden

The idol of the Corn Maiden was the most exquisite piece of stone statuary that Rachel had ever seen come through her gallery. She couldn’t pull her eyes away from the fine details of feathers in the outstretched wings, the delicate look of the tiny folds of cloth in the dress, the proud look of defiance on her upturned face, and the long, windswept hair. What moved her the most was the dynamic posture, and gesture of the arms, which spoke to her of longing, loss, and the will to overcome every challenge. She could understand the impulse to worship at the feet of such a goddess, as she was overcome with awe herself.

Her gaze lingered on the implements held in the idol’s hands. They were not a part of the same block of stone from which the Corn Maiden herself had been carved, but were fashioned from chert, leather, river stones, and pine sap. The right hand thrust upward a chipped blade of pink chert, the handle wrapped in thongs of deerskin leather, the loose ends of which terminated in attached, bright red, circular stones, through holes in their centers. The legend claimed that this mystical weapon had been fashioned by spirits of the underworld, given as a gift to the goddess of corn. The left hand held aside and away from the forward thrusting hips a wreath of ears of corn. The husks of each cob were made from dyed deer leather, while each ear had been painstakingly crafted with small quartz pebbles and pine sap attached to what may have been real corn cobs. Rachel marveled at the shape of these artifacts, which bore little resemblance to the sort of corn a modern person might purchase at a grocery store. These were rounder, and comparatively smaller. A large man might grasp the entirety of a single ear in a closed hand.

After admiring the work for a long time, she turned her attention to the accompanying letter that the owner of the statue had sent along with it. The letter extended the owner’s gratitude for including the piece in the upcoming show, citing some vague financial difficulty as the reason for parting with the idol. There was also an apology for the lack of provenance for the idol. It was obviously not as ancient as it’s indigenous subject matter, being more heavily influenced by Renaissance art than First Nations depictions of their own iconography. The artist was completely unknown, but there was a description of the statue included in the records of a frontier town from the late 16th century. Rachel judged it possible that the implements in the statue’s hands were actually much older, perhaps authentic First Nations relics, but she wasn’t going to admit to that out loud, for legal reasons. This commission could be worth quite a lot of money, and that was her priority.

Her cellphone rang, interrupting her train of thought, the ringtone a snippet of music from the song Money by Ivy Levan. She let it go for a few seconds before answering. It was her fiance, Daniel, calling to remind her that they had a reservation at a new hip restaurant. She smiled. This was someplace where she definitely wanted to be seen, and Daniel was someone she enjoyed being seen with. He was just two inches taller than she was, at six feet tall, and classically handsome. He had always dressed well, and she had taught him how to dress to impress. She told people that he was a former martial arts instructor, which was technically true, although when they met he had been an aerobics instructor in the same building where she had her first studio. Her favorite attribute of his was his ability to shut up, look pretty, and let her schmooze, which had always been her greatest strength.

They met at the restaurant, before going inside. She was right on time, and he was already there, waiting. This was how she liked it, and one of the many ways in which she pulled his strings, such as demanding that he limit his stride to match her shorter legs, walk on the side of the street so that any out of control car would hit him first, or pull her chair out for her at restaurants, even if she was wearing pants. This evening she was wearing a chartreuse A line dress that she had had custom made, with ridiculous sequined opera gloves and kitten heels. A tiny matching hat that perched at a jaunty angle in the wave of her dark chestnut updo completed the ensemble. She had him wear his best modern tuxedo, with a tie that matched her dress. The color brought out the green in both their eyes, although she disliked the muddiness of her own natural irises, and elected to wear colored contacts that almost matched the clear emerald of his. She also wore a pair of cat’s eye reading glasses on top of this, just for the effect.

As they were shown to their table on the veranda, she made a point of smiling and discretely waving to every important or wealthy person that she recognized, even if she had never met them. The music was upbeat and contemporary, played by a live band, and the decor was expensive but not stuffy. Rachel approved, since this was a good environment for her to make money. Daniel leaned toward her over their menus and asked how her new commission was going.

She replied, “Not now, pet. I need to make a round of the bar, and then powder my nose. When the waiter comes, order for me whatever chicken dish is most expensive, with a glass of wine. You know which ones I like.”

He assented with a nod, and that curiously whimsical expression that she had never quite been able to decipher. She floated across the dining room to the bar, making a carefully calculated, low key spectacle, appropriately eccentric for her profession. Twenty minutes later she began her return to the table, balancing a ridiculously fruity martini in one hand, pinched by the stem between her thumb and forefinger. As she approached the dining area, she thought she caught a glimpse of her friend, Kortney, walking through from the front door. Sure enough, the elegant blonde silph approached the table where Daniel sat, and he rose to greet her. Just as Rachel was considering how disruptive it would be to call out to her, Kortney threw herself into Daniel’s arms and kissed him full on the mouth. To Rachel’s further astonishment, Daniel kissed her back. Rachel kept walking toward them, unheeding of the sticky sweet beverage she was spilling on the floor. She came to within a few feet of the table, and stopped. Her fiance and her friend did not notice her presence. She dropped the martini glass and it shattered on the floor. Now the two looked up at her, expectantly, startled but somehow unabashed. Daniel flashed her that whimsical look. Kortney straightened her spine and looked at Rachel directly, with a hint of defiance. Rachel was furious. She did not know what circumstances had led to their revelation of the affair in this public manner, nor did she care. The tower was toppled, and there was no undoing it. How could they do this to her, here in the restaurant where all of her potential clients could see her humiliation?

She fled the restaurant in a rage. She drove to her gallery without thinking, driven by some unconscious desire to avoid her fiance if he returned to their apartment. She found herself standing in front of the Corn Maiden, seething in her wrath. She began pacing in a frenzy.

“How do I get them?” Rachel asked the statue, though really talking to herself. “How do I make them pay for this shit? Because they are not gonna get away it! Oh no, not after doing…That! To my reputation!”

Scalding hot tears of anger began to flow down her cheeks. She stopped in front of the idol and stared up at the stone woman’s chin. “You’re supposed to be some kind of goddess, aren’t you? Do you grant wishes, or answer prayers, or whatever? Do you? Because I know what I would ask for, oh boy do I know! I want him dead, slowly and painfully. And her! I want her to suffer for the rest of her natural life! And when she suffers, I want her to know that it’s because of what she did to me, what she stole from me!”

At last, Rachel collapsed into one of her stylish but barely comfortable accent chairs and slumped back against the slim cushion. She was spent, weeping softly in self pity. She fell asleep there, and she dreamed. It seemed that her spirit had left her body. She was drifting through fog in a dark space. Rows of corn grew up around her. She followed the rows in rounded circuits toward the center of the dark field. Flickering flames illuminated something in the distance, and she drifted toward it. Sounds began to emanate from the lighted space, a low rhythmic chanting. As she drew near to the light, the canters came into view. They were dozens of naked men and women, holding lit torches, decorated with paint on sun browned skin, hands reaching toward the corn goddess, alive and warm, her wings moving slowly, her eyes cast down upon the fawning throng with compassion. Rachel found that she could understand the meaning of the words being chanted.

Beautiful Kokomo speak to us, Kokomo whisper in our ears, come close, Kokomo, we will cast out fear, We cry out for you Kokomo Kokomo, give us food from your elbows, give us nectar from your knees, embraced with ecstasy, in your serpent squeeze, Kokomo Kokomo, we heard what you have told, we heard what you have said, we will not be angry, we will not go mad, Kokomo our beloved, Kokomo our most adored, We cry out for you, Kokomo'thena our doom  

The crowd parted to let Rachel approach their goddess. Kokomo’thena looked down at her with glowing green eyes and smiled beatifically, and Rachel had a wrenching, squeezing sensation deep inside her chest. Tears flowed, forming a pool around her, and she fell to her knees in the water, sobbing.

Morning came, as it will, and Rachel awoke as daylight pierced the glass doors of the gallery lobby. She remembered the dream, but vaguely. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs to their full capacity, as a feeling of power and purpose welled up within her. She decided to go home to change and freshen up, and face her cheating fiance, if he dared to be there. Either way, she would be continuing on with her life without him.

He was there. The nerve! He met her at the door, and wanted to talk, not to explain himself or beg her for a second chance, but to discuss “breakup stuff”. Ugh. Rachel moved past him into the kitchenette without responding. The cold shoulder was her signature move when she was upset, another power play in her extensive repertoire. She opened the refrigerator, intending to retrieve a bottle of wine she had been chilling. Instead, her hand closed on an amber bottle that she didn’t recognize. She took off the cap and sniffed the contents. It seemed to be some sort of chocolate infused corn liquor. Repellent. Was this something that Kortney had left here? Rachel considered hurling the bottle at Daniel’s head. Instead, she sucked as much of the liquid into her mouth as she could, and then spit into his yammering face in a single slow stream. He spluttered and cursed her for being a crazy bitch, but she just started laughing. Her laughter increased in intensity until it became a mad cacophony. He became alarmed, and fled the apartment, grabbing a large duffel bag filled with his things on the way out of the door.
She felt exhilarated, and rode that high through to her exhibition. She did hear some gossip from someone in her circle that Daniel had developed an odd infection that marred his handsome face. She had laughed and said that it served him right, but she didn’t have time to waste thinking about him. She had a show to do. Several offers were made for the idol of the Corn Maiden, including one very strange proposition from a pair of odd gentlemen in vintage clothing, who offered a pair of exquisitely scrimshawed femurs from a “manitou.” She declined all offers, not feeling inclined to part with the statue just yet. Curiously, the client did not contact her to inquire about the show, so she didn’t have to come up with any excuses. All of her other pieces, however, were sold, and she made the most profit from a single show in her career. It had been a great success.
Hours later, she was standing alone in the mostly empty gallery, gazing up at the face of the idol in a hypnotic reverie. This was how Kortney and Daniel found her. Kortney was raving at her about sexually transmitted diseases, but Daniel couldn’t even speak through the large, slimy, black tumors that covered his face and trailed down his throat. When Rachel saw them together in this state, she had another paroxysm of mad laughter.
“Well! What do you losers want?” she demanded. “Can’t you see that I’m busy?”
“You bitch!” screamed Kortney, as she lunged at Rachel and grabbed her by the hair. Rachel pushed her to the ground, and suddenly found the chert blade in her hand. She pushed the blade to her former friend’s throat.
“What do you say, Kortney? Want to have your hide flayed from your corpse like a corn husk?” Kortney crumpled into the fetal position, and began weeping uncontrollably. Then Rachel turned her attention to Daniel, who seemed transfixed in anguish. Thick drool dribbled from the corner of his disfigured lips.
“How about you, pretty boy? Want me to cut those disgusting things off of you?” she taunted him as she thrust the blade against his crotch, tearing the expensive jeans she had bought for him.
He started making a gurgling sound, and black fluid bubbled up from his lungs, pouring down his chin. She screamed, a feral sound, and chopped ferociously at his face with the blade. Chunks of black fleshy matter spattered around them, with gelid gobbets of black ooze. Daniel collapsed, and his breathing rasped to a stop.
Rachel rounded back on Kortney, cackling. Kortney remained where she had fallen, frozen in shock. Rachel let her lie there, and returned her attention to Kokomo’thena. The chant from her dream rose in her mind, and she gave it voice, low and soft. The statue’s eyes glowed green, and it began to move, with fluid grace. Rachel handed the blade to the goddess, who took it from her, and placed the wreath of corn around Rachel’s neck.
Just then, the gallery began to vibrate, and a door appeared on the wall where no door had previously been. Made of some dark wood, rough and worn, it looked preposterously alien in the gallery, as though it were an avante gard installation piece comparing urban bleakness with rural squalor. The door swung open, proving it was no work of art. A greenish glow spilled sickly across the floor, broken by the lurching shadows of emerging figures. Rachel was astonished to see the two strange gentlemen from earlier in the evening, though now they seemed monstrous.
The two men, or creatures, laid hold of the idol of the Corn Maiden, pulling and pushing, sliding it across the floor to the open door. Rachel called out in panicked protest, but was ignored. She watched in helpless confusion as the Corn Maiden disappeared from her sight. As a final act before their departure, the pair of monstrous gentlemen tossed a bundle, wrapped in burlap, at Rachel’s feet. The door vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared, seeming to disassemble itself and melt into the shadows. Rachel picked up the burlap bundle, and unwrapped it’s contents, discovering the scrimshaw pieces. She had forgotten about them. She stood in the gallery, with her dead ex lover and her traumatized friend, wondering how much money her new acquisitions would command at an exhibition.

The Blanket of Protection

I have touched the door of the shack at the Nexus of Here and There, and now I am caught in the eddies of it’s fate. I have these dreams. Nightmares. There is always this cityscape in the background, dark, and writhing as if with a life of it’s own. Something within it reaches for me, calling seductively. Sometimes the dream follows me into the waking world. I see things in the corner of my vision. Grotesque things that disappear when I look directly at them. And that isn’t all. The creatures of the nexus follow me everywhere, always looking for a way to get at me. God only knows what they would do to me if they ever got their claws on me. It won’t happen, though. I am protected.

My Grammy was a braucher, or powwower, a kind of white witch, and when I was born she made me a special blanket. A blanket of protection. The cloth is blue, with a field of stars around a white lamb bordered by roosters and flowers. She made it large enough that I used it as it was until I was five years old. After that she added to it every year, to make it big enough. She kept doing that until I was sixteen. When I was little, she explained the symbolism of the pictures, and told me the blanket could protect me from all evil, if I believed. I have kept that blanket all these years, and it works. I always sleep with it. It keeps the monsters at bay.

There is more. I’ve been studying Grammy’s little book, and learning to make my own items of protection and power. I am always wearing something with the symbols of the stars and the rooster. I considered getting a tattoo, but Grammy’s book suggests that it is forbidden, and could have an opposite effect.

So, I content myself with the articles of clothing that I’ve made with my symbols. So far, it works. I can live my life more or less normally. But, I’m still having the nightmares. And, I want that to stop. Several nights ago, one of the creatures appeared at the foot of my bed. I felt something change in the air and woke up, but just barely. Sleep paralysis had hold of me for what seemed like ages. It was time enough for the creature, a tall man dressed in a black suit with a bone white face and a towering top hat, to creep all the way around my bed, searching for a hand or foot that was not underneath my impenetrable blanket. Fortunately, I was well tucked in, with only my head peeking out at the top end. As the creature approached my face, our eyes met, and I at last freed myself from the paralysis. Swiftly I grabbed the hood I had recently crafted, pulling the black cloth over my exposed face, my eyes peering out from the holes amid a pattern of stars. The creature blinked it’s darkly shining eyes as I vanished from it’s sight. To him, I was now invisible. I watched with grim satisfaction as it slumped with disappointment and slowly left through the open closet door.

All day today, I have had the feeling that something would be coming for me again tonight, at the witching hour. But I am ready. I’ve been working on something new, something that was not in Grammy’s little book. It came to me in a dream, like a gift from some benevolent spirit. I have made a lantern that will serve as a weapon against the dark denizens of the shack. It looks much like an ordinary camping lantern on the outside, but it is modified to project my symbols of protection with blinding white light, and will ignite instantly at my touch. My blanket of protection will now have a blanket of light added to it. Let those monsters try to take me, let the shack continue to hunger. I am ready. Let them come.

What Lives In The Caves

What Lives In The Caves

Not too many folks are aware of the fact that a large portion of unexplained disappearances happen in United States National and state parks, close to unexplored cave systems. It is a fascinating mystery that had long held the attention of my friends and I, so after years of speculation, theorizing, and discussion, at a dinner party, we finally made the fateful decision to investigate the phenomenon for ourselves. We watched videos on spelunking, researched and purchased waterproof infrared camera gear, collected all the right equipment, and treated it as a serious expedition. We selected our site based on proximity to our own town, and on the number of disappearances. It turned out that there was a perfect location in a state forestry that overlapped the county reservoir, about ten miles away.
We all had our pet theories that we wanted to prove. Josh was sure that it was a population of black panthers that had taken to living in the caves that would turn out to be responsible for the local disappearances, while Rudy was certain we would find evidence of reptilian humanoids behind nation wide abductions, and Pat insisted that the answer had to be related to the legend of the lost continent of Lemuria. I was the sceptic of our group, and felt positively that if we found anything at all, it would merely be the remains of unfortunate people who fell victim to predictable natural phenomenon through ignorance and lack of preparation. We would all learn the true depths of our own ignorance by the end of that trip.
Our entrance to the cave system was in a small abandoned quarry near the reservoir. We had to remove an old wooden barricade that had been put in place to entirely block the hole way back when the reservoir was first constructed. With all of us working, it took the better part of an hour just to get inside. We thought we were lucky that no one showed up to stop us. We would have been better off if they had.
The cave was small and tight, so that we had to proceed single file, with our heads ducked down, as we proceeded down a winding corridor for several miles. A few times the corridor opened up into small rooms, though nothing we could call a cavern. Usually this happened right where the direction of the corridor changed, and there would be smaller, tighter spaces, that led off in other directions. We chose to follow only the largest corridor, and as our larger equipment would need to be left behind, we didn’t want to split up to explore the narrow crannies on this trip. That might have been our only smart decision.
After a few hours in the caves, we began to see signs that we were not the first people to be there.
There were characters that might have been writing, though not in English, etched on some of the walls. Pat found an ancient pitch pot and charred torch that he got really excited about.
Some areas of corridor entrances were purposely widened by someone with tools, and worn smooth as though by the passage of many bodies rubbing against them. Excited by our finds, we pressed on. Looking back, I think those symbols were probably someone’s attempt to warn others to turn back.
Eventually, we exited a corridor into a fairly large cavern. You could have fit a large, two story house inside of it comfortably, with room for a large lawn, a garden, and a two car garage. The cavern was different from the corridors in that while they were mostly dry, the cavern was damp, and dank. One of the first things we noticed was the smell, which was both acrid and sweet, like rotting chrysanthemums. There was also a barely perceptible gurgling sound, as of the movement of some thick liquid. Here is where we decided to set up the larger pieces of equipment that we had been hauling with us. The main camera and tripod, two spotlights, infrared light, and light stands, we arranged in a half hemisphere aimed into the center of the cavern. And then, with our smaller cameras still running, we each walked out in a separate direction to explore.
Twenty minutes later, I heard Pat whooping with glee. He had reached the Eastern wall of the cavern, where he had found something that amazed him. We all made our way over to him, cutting through the center of the cavern from our respective positions. We crowded around Pat and shone our lights on his new discovery. Carved directly into the rock was a large alcove, bizarrely shaped like a hut, about ten feet tall, with a steeply pitched roof. Another of the strange symbols was carved into the far wall of the alcove, at a height of about six feet. The floor of the alcove was littered with artifacts. I saw native American stone tools that looked to be from at least as long ago as pre Columbian times, a pair of vintage mining lanterns, heaps of rotted cloth, and many bizarre objects fashioned from wire, animal bones, twine, wooden sticks, and iron nails, which had the look of specialized tools. I couldn’t begin to imagine what those last things were intended to be used for.
After several minutes of general cataloguing and voicing amazement, we decided to search further along the wall, in case there were more alcoves of this sort. That tactic paid off quickly. About fifty feet west there was another opening in the wall, this time only about four feet high, round in shape, and stuffed full of bones, many of which appeared to be human. Rudy got sick at the sight of the human skulls staring eyelessly up at us, and afterwards guessed that we had found out where all the vanished people had gotten to. I pointed out that we didn’t actually know that for a fact. We needed more information. Josh wanted to leave at that point, and I feared that Rudy would soon agree with him. I managed to talk them out of running away, and into staying to investigate further. I wish that I hadn’t.
Another fifty feet to the west we discovered the opening to a sort of antechamber, the far wall of which was covered with large round cave formations, the first such formations that we had seen. They were each about five feet in diameter, a bit egg shaped, and apparently formed from gypsum.
Fifty feet west of that antechamber was another just like it, with more rock formations, this time of various sizes and shapes ranging from spheres that were ten inches in diameter to lozenges ten feet long.
Toward what we took to be the central position of the back wall of the cavern, at the furthest point from the entrance, about a hundred yards from where our main camera was set up and recording, we found something truly terrifying. At first it seemed rather innocuous, although the acrid, sweet smell that permeated the cavern was most pungent in that area. There was a large opening that led down into a low ceilinged adjacent cavern that had many stepped pools and rock formations. At first we thought it was rather beautiful, until we realized that the pools were not filled with water, but with some sort of slimy, black, fungus. This was what was making the smell. We didn’t enter the lower cavern, choosing to view it from the entrance only.
As our lights played over the rock formations and pools of black sludge, some movement caught my eye. Suddenly filled with alarm, I stared intently at the spot where I had seen movement. Now there seemed to only be a few rock formations, but I knew I wasn’t wrong. In a moment my friends noticed the shift in my attention and asked what was wrong. I told them what I had seen, and we all became quiet, holding our breaths and staring into the depths of that cavern. Soon, Josh grabbed my arm and squeezed hard. He had seen something. A moment later, Rudy gave a small yelp as something lurched forward into the light. It was not a man, but it had the shape of a man, roughly. The arms were far too long and thin, terminating in hands that had fingers that were too long in the middle, but too short at the outsides. Also, the legs were too short, with too large feet that appeared webbed. I could not tell if the thing had a neck, as it’s head seamed almost to jut directly forward from between it’s large shoulders, bearing a pair of yellow eyes as large as handballs and a narrow jaw with the gnawing teeth of a rodent, the nose barely more than a hole in the center of it’s face. The flesh of it’s naked body was as pale as a drowned white man’s corpse, and completely hairless except for some thin straggly wisps of coarse black hair on the sides of it’s head.
At that point, I allowed that it was time to leave with as much haste as we could muster. We backed away from the opening, keeping the thing in our sight, until we were several yards away from it, then we turned towards the place where we could see our camera lights, and went in that direction as quickly as possible. About halfway there, in what must have been the dead center of the cavern, we found a new surprise, something we had overlooked earlier.
There was an ancient looking stone altar, about three feet high, with an upper platform at about eye level for a six foot tall man. Mounted on the platform was a crude sculpture of a skull, very like what might have belonged to a creature such as the one we had just run away from. Out of the mouth, eye sockets, and nose hole, there poured long tendrils of the black fungus. It moved, undulating sickeningly, and reached out towards us as if to touch our faces.
We recoiled and started going around, and then we heard noises from behind us; cracking sounds like thin layers of rock breaking and crumbling. I remembered the formations in the antechambers, the similar formations near the fungus pools where we saw the creature, and guessing at what might have been hidden beneath the rock, I broke into a run. My friends followed quickly. I heard Pat scream, and I didn’t even turn to see what had happened. I just called to him to keep up as I ran. I reached the main camera and didn’t stop. I ducked into the corridor entrance and kept going. I could hear my friends behind me panting with the effort of our escape, and I could hear what was behind them, gibbering in high pitched gutteral noises that could never have been human.
It was about two miles before we reached the room with the pitch pot and torch. The creatures seemed to have fallen behind significantly, and we needed to rest and breathe. I noticed that Pat was not with us. I waited a full minute, just breathing, before I pointed out that he was missing. Rudy replied in a hushed raspy voice that the creatures had gotten him in the cavern. My eyes welled with tears, but I couldn’t give voice to the scream that wanted to fill my throat.
After a few more minutes I decided that we needed to press on immediately if we hoped to make good our escape. My friends numbly agreed and followed me into the next corridor. The walls seemed tighter than they had been on the way in, as though the stone itself wanted to trap us there.
We made it all the way to the next room before stopping to rest again. This time it was more than a few minutes. We hadn’t heard any of the creatures following us in about an hour. I thought that they might not normally come out so far from the cavern, since this corridor had been sealed off from the surface for decades. In this particular room there were several of the smaller crevices that led into different parts of the cave system, all of them too small for the creatures to squeeze through. But after a while I heard a sound, which seemed to come from all around us. It was that same wet gurgling I had heard before, in the cavern, and the image of those moving tendrils of fungus on the altar filled my mind. I told my friends it was time to go, and lunged into the next corridor. I heard Josh and Rudy scream, and this time I turned, just in time to see black tendrils engulf their bodies, and more of them reaching for me. I scrambled away as fast as I could, and kept going without stopping to rest for all the remaining miles of the corridor, until I reached the surface again. It was the middle of the night. I lurched to my truck, got inside quickly, found the key, started the engine, and positioned it so that the headlights pointed at the entrance. I waited until sunrise to see if my friends, or anything else, would emerge. I saw nothing.
And now I am writing this testimony, as much a warning as an explanation of what happened to my friends. Stay out of the caves. Stay out of all of the caves, everywhere. What lives down there is not for us to meddle with. Just stay away.

The Hellbender Princess

The Hellbender Princess

If you take Graddy road from the Twin Swamps area at night, out to where Hovey Bayou spills into the Ohio River, there’s an unnamed dirt path that will take you out to the place along the water where you can watch the Hellbenders splash around in the moonlight. Usually a hellbender salamander only grows to a length of less than three and a half feet long, including the tail, but for some reason, in that particular bend of the river, that specific tribe of Hellbenders grows to twice that size, or more. They’re a little different from the rest of their kind in other ways as well. They have a ridge on their heads that runs down from the forehead and terminates in a round white bump just below their eyes, giving the impression of a nose, even though their actual nostrils are somewhat further down the face. Also, their lower jaw comes out further and has full lips that are uncannily reminiscent of human lips. Their limbs, too, are odd, being longer and more muscular than one might expect from a salamander. Their skin, which on the average hellbender ranges from dull brown to reddish black, has a certain purplish sheen to it.
Jaxon Mason Wilson liked to spend his Saturday nights down by the water’s edge, watching what he privately called the Hellbenders’ Ball, because he thought that it looked like the giant salamanders were dancing in the water. As far as he knew he was the only person who was aware of this spectacular phenomenon, and he kept it to himself. He didn’t want anyone else going down there and maybe destroying something so beautiful. He also enjoyed the fact that whenever the Hellbenders were out there splashing around, several catfish would beach themselves nearby. Jaxon would bring a bucket with him, scoop up whatever fish he could find flopping on the shoreline, and take them home for supper. He would always leave an open bottle of beer on the shore, as a sort of thank you to the Hellbenders. He had no idea if the salamanders liked beer, but the bottles were always gone the next time he visited.
One summer night, Jaxon forgot to leave a bottle of beer, and being just a little superstitious about it, turned back to complete his customary act of gratitude. As he got near to his usual spot, he caught sight of what he thought was another person, standing by the water’s edge, looking around at the ground as if searching for something. At first, he thought he was looking at a girl, five and half feet tall and shapely, wearing a long skirt, but the light shifted and he realized that it was one of the Hellbenders, standing on it’s hind legs. The skirt was just the thing’s tail. It looked at him with wide eyes, snapped it’s jaws a few times, then turned and dove back into the water. Jaxon stared after it until the ripples faded in the water, then he put his beer where he always did, and went home.
He stayed away the next weekend. Finding out that the Hellbenders could come out of the water and stand up like a person had spooked him a bit. But by the following weekend he had gotten over it, and took an extra beer along to make up for his absence. This time he placed two open bottles on the ground before sitting down on his upturned bucket. He watched the Hellbenders splashing around like always, but this time something was different. After several minutes, one of them stopped splashing, and looked over at Jaxon. Then, slowly and cautiously, it swam to the shoreline. Jaxon watched in complete fascination. He wondered if this was the same one he had seen on the shore before, and if it would come out again this time. He looked down into it’s big, black, limpid eyes, and impulsively said hello. Suddenly all of the splashing stopped, and every Hellbender’s head was bent toward Jaxon. He realized that he had never before used his voice in this place. The Hellbenders might never have heard a human voice before. They, while still gazing in his direction, all began making a sort of barking sound, similar to the calls of some frogs. Not understanding what was going on, Jaxon became very worried, and left. This time he did not even remember to take his bucket with him.
He returned again the following weekend, though somewhat more cautiously. His curiosity was piqued and he could think of nothing else but the Hellbenders. He found his bucket and sat down, gazing out over the water. Before long, one of them swam up to the shore. He was confident that this was the same one as before. He tried greeting it with a soft hello. Immediately the other Hellbenders each barked twice, and then went back to their aquatic gambolling. The one at the shore crawled up on the rocks, looking right at Jaxon the whole time. It opened it’s mouth and let out a soft hiss that turned into the word hello. Astonished, Jaxon said hello again, and the Hellbender repeated it, more clearly this time. Jaxon pondered the possible meaning of what he was witnessing. He knew that there were birds in the woods that could mimic human speech, but this creature seemed more intelligent than that. He had also heard that dolphins were supposedly almost as smart as humans, so maybe the Hellbenders were as well. At any rate, it seemed that he had made a friend. The Hellbender lay there on the rocks until Jaxon went home. Before he left, he said goodbye and waved. His friend stood and waved back, and made a sound that Jaxon knew was an attempt to say goodbye, in a gurgling, watery accent.
Jaxon started bringing books with him to the water’s edge. He had an idea that he might be able to teach his Hellbender friend to speak like a human person. He had acquired several children’s books with pictures, and sat reading to her for long periods of time. She would come up next to him on the rocks, and pushing herself up on her arms, look at the pictures as he read. She was especially interested in pictures of human women, in particular pictures of princesses. She would always try to make the sounds that he made, and in a few weeks had acquired a vocabulary of several words.
Jaxon started to spend a lot more time with the Hellbender, during the week and throughout the weekends. He set up a small tent with a blanket, sheet, and pillow, so that he would not have to return home so often. Eventually he gave her a name. He called her Lola, after his favorite film star. One Saturday night, as he slept in the tent, he felt something crawl in beside him. Groggily opening his eyes, he found Lola snuggled up against his side. He patted her back, yawned, and went back to sleep. In the morning she had gone, and he found her back at the shoreline, submerged just below the water. He had noticed that after several hours out of the water, the Hellbender’s skin began to dry out, and reasoned that it must be an uncomfortable experience, which must be why she had left the tent and returned to the water. This became a nightly habit of theirs whenever he slept by the water’s edge. After several nights, Lola surprised Jaxon by pressing her lips to his face. He pulled back and chuckled, as one might do when an excitable dog tried to lick one’s face. She responded by hissing at him, and quickly crawled back to the water.
Not long after that, Jaxon returned from having gone for supplies, and found that his bedsheet was missing from the tent, and half the stuffing had been removed from his pillow. This worried him considerably. He didn’t want for anyone else to be out there disturbing things. Suddenly, he saw a Hellbender tail duck in behind a bush, and walked toward it, calling Lola’s name. She hissed and tossed a handful of pebbles at his feet. He guessed that meant she didn’t want for him to see whatever she was doing, so he let her have some privacy. He fetched his bucket and sat down to wait.
Eventually, Lola emerged. She was draped in Jaxon’s bedsheet, wearing it like a dress. On her head was a pillowcase, folded around her face in imitation of human hair, or a veil. Her chest had a pair of rounded shapes under the sheet, and Jaxon realized what had become of the rest of his pillow. Lola was posing as though she were one of the women in the picture books. Jaxon wanted to laugh, but was afraid that if he did, Lola’s feelings would be hurt, so he bit his tongue. Lola said the word princess in her watery accent, then her name, and princess again. Jaxon understood, and nodded, smiling. He told her that she was a beautiful princess, and bowed. He presented her with some of the beer he had brought, as if giving gifts to a royal lady, and she gurgled happily.
Later, the same night, as Jaxon and Lola snuggled in their usual habit, something very strange happened. Jaxon awoke to find his blanket and clothing had been removed. Lola was rubbing her hands all over his body, covering his skin with some sort of sticky purple mucus. Every part of him that she touched felt numb and strangely relaxed. He discovered that he was unable to move freely, and tried to roll over, crying out for Lola to stop whatever it was that she was doing to him. She, however, merely placed her mucus covered hand on his forehead, and as the purple ooze dripped into his eyes, a strong narcotic effect took him. His thoughts became muddled and he relaxed unknowingly, giving in to what was happening. He felt himself become aroused, and it felt better than any other feeling he could remember. He looked up, and saw Lola on top of him. His vision blurred into white light as his senses were overcome with pleasure.
When morning came, Jaxon found himself alone. His clothes were laying on top of him. As he moved about, putting the clothes on, bits of dried purple mucus flaked and fell off of his skin. He remembered some of what happened, and things he suspected having happened made him ill. He stumbled out of the tent and retched on the rocks. His mind reeled as he tried to deny reality.
Panicking, he raced home, and locked his doors. He got into his shower immediately and dumped an entire bottle of shampoo on his head, then turned the shower on full blast with the hottest water he could stand, scrubbing himself until he had used all the hot water. He wrapped himself in a clean blanket and sat in his one comfortable chair. His mind was still overflowing with the enormity of what had happened. He couldn’t believe, looking back on the events of the past months, that he hadn’t seen it coming. He wondered if he just hadn’t wanted to see it, or if some hidden part of his mind had wanted it. He resolved never to return to the water’s edge. In fact, the very thought of doing so made him feel ill.
He sat, recriminating himself, until the following morning. After having fallen asleep in his chair, he awoke with a terrible hunger. He made himself a breakfast of six eggs and half a pound of bacon, polishing off half a gallon of milk as he waited for them to finish cooking. He ate quickly, but was still hungry, so he prepared and ate the rest of his bacon and eggs, and then an entire loaf of bread, and a pound of butter.
Afterward, he felt a distinct need to be under water. His skin had started to itch all over. He filled the bath tub with cool water and submerged himself. Looking down at his body, he discovered several patches of purplish tissue. At first he thought that there must have been some of the mucus clinging to him, even after his thorough scrubbing, but touching the affected areas proved that it was indeed his own flesh. He surmised that he must have been bruised in the tent. However, the longer he sat in the water, the larger the purple spots became. He tried getting out of the water, thinking that air might help, but after a while the spots became painful and he felt the overwhelming need to be wet. So, he got back into the tub, which eased the pain instantly, and watched as the purple coloration grew over all of his skin. Now he was wondering if this was some kind of disease that he had contracted from Lola. It was a horrifying thought, but he also figured that it would be exactly what he deserved.
He fell asleep in the water, and it felt to him like the most comfortable and natural state to be in. Slowly, the panic and self loathing were receding from his mind. He woke, but in an altered state of consciousness. As long as he didn’t think too much, he managed to feel at ease. He didn’t look at his body, as it continued to change. He just sat there in the water, eyes closed, slowly breathing in and out, not thinking, for three days. Eventually, his breathing changed dramatically, as his need to draw air into his lungs decreased. He briefly experienced an intense pain in his forehead, and, even though his eyes were closed, he began to be able to see things, in patterns of light and dark. Soon, he could perceive the electrical fields around the wires in the walls, and the body heat of mice that lived there.
Knowing the mice were there made him feel hungry, so he got out of the water and made his way to the kitchen. His skin didn’t immediately start to itch or hurt, owing to the layer of mucus that he was now secreting. He tried not to notice the new folds in the purple skin of his arms and hands as he emptied three cans of tuna into a bowl. He held the bowl to his mouth and slurped down the chopped fish. When he had eaten all of it, he took the empty bowl to the sink, turning on the water to rinse the bowl. The water felt good at first, but after a moment he discovered that his skin could taste traces of chemicals. It wasn’t enough to cause harm, but it was unpleasant. He found his mind wandering back to the water’s edge, back to the Hellbenders, and Lola.
Abruptly, he realized the direction that his thoughts were taking, and balked. For a moment, he had more clarity of thought than he had experienced in days. In that moment, he knew that he would rather die than return to the Hellbenders. And yet, even as he considered killing himself, his sense of self preservation insisted that it was impossible, that he must not die, no matter the cost. He pondered going to a hospital, and trying to find a way to reverse his metamorphosis, but surely, he thought, no one had ever heard of such a disease. No treatment existed for a condition such as his. There were simply no options available. He must, at least, go to the water, and find relief. His skin was starting to itch.
With his thoughts slipping back into their previously muddled state, he soaked his bathrobe in the tub, then put it on. He left his house for the last time, by the back door. Following his new senses, he made his way out into the bayou, and flung himself into the murky water. New instincts kicked in, and he let them guide him through the water. He was not even surprised when he caught a glimpse of his tent on the water’s edge. He stood up in the shallows so that his head and torso were above the water. He saw Lola emerge from the tent, and her mouth open in an expression of pleasure. She ran to the water’s edge on two legs and dove in. Coming up from underwater, she began to coo and form words.
“Jaxon,” she said, “love Jaxon, love.”
He did not reply, only staring back at the Hellbender princess who had taken his old life from him.
“Love!” she insisted, “You, Jaxon, love Lola.”
He honestly did not know how to respond, but then, he wasn’t thinking very clearly. She grasped him with her arms and pressed her lips to his, drawing him down beneath the water.
Moments later, an odd disturbance in the air pushed a low pop of sound out across the surface of the water. Jaxon rose up to see the cause. A dark, gnarled, wooden door stood alone on the shore opposite from the tent, where he had never before seen a door. It opened and a ghastly creature with a black face full of tentacles emerged from an impossible space. The creature wore a tattered lab coat stained with blood and less wholesome fluids, and it carried a rusty bucket in it’s claws, which it peered at with it’s single eye. Stepping to the water’s edge, the creature flung out the contents of the bucket, a purple sludge churning with large black worms. As the worms and sludge struck the water, the Hellbenders rose and chased the worms, gulping down as many as they could catch, splashing about in the purple hued water. Some worms escaped to tunnel into the mud, but not many. Jaxon felt the urge to consume the worms, as he and Lola joined the others. At last he knew the secret behind the Hellbenders’ Ball.

The Folly of Reverend Stanis

The Folly of Reverend Stanis

“Heathen, your flesh is too weak to do battle with the almighty god!” Reverend Peter Stanis, of the Church of Holy Wrath, spat the words at the looming, berobed monstrosity which stood before him in the black night.
From blubbery black lips hidden in a mass of tentacles, the sepulchural reply issued forth, “It is not my flesh I bring against you, priest. Nor do I see an almighty deity at your arm. The spirit which rides you is one of violence, but I think that Dagon is mightier.”
Reverend Stanis replied hotly, “I will show you the power of my god, you abomination!” He signalled his men, all members of his church. They had been secreted in the shadows and behind corners of the surrounding buildings, wearing camouflage fatigues and bearing automatic weapons. Now they stepped forward into the wan light of distant street lamps, made more dramatic by the blackened sky. They raised their rifles and fired a hailstorm of bullets at the Reverend’s enemy. The monster spread his arms wide, and the golden amulet that lay upon the front of his tattered black robe glowed with some hellish power, bathing them all in unnatural green light. The bullets seemed to turn aside, and vanish without striking their target, or anything else.
The blood red carapace of the monster’s head, obscenely shaped like a mockery of a bishop’s mitre, quivered along with the jiggling black tentacles of it’s nightmare face as the monster laughed it’s deep, gutteral, laugh. “Is that the best you can do? Is that the mightiest attack that you can offer? How pitiful! Did you even bless the bullets in the name of Aeshomdas, your god?”
Reverend Stanis screamed his fury back at the monster, “Blasphemous beast! You know nothing of my god! You do not even know his name!”
“Oh no?”, replied he, “Perhaps it is you who do not know the name of your god. No matter. Allow me to show you the might of Dagon!” The monster raised his arm, and with it the jeweled golden scepter clutched tightly in his clawed hand. A large gem in the upper end of the scepter glowed, then flashed a brilliant light over the men on the right side of the street. Their flesh blackened and cracked, smoke pouring out of their ruined bodies as they collapsed into lifeless heaps. They had never even had time to scream. Laughing madly, the monster turned his attention to those men on the left side of the street. They dropped their weapons and fled in abject terror.
Now the monster approached Reverend Stanis, who fell to his knees and thrust forward a silver crucifix in a last attempt to ward off his enemy. He lifted his voice and shouted at the sky, “God, please hear me! I am assailed by demons! Send your holy angels to my aid. Slay my evil enemy, I beg of you.”
This performance drew a fresh bout of laughter from the monster. “You are praying to the wrong god, false priest. The one you address doesn’t know you. And why do you fumble with that talisman, when it’s meaning is lost to you? I can see that you truly do not know who it is that you have served. You spent your life in seeking to punish others for their sins, yet never thought to repent of your own. How delightful! But, I have wasted enough time on you. I have achieved my aims this night, so I will take my leave. I have decided to let you live, because I know that you will always be tormented by what you have learned tonight.”
With that, the monster spread his arms wide and performed some arcane gesture. The asphalt beneath him ruptured, and tendrils of black slimy material rose all around him as everything was immersed in the green glow. The tendrils inflated and expanded as they twisted themselves into a structure around the monster. To Reverend Stanis, it appeared as a crude building of some sort, with a single door and steeply pitched roof. The building was then pulled beneath the ruined street, and disappeared from his sight, leaving him alone in his anguish.

The Chapel on the Cliff

While vacationing in the Florida Keys, my late girlfriend, Rachel, and I made the fateful choice to visit an old abandoned chapel on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Supposedly, it had been built over an ancient shrine to some mysterious and long forgotten deity, and had even inspired a lyric for some popular song in the eighties. We had heard about it while having a late lunch at a dive bar, and we both decided almost instantly that it was just the adventure we were looking for. We arrived at the chapel with about an hour to go before sunset. We were so excited. From a distance, the old place actually appeared rather inviting, if a tad somber, but we would not have expected anything less from an abandoned chapel. As we approached the front door, however, we began to feel a certain apprehension connected to the edifice, which we could now see was rotting and crumbling in places. The hinges of the door, which stood open, were coated in decades of rust and grime. Off to the side, the shattered remains of a stone sign lay embedded in the ground, half covered in the sand. I could make out the greek letters kappa, omicron, kappa, omicron, mu, and a final omicron. I chuckled, trying to come up with a clever joke, but rather than restoring levity to the general mood, it struck me as an act of blasphemy for which I felt an unaccountable sense of guilt. Forging ahead, I instead made some lame joke about how this might be a good place for my girlfriend and I to get married. She chuckled briefly, but when I looked in her eyes I could see worry creeping into her expression. I smiled more bravely than I felt, and pulled her along with me into the chapel. I hadn’t come all the way out here to turn back without going inside, after all. We looked around for several minutes without commenting on the general disrepair of the chapel. We had to use the small flashlights we brought with us to see the contents. Icons lay crushed or beheaded in their sconces, graffiti was spray painted on the walls. The wooden altar, which lay in a collapsed heap at the front of the chapel, showed signs of having been chopped at with a heavy blade. I spied a doorway in a dark corner, and was sure that it must lead to a rectory of some sort. Rachel was closer to it than I was, and I pointed it out to her as I approached, insisting that we go in and spy out what secrets the rectory might contain. I had no actual expectations for what we would find in that room, but if I had, they would have been utterly short of the mark. The first thing that I noticed, and remarked on, was the musty, fungal aroma that wafted up from the ancient, rotting floor. It didn’t even creak as we walked, but rather emitted a sort of wet, squelching sound. I found it very unpleasant. Then the beams of our flashlights fell on a terrible sight. There were two human corpses, one male and one female, dessicated and grotesquely violated by a bewildering jumble of tubes, hoses, wires, and glass containers filled with a foul liquid. We had scarcely had time to react to the grisly scene, when we were further startled by a loud whooshing sound from the other end of the room. We looked, and another door stood there. This door was perhaps the oddest thing I have ever seen, made of some unfamiliar black wood, gnarled and worn, with a bizarre symbol carved into it’s surface, and a greenish glow emanating from the cracks. But the strangest thing about it had to have been the fact that I felt absolutely certain that the wall in which the door was set faced a sheer drop into the ocean. I was baffled as to how this door could even exist. Rachel was very afraid by this point, and so was I, truthfully. She huddled up against me as we both stared at that awful door. As we stood there watching, transfixed, the impossible door swung open, revealing a pair of hideous creatures. One wore black robes with a cincture, like a priest, but what I first took for a mitre was actually part of his blasphemous head. Crimson, like blood, with a bewildering array of tentacles, he looked like a cross between a lobster and a cuttlefish, slimy and evil. His companion was utterly different, but just as abhorrent. This skulking figure wore a blood stained fisherman’s sweater and a hood. His face was wrapped completely in bandages stained with red and orange, with bits of metal forming an obscene parody of a mouth. He carried a large stick, like the handle of a fireman’s axe. They looked at us and spoke to each other in tones too hushed for us to hear. The priest moved to the corpses and began plucking out the jars of liquid. The bandaged man approached us carefully and slowly. When the priest had collected all the jars, he moved back to the door, at which point the bandaged man suddenly screamed in my face. I fell back two steps, and Rachel fainted in my arms. The bandaged man grabbed her limp form and pulled her away. I was too terrified to respond. He dragged her to the door, then looked me in the eye and softly said “Thank you”. The door closed behind them, and disappeared with a flash of green light. They were gone. They had taken Rachel, and they were gone.

The Testimony of Joe the Biker

This is an excerpt from an interview with a man named Joe, who is an ex member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. Joe has requested that he not be further identified, as he is concerned for his safety should anyone recognize him from the story that he told us. “Look, there’s things most folks don’t rightly understand, about the world, I mean. About how stuff works, like nature and spirits, and that. A lot of Hell’s Angels really are into demonology, and witchcraft, too, I mean the real deal, not that goody two shoes Wicca crap. That shit’s just for bored housewives, I’m telling you. But there’s reasons for being into the real deal when you’re out on the road for months at a time, always between one place and another. Sometimes there’s a lot of space between one town and another, a whole lot of lonely road, and sometimes you gotta go off the beaten path. See, every place where a whole lot of people live has a sorta zone of effect all around it. There’s noise and pollution, litter and whatnot, plus there’s all the people who use the wilderness around their little piece of civilisation. But the thing is, that they usually don’t go very far in. In between the different zones there’s sometimes what you might call a nexus, a little patch where people don’t ever go, and things that’s hostile to human people live there. It’s a spot where zones overlap, but they also butt up to one of those areas human people just kind of naturally avoid. But sometimes, when you’re on the lam, you gotta go further and deeper than what the straights are willing to go. And sometimes you wind up finding things that you wasn’t supposed to. See, the old things of the world, the things that came before people and our electricity, and fire, and gasoline engines, well they still hold sway in those pockets of wilderness between one zone of effect and another. The rules are all switched up in there, where the old things is trapped, sorta like, but it’s their rules, their own way of coping with a world ruled by human people. They adapt to take what they can get, and if you don’t have something to offer, what they get is you.” We asked Joe if he had ever personally witnessed anything like what he told us about in regard to this nexus between here and there. At the time, he declined to comment, but recently he contacted us again, with some new information. He seemed agitated, and perhaps inebriated, but lucid. “This about something I saw, years and years ago, when I stumbled into a nexus. I won’t tell you why I was going so deep in, or what it was I was doing, or who was with me. You know what, no, scratch that, I was by myself, totally alone. This was down around a little town in Indiana, between Bloomington and … I was deep in the forestry. I mean deep, deep, deep. I had decided to rough it for the night, and head back out to the road before daylight. I had my hog disguised to look like a bush, and I laid out a lean-to of branches and leaves to sleep under. It was warm enough I could sleep in my leathers, didn’t need a fire, but I did take my boots off to keep my socks dry. I wasn’t quite dozed off yet when I seen something hellishly strange. At first it was just a rustling in the bush, but soon enough, there came out to where I was a whole troop of weird ass figures. There was one dirty thing with all kinds of tentacles and shit hanging off of his face, and he was being followed by a walking tree stump all wrapped up in a old clown costume, and that one was followed by a real tall fellow with a skull face and a top hat. Before I knew what was happening, one of em lifted my lean-to away, and then they all just crowded around and stared at me, real angry like. I had a little gold amulet that I took from one of the guys I rode with, and I held that out, praying to the devil himself to spare me. The tall one in the hat snatched the amulet right out of my hand, and then the tentacles one grabbed hold of it and they tussled a bit. Well, about that time there was this green glow coming through the trees, and the whole grisly troop of them skedaddled in that direction. I got up and left straight away, back to the highway, and I rode till morning.” We have omitted the rest of Joe’s story for his protection. If any of it is true, then there are things in between humanity’s bastions of civilisation that are hidden and unexplainable, and likely dangerous to our world.

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