English Eerie: Detox (Part 8)

Note: This story was written in collaboration with Scott Malthouse’s English Eerie: Rural Horror Storytelling Game for One Player, published by Trollish Delver Games. It was previously published serially on BoardGameGeek. Skip down to “How Does This All Work, Anyway?” to learn more about how the prompts and mechanics from English Eerie were used to build this narrative.

Content Warning: This story contains mature themes and explicit references to sex, violence, drug use, sexual violence, and occult rituals.


Ram Head

English Eerie: Detox

Part Eight: Acceptance

§

I ran. Forgetting Gemma, forgetting the fucked-up criminal scene I had witnessed, forgetting my plans for revenge against Guru George, I fled on all fours like a dog from the dank, unnaturally lit confines of the black lodge. All thoughts, all noble impulses were buried under a landslide of terror and self-preservation. “These blokes mean to tear me apart,” I repeated again and again, not noticing or caring that my words came out in an unintelligible, babyish stream of whimpers and spit. Somehow, the lads’ nakedness made them all the more terrifying. I thought back to that Gender and Feminism in the 21st Century class, the one in which I’d first encountered Gemma. I’d been so distracted by Gemma—where she was sitting, what she was wearing, what I could do or say to make her laugh—that I had absorbed almost nothing of the actual lesson, and I had ended up dropping the class for no credit. But Gemma had been paying attention, and she still brought up things the professor had said as though it were yesterday. One of those things was that in humans, the size and location of the penis—front and center, like—was less about actual reproduction and more about displays of power and masculinity. A big and visible tallywacker was supposed to win over potential females and cow the male competition. It was conversations like this that made me particularly nervous about opening up to Gemma when I’d had no problem pulling other girls at Uni. My totem of masculinity wasn’t going to cow anyone, or even make them a bit nervous.

These lads, though, were fully on display. And I was cowed. I was, as I’ve said, bloody terrified. I finally understood what Gemma had been talking about. I wondered if I’d ever be able to tell her.

The skins slapped at my face and shoulders as I scrabbled through the low opening. Something was tangled in my hair; I reached up to free myself and found my fingers wrapped around a human hand, boneless and bloodless, the size of a doll’s. A distorted face, stretched and eyeless, gaped at me with its toothless, tongueless mouth. It had the soft features of an infant, but stretched out of proportion, like those atlases that try to map a globe onto a two-dimensional rectangle, warping the lines of latitude and longitude into a rectilinear grid. I felt the hot breath of the masculine boys on my heels.

With a last burst of speed, I emerged from the layers of skins and from the depravities of the black lodge into a drowning world. It was raining buckets, as my mum would say. Except that even that expression felt like an understatement. It was raining like the end of the world, like the sky was dissolving its holdings and liquefying its assets.

With the rain-clouds blotting out the sun and moon, and my pupils still adjusting from the sensory overload of the lodge, it might as well have been raining ink. The downpour painted the world black and featureless. I could barely see a foot in front of my face, and I kept plunging my feet into bottomless puddles that, with nothing to reflect, were indistinguishable from the muddy ground around them.

Then, a light flared behind me, and I looked over my shoulder to see the skins pushed aside and the blood-smeared, priapic cultists pour out like rats from a flooded sewer grate. As they spread out from the only source of light in the world, the inky rain seemed to disintegrate their features until they were shambling around with only half a body, or only the black outline of a person, lit from behind. I realized that they were spreading out because they didn’t know where I was. This was my chance to escape, if I could only move quietly enough.

I took a careful step backward, my eyes on the dissolving, murderous boys. Another step. They stopped moving, turned their faceless heads toward me. I froze like a rabbit about to bolt. The boys shifted position. In the darkness, I could not tell which way they were facing, like that optical illusion where the ballerina is spinning either clockwise or anticlockwise depending on how you think about it.

I slowed my breathing, and the magnetic field of the Earth slowly shimmered into being, like something rising from the bottom of a deep, murky lake. Its lines curved and wrapped around the boys, accentuating their outlines. I could see that they had me nearly surrounded.

I risked another step backward, and my heel slipped on the mud. I fell backward, praying that I would land on something soft shrubbery or something else that wouldn’t make any noise. Instead, I fell into water, puddle deep enough for my entire head to go under. I swallowed red, soupy earth. Unable to stop myself, I thrashed my arms, trying to claw myself back to the surface. When I did so, and had blinked the mud out of my eyes, I saw the silhouettes of the boys moving purposefully toward me. I couldn’t find my feet fast enough.

And I saw something else emerge from the multilayered flaps of skin. Something with the curling horns of a ram. Something that moved with unnatural jerks and twitches. Around it, the shimmering lines of attraction twisted and warped like an angry knot of barbed wire. I saw that its chakra points were broadcasting waves of electromagnetic energy below the visible spectrum, like a cell tower. They appeared to me now as a purplish light, oozing and rippling slowly outward from the ram-headed figure, fouling the neatly curved lines of the Earth’s magnetic field. The ram-head lowered its horned head and charged.

Soon, a tremendous weight was upon me, trampling me back down into the mud with limbs that were somewhere between human feet and cloven hooves. The masculine lads fell upon me, too, pressing me beneath their weight as they had Eliza. My lungs struggled against their gravity and failed. The ram’s head opened its jaws and emitted a noise like a dial-up modem. I was being buried alive beneath a mountain of hard flesh. I blacked out.

§

I awoke to the smell of smoke in the air. The sun was shining, and I was already on my feet. My skin was clean and shiny with fragrant oils. I wore a clean, white homespun tunic and trousers, and I stood in a line of similarly dressed individuals—my Spirit-Brothers and Spirit-Wives. We were all shuffling toward something large and brown in the center of the compound, some new shape that I coudn’t force my eyes to focus on.

My body felt pure, purged of its electronic toxins. In fact, it felt nearly immaterial. The moment I stopped thinking about it, it was as though my body ceased to exist, leaving me a being of pure starlight.

My Spirit-Brothers and Spirit-Wives were singing. I realized that I was, too, the song pouring forth from my lungs that were barely there, given shape by a tongue that might as well have been cloud. The words of the song were not in English. They were not in any tongue that is still spoken, or was ever spoken by any but the Knowing. They meant something like this:

“The seed is planted
The harvest reaped
Kissed by falling water
The harvest of the pure”

The line crept forward. There was something about the smoke in the air, something that awoke my senses, made me more alert to my surroundings. It smelled of sharp sap and green branches.

Gradually, the new thing in the center of the compound became clearer. It had the form of a man—no, the form of a woman, her belly round and spacious. It was hollow inside, but there were people climbing inside, nestling together like gophers. Guru George blessed each one of them as they passed through the wicker opening. I recognized Spirit-Wife Gemma, her belly still big from her last child, curling peacefully into the wider curve of the wicker womb.

It was hot. Something prickled at the back of my neck, an itch I couldn’t scratch. It was odd; I couldn’t remember the last time my body had itched, or ached, or felt discomfort. I was starting to sweat.

The line crept forward. The wicker opening was wide before me now, inviting me inside. I saw the straw stuffed into the effigy’s base. I saw Spirit-Brother Brianna holding a lit torch, a hungry look on his face. Something wasn’t right.

The memories came flooding back to me. The “digital detox” camp, the poison, the drugs, the murders, the horrible things that occurred in the little shrine in the woods and in the black lodge. I looked up at Guru George, my face full of fear and disgust. He smiled back at me like a god descended from Heaven.

I didn’t know how much time had passed since that night when the world drowned. I knew that I had witnessed, and participated in, many more nights like it. The memories were fragmentary and dream-like. I knew that now, following some sign known only to him, Guru George was preparing us to ascend to the next level. And, by some miracle, I had awakened to my senses. The wicker effigy loomed before me. I ran.

Over my shoulder, I saw Brianna start after me, but George laid a hand on his shoulder. “Let him go,” I heard him say. The rest of the cultists, oblivious, piled into the wicker effigy, and the opening was sealed behind them with a plug of tar. I felt the hot air rising off the thing as the flames caught. I didn’t look back, but I heard the screams. I smelled the smoke on the breeze, no longer sharp and woody but mixed now with bubbling fat and charred skin. I ran. I ran and tried not to think of Gemma.

I passed by the black lodge. Something drew my eyes down to the ground. There, at a corner of the warped structure, impressed into the earth like a paving stone, was my little Moleskine, containing the detailed account of everything leading up to Zak’s death. Another miracle. I understood, then, why I had been spared. I pried up the journal, scratched around nearby for my pen, and fled into the woods.

I ran as far as I could, but I haven’t seen anybody yet. No matter. I just need to wrap up these last few pages. You—whoever finds this—might find them hard to read. After all this time and being buried and dug up twice, there wasn’t much ink left. I have to trace the letters four times before they’re legible. But it’s important that the story gets told. And I don’t think I’ll be around to tell it.

You see, I saw him just now, among the trees. He walks with a limp now, ever since our last encounter. He still has his machete. He’s calling my name. “Spirit-Brother Fynn! Spirit-Brother Fynn! Come back to us! Guru George forgives. He sees a place for you at his right hand.” Brianna’s own right hand tests the weight of the machete with a few practice swings.

I’m going to bury this book. I’ll mark it with a twig or something, and then I’ll run, as fast as possible, in the opposite direction. I won’t be able to outrun Brianna, but I don’t need to. I just need to lead him away from this book. And then somebody will find it. And then they’ll know.

He’s closer now. He calls to me again: “Spirit-Brother Fynn! Guru George is preparing a great feast. And you will join us.”

The End

§

(After recovering the Moleskine, authorities conducted a thorough search of the surrounding wood. Neither the compound nor any of the other structures described in this account were ever located. Gemma Watson and Zak Salt were declared missing in mid-2017, five years before wildfires devastated the more heavily wooded northwestern portion of the Dales.)

§


How Does This All Work, Anyway?

In case you missed it, Part 1 contains a breakdown of English Eerie‘s mechanics and a general sense of how they were used to inspire this tale.

Here are the card draws and suggestions that inspired the journal entries in this segment of the story:

Entry 19: Environmental Obstacle—a mad ram attempts to gore you (failed).

Entry 20: Grey Lady—you confront a large wicker effigy. Campers are being forced inside. There is a smell of smoke in the air.

The narrator ended the story with 0 Spirit and 0 Resolve, resulting in this ending:

Your last entry tells of how you managed to scramble away from the effigy, recounting seeing campers being burned alive within the wicker shell. After you write, you fall asleep and wake up with a shadow looming over you, machete in hand. “You will join us” says the figure.


English Eerie: Detox (Part 7)

Note: This story was written in collaboration with Scott Malthouse’s English Eerie: Rural Horror Storytelling Game for One Player, published by Trollish Delver Games. It was previously published serially on BoardGameGeek. Skip down to “How Does This All Work, Anyway?” to learn more about how the prompts and mechanics from English Eerie were used to build this narrative.

Content Warning: This story contains mature themes and explicit references to sex, violence, drug use, sexual violence, and occult rituals.


Ram Head

English Eerie: Detox

Part Seven: Ritual

§

When my brain started working again, my first thoughts were, “Jesus Christ, enough with the dead bodies.” My next thoughts were, “This changes nothing.” My next thoughts after that: “This changes everything.”

I already knew Guru George, or somebody connected with him, was killing. I knew he was controlling people with drugs and rhetoric. I knew he was doing even more deplorable things in the name of pseudo-religiosity. I’d built up a pretty depressing picture of the functioning of this cult.

I hadn’t known that he was capable of killing his own, a member of his inner circle. The fact that he had done so meant two things: that Guru George knew of my escape, which was inevitable, really; and that he knew how it had happened, which was the scary part. It suggested that there might have been a witness when I fled the compound, which meant that somebody could easily have followed me this entire time, might still be following me. Which meant that this body, hanging in its wicker cage in a dark, untrodden corner of the woods, was left here for me to find, a message of some sort. Which meant that my encounter with Gemma could also have been choreographed. When I thought I heard a movement in the woods before Gemma woke up, and nothing ever came of it, was it just a hedgehog or badger? Or was it one of George’s agent’s, watching me, making sure I did whatever it was that he wanted me to do?

I shook my head. These conspiracy theories sounded far-fetched even to myself, and none of it altered what was going to happen next: I was going to return to the compound, rescue Gemma, and kill Guru George. The details were still up in the air, but my path was marked before me, as they say.

I shut my eyes, did my little incantation to Mother Gaia, and reattuned myself to the ley-lines or what-have-you. I marched through the woods, determined and a little sore. Trying to psych myself up for this oneness with nature thing, I listened for the singing of the birds, but I soon realized that there weren’t any. No birds, no birdsong. I stopped to wonder why this might be, and that’s when I was yanked back by the collar and slammed against a tree trunk, reigniting the fireworks in my injured shoulder.

A strong arm was held against my chest, keeping me pressed to the trunk. The body presumably attached to the arm was out of sight. “People in the North are rather keen on this whole hugs-from-behind business, aren’t they?” I thought. “They must be very shy.” On the arm’s exposed bicep was a tattoo of a skull vomiting worms onto the head of Queen Elizabeth. In a white-knuckled hand, it gripped a small hatchet, with the blade pressed against my throat.

“Did you know him?” came a gravelly, cracked voice. There was something familiar to it.

“That bloke?” I slurred. “I…well, that depends who’s asking, doesn’t it?”

The arm holding me loosened somewhat. I could now breathe in a full lungful, though I still couldn’t move an centimeter.

“You’re mumbling, mate,” the voice responded. “You get kicked in the teeth by a donkey or what?”

It didn’t seem worth my while to reply—the man attached to the arm wouldn’t understand me, anyway—so I merely shook my head, which shifted halfway through to a nod and then a half-shrug with my good shoulder.

“Complicated story, eh?” the voice asked. “I got one of those, too. Listen, mate, I’m about to let you go, but first, I got to ask: you ain’t one of them, like?”

This time, there was nothing uncertain or hesitant about my head-shake. The voice behind me breathed a ragged sigh of relief, and the arm’s grip loosened further. I could now move about slightly, and I could probably have squeezed out of the embrace if it weren’t for the hatchet-blade still pressed against my throat.

“Listen, mate,” the voice hissed, suddenly angry again. The grip on the hatchet tightened until I was worried the wood would splinter. “It’s that bastard Brianna, innit? He tried to do me with a fucking machete the day after that star walk. He got me in the leg, but I escaped, and I’ve been hiding in these woods ever since, trying to get the word to you and that girlfriend of yours.” The voice was getting more and more familiar, and I suddenly remembered where I had seen a similar tattoo before.

“Zak?” I asked, enunciating as carefully as I could. I wanted to point out that Gemma wasn’t my girlfriend—not that I’d be opposed to the idea, mind—but it didn’t seem to match the urgency of the moment.

The man pinning me to a tree whistled through his teeth. “Got it in one.” The arm relaxed fully and, twirling the hatchet dangerously close to my nose, retreated from view. I stumbled forward and turned to get a good look at Zak Salt.

He’d changed since last I’d seen him. He’d lost his shirt, for one, revealing the full pattern of his punk-rock tattoos and vacant piercings. He was dirty, skinny, and pale. He’d lost a lot of the mass he had when I first met him, but that loss only left him lean and wiry, like a footballer. And he looked absolutely stark raving mad. I supposed I must look the same.

“You look like shit, mate,” Zak observed, giving me a once-over. “Like literal shit. Like a badger ate you up and shit you out whole. What have they done to you, mate?”

“I—”

He held up a rough-worn hand to cut me off. “Don’t answer that. You sound like a pig sitting on a pile of frogs. They really did a number on you, huh? And where’s the girl?”

“She—”

“For fuck’s sake, I said don’t answer, didn’t I? Hearing you talk just makes me depressed. Don’t you have anything to write on?”

I wasn’t convinced Zak was literate, but it gave me an idea all the same. I pulled the Moleskine journal and pen out of my waistband and grinned a lopsided, toothless grin, which the skeletal visage of Zak the punk returned. I found a moss-covered stump to sit on and wrote down, with as much detail as I could remember, the events of the past…week?…starting from my tailing Brianna to the secret shrine, digging up the metal crate with the dead body, and being whacked in the bean by a falling branch (which I now knew was sabotaged), and ending with me discovering the mutilated corpse of the sunken-eyed-lad hanging in his wicker cage. All of that took me at least an hour, during which Zak alternated between fretful pacing, stealing peeks over my shoulder, scowling, and cat-napping. Then, I handed him the journal, and it was my turn to pace, peek, scowl, and nap while Zak read the entire story, stopping every once in a while with demands that I confirm (with a nod of the head) the more unbelievable bits.

Finally, the grizzled ex-punk stretched his long, catlike limbs, snapped the journal shut, and tossed it into my lap. I couldn’t clearly make out his expression in the failing light of day. “Sounds like the universe has really fucked you over, innit?” he said. I nodded bleakly.

Zak appeared to watch the horizon, scratching thoughtfully at his stubble-pocked chin. “And you’re pretty certain this girl Gemma is at the secret compound?” he asked. I nodded again. “The one filled with crazy, loyal, drug-addled cultists?” I nodded a third time. With each nod, I felt my heart sink deeper into despair.

Zak picked at a long scab on leg, near his hamstring, then took aim and flicked a bit of scab at a red squirrel, which scampered up a branch. “Well, we’d better go rescue her, innit?”

It turned out that Zak had been tracking Brianna’s comings and goings ever since his disappearance. The acolyte had only visited the compound once or twice, but Zak was fairly certain he could find it again if he had to. More importantly, he knew where to find other weapons like the hatchet he wielded. “We’ll need to lie low, stick to the shadows, like, but they’ve got to leave her alone at least once,” he said. I wasn’t sure if his confidence was real or just a show on my behalf, but I appreciated it all the same.

“You said there’s a place where they go to shit?” he continued. I nodded. “Maybe we wait there, then.” I wasn’t too sure about this suggestion, especially as I remembered the other bodily functions I had taken care of at that hole, and the guilt and shame associated, and the fear of Gemma taking the place of one of those cringing, beautiful girls; but the old punk was having none of it. “Look, mate, I don’t care how pure and perfect and flawless you think she is. Everybody shits eventually.” And that was the end of the discussion.

By this stage in the planning, we had arrived at the secret spot he knew, a hidden cache of items some people would characterize as “forestry tools” and others as “weapons from a bloody horror movie.” There were rusted but sharp machetes; hatchets and larger axes or mauls; long-handled clippers with gleaming, bird-like heads; heavy, sharp-edged shovels; even a chainsaw. I reached for the chainsaw, a gleam in my eye, but Zak shook his head.

“No juice. I checked first thing. Shame, innit?”

I sighed as if to say, “Shame,” and selected instead a long, scythe-like tool that was apparently intended for stacking logs but seemed just brilliant for gouging eyes. I shifted it in my hands, experimenting with grips, and gave a few practice stabs and swings. Then, I turned back to Zak and flashed him the thumbs-up, as if to say, “Let’s go creep on a toilet.”

But Zak didn’t return my gesture. His gaze was elsewhere, fixed on something beyond my right ear. Terror and confusion filled those eyes. I turned slowly, heavy with dread, spasmodically squeezing the handle of my eye-gouger, but saw nothing but trees. I turned back to Zak and gave him a “What’s up?” look. The old punk opened his mouth, but no words came out, only blood.

Then he collapsed forward, as though kicked from behind, and I saw a whole lot more blood bubbling up from his bare, tattooed back. And, standing where Zak had been a moment before, grinning behind a bloody machete, was Acolyte Brianna. “Mother’s blessings, Spirit-Brother Fynn,” he said a lopsided grin. “We’ve been looking all over for you.” Zak lay belly-down in the dirt, gaping like a dead fish. Then, Brianna brought the blade of the machete down hard on the base of Zak’s skull, snapping it loose from the rest of his body.

§

Acolyte Brianna did that thing you sometimes see in samurai films where he swished the machete through the air, spraying a line of blood onto the grass and leaving the blade a little less drippy. He turned back to me. “Aren’t you going to greet me, Spirit-Brother?” he asked, his voice oozing with false concern. “I thought we were getting somewhere with you.”

I had a weapon, and Brianna didn’t have the element of surprise, which meant I had a choice. I could try to fight him and maybe win. Killing Mad King George’s toady was an idea I could really get behind. I owed him for being such a right bastard. And it would get him out of my hair so I could really focus on saving Gemma from an evil cult.

On the other hand, it was a risk. Brianna had the look of a cold-blooded killer, he was bigger than me, and he actually had experience using his weapon. I could easily lose, which would mean nobody left to save Gemma.

“I guess I have no choice but to kill you,” Brianna went on. “What a waste.” He wound up to swing the machete.

My weapon had more reach than his, and he knew it, but his had more power; he could probably knock it clean from my hands if he wanted. So rather than try to lock blades with the acolyte, I fell backward—the only way I could be certain of dodging his attack. I landed on my shoulder, signaling the return of the world’s longest-running but least-loved fireworks show. But I managed to keep from falling on my own weapon, which was something. And as Brianna stepped over me, following the momentum of his swing, I stabbed blindly upwards.

The high-pitched scream that followed told me I had scored a lucky blow, what a dartsman might call a bullseye, a bag o’ nuts, a downstairs treble, striking oil in the diddle for the middle, or some other phrase I’ve heard on telly (I don’t play darts myself).

Now, I could have stuck around and made it a perfect finish. But I didn’t want to risk a leg of sloppy darts. So I did the smart thing. I turned rabbit. Brianna, clutching at the jagged wound at the junction of his thighs, had dropped the bloody machete. Seeing me reach for it, the emasculated acolyte gave the weapon a swift kick, sending it flying into the bushes, and aimed a stomp for my fingers. I managed to pull my arm back in time and hook my fingers around his ankle. He fell backward onto a pile of rusted forestry implements, and I scarpered. I might have killed him, but I didn’t bother looking back.

I ran. From my one-sided conversations with Zak, I knew roughly where I was going. Brianna, if he was alive, knew it too. I was no longer armed, and I no longer had the lean mass of the ex-punk on my side, and the entire plan was probably suicidal, but it was the only one I had.

I made it to the compound just as night was falling. The place was dark and utterly abandoned, as though the entire population had ascended bodily to Heaven. But as I got closer, I began to hear a sound, a low drone like the humming of wasps reverberating through corrugated steel. It was coming from a squat, rectangular structure at the very end of the compound, a lodge of red mud and black wood that I had never entered. The black lodge had no windows and no visible openings, but flickering light shone through odd gaps in the structure. It had a purplish tint, like a bruised, smashed monitor.

I crept around the entire perimeter of the compound, on the lookout for posted guards, but the place was hollowed out. Everybody was in that lodge. So that was where I had to be. As I approached, the low drone became stronger, clearer, and I could make out words rising above the wave of sound like silvery fish flashing in a lake. It was that same chant I had heard before, the one in a language I could not place. I’d heard it first from Acolyte Brianna while he was getting me lost in the woods. I’d heard it next when waking up from a nightmare, then several times here, at Guru George’s secret compound. Sometimes it had sounded like Latin, other times Welsh, or Gaelic, or maybe Old English. This night, it had a French ring to it:

“Ombre coeur du lamentir, brûlé coeur du sang morir.”

But I don’t speak Latin, or Welsh, or Gaelic, and I barely passed French, so it wasn’t much use to speculate. I circled the building once, twice, three times, looking for a way in. The chant got louder; some people were now shrieking it, or merely screaming incoherently. Nobody seemed to be saying the same thing at the same time, but it all came together in an overwhelming flood of noise, like the least listenable bits of Skrillex. Finally, I found a low opening hung with leather of some kind. I had to get down and crawl on my belly to get through, but I didn’t see any other way inside. As I crawled through the opening, the flaps of leather brushed against me; it didn’t feel like cow or sheep but was incredibly soft and smooth, like lambskin. It also reeked. Kid, maybe? There were dozens of layers, trapping the light, sound, and heat of the lodge inside.

And smell. When I broke through the final layer or skins, the smell hit me like a landslide of shit. It was rancid, like the weeks-old sweat of a sick person. And there other notes beneath that: something bright and coppery, and something dank like black fungus.

Of course, the sound, too, was overwhelming, like standing directly in front of the speakers at an EDM concert. And the light. And the bodies. In fact, there was a lot about this that was like being in the front row at an EDM concert, which was ironic given the particular focus of this cult. If I had planned on sticking to the shadows, there was no chance of that now. But neither did there seem to be any chance of me being spotted. The people packed into the lodge—every member of George’s cult, it seemed—were entirely focused on themselves. Or, more accurately, on one another.

It seemed I had stumbled into some kind of orgy, which had always been a dream of mine. But like most dreams, the reality didn’t live up to the fantasy. Everybody was young, naked, and fit, and there were far more girls than boys; thus far, it was like most things I had seen on the internet. What the girls were doing was a lot like what had happened to me while I was strapped into the chair, but on a massive scale. Okay, but a bit too much sausage for my tastes. Unlike what had happened to me in the wheelchair, these girls were visibly aroused to an extent I had only seen in porn. Nobody was touching them, but they were gyrating madly, the rhythm of the chant frequently devolving into moans, shudders and screams.

Okay, from that description, it sounds pretty appealing. What I haven’t mentioned was the way the bruised purple light, which seemed everywhere but had no visible source, made their bodies look elongated, grotesque, amplifying every imperfection, deepening every blemish. Their mouths appeared stretched and toothless, their eyes black, all pupil, like a prey animal. Then there was the blood. The corpses of small animals filled every space that wasn’t occupied by moaning cultists: chickens, rabbits, baby goats. Their bellies were torn open, entrails spilling out, wrapped around the writhing bodies. The girls scooped up the blood and other fluids and smeared them over their own chests and stomachs or over the engorged members of the lads, who kept their hands to themselves, shouting snatches of chant with mad, frothy fervor. Thick ropes of yellowish drool hung from their mouths unattended or sprayed over the already filthy faces of the girls.

As I mentioned, nobody was touching the girls. Except one. In the middle of everything, sprawled over a raised, wicker platform—much like a larger version of the shrine in the woods—was Eliza. She had those same knotlike patterns drawn in blood on her stomach and breasts, just as I had seen on Gemma. Her head lolled backward, and though her lips moved and her voice called out, they didn’t form coherent words. It reminded me of a video we’d watched in World Cultures of people speaking in tongues during certain shamanic rituals. Her eyes were open wide, but they were all white, the pupils rolled back far into her skull. And moving in and out of her was a large figure with the head of a ram.

It had to be Guru George. He was considerably older than anybody else in the room, but powerfully built. Thick, clotted blood dripped down his bare chest and back where the ram’s head rested on his shoulders, tattered strips of bloody skin and fur slapping rhythmically against him as he moved. It must have been hollowed-out somehow, worn like a fancy dress mask. Somehow, his voice rolled out of the ram’s mouth clear and deep, louder than any other in the room. He gestured wildly while he fucked Eliza, twisting his arms and figures into configurations I would not have thought possible, popping his bones in and out of joint as they writhed like muscular worms. I got the sense that he was directing the chant somehow through his undulations.

I scanned the room for Gemma. She had to be here somewhere—there was nowhere else in the compound. Moaning, pleasure-distorted faces and offal-smeared bodies blurred together. Everywhere I turned my gaze, I was assaulted by another indecent display, by another erect nipple or shining vulva or grotesquely swollen penis. I felt as though I had clicked the wrong link and was trapped in a Hell of malicious pop-up ads.

Then, I found her. Just a glimpse of her, through the press of sweating, chanting bodies, in the farthest corner of the lodge. Fully naked, as before, and writhing in ecstacy. I couldn’t see what she was doing with her hands, but one arm was raised, moving vigorously. I felt sick. I had to look away.

The chanting rose to a crescendo. Something in the ram-headed man’s twisted, unnatural gestures indicated a shift in pitch and intensity. The bodies pressed closer until they were piled on top of Eliza, smothering her, body parts dipping in and out of her open mouth. The ram-headed man lifted something out of a wicker cage and held it above Eliza. It was wriggling and fleshy. It squealed in terror. A stream of urine escaped from between the creature’s legs and splashed over Eliza’s face, finding its way into her mouth and eyes.

Except it wasn’t an animal. It was a human child, about six months old.

Ram-head’s other arm produced a short, serrated knife from somewhere and pressed it against the wriggling child’s belly. I must have shouted something, pushed forward through the mass of slippery bodies, but there was nothing I could do to stop things once they were in motion. The knife pierced the child’s flesh, and with a single, long movement, Ram-head gutted it. Entrails fell out of the gash, into Eliza’s waiting mouth. She bit down on them until they burst with obscene fluids that dribbled over her tongue and across her face. The sound that came out of the child’s mouth was indescribable.

The first of the boys climaxed, spraying hot against Eliza’s stomach, and the others soon followed. Ram-head slammed hard into Eliza several more times, flanks juddering, as he finished inside her. She had lost consciousness at some point and was turning darker shades of purple under the bruise-colored lighting. The girls, their appetites unfulfilled, closed in lustily on the now-motionless child and began tearing into it with their teeth, fighting over the carcass like stray dogs. Gemma was among them.

Meanwhile, Ram-head unfolded his limbs and pointed the serrated knife in my direction. It seemed as though my eyes met the mad, dead eyes of the goat. A wordless howl escaped from beneath the mask. The boys—still erect—turned as one to face me.

§


How Does This All Work, Anyway?

In case you missed it, Part 1 contains a breakdown of English Eerie‘s mechanics and a general sense of how they were used to inspire this tale.

Here are the card draws and suggestions that inspired the journal entries in this segment of the story:

Entry 17: Secondary Character Obstacle—a character attempts to kill another character (failed).

Entry 18: A secondary character (the infant) is harmed.

The narrator ended this segment with 1 Spirit and 1 Resolve.


English Eerie: Detox (Part 6)

Note: This story was written in collaboration with Scott Malthouse’s English Eerie: Rural Horror Storytelling Game for One Player, published by Trollish Delver Games. It was previously published serially on BoardGameGeek. Skip down to “How Does This All Work, Anyway?” to learn more about how the prompts and mechanics from English Eerie were used to build this narrative.

Content Warning: This story contains mature themes and explicit references to sex, violence, drug use, sexual violence, and occult rituals.


Ram Head

English Eerie: Detox

Part Six: Taken

§

Do you remember that bit in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her mates are passing through the haunted woods? That’s a decent enough visual for my escape from George’s compound. Red-eyed squirrels stared down at me from gnarled papier-mâché branches. Thick roots seemed to rise up out of the ground to trip me, branches came out of nowhere to whack me in the face like some outdated slapstick routine, and even as I tried to run in a straight line, the rest of the world spun around me like a carousel. I felt like I’d stumbled into the woods out of Evil Dead. I do believe in spooks, I do, I do.

As I quickly discovered, the map was next to useless to me. I couldn’t follow the lines drawn on it as they seemed to change every time I looked at it. Every third time I opened it up, I realized I was holding it upside-down or sideways. Not that it really mattered, because every time I rotated the map, the rest of the world would rotate along with it.

“I’m starting to really hate nature,” I thought.

Then, I thought about it some more, and I realized it wasn’t nature I hated. It was bastards like George and Brianna who took everything that was beautiful in nature and twisted it around so that it was evil and ugly. “Those arseholes,” I thought.

In fact, when I wasn’t worrying about being axe-murdered, there had been a few times on this trip when I’d actually felt sort of connected with Mother Gaia, or my own version of her. Even if Guru George was full of shit, maybe there was something there. Anyway, I wasn’t going to find Gemma by following a map. So I closed my eyes and tried to align myself with the Earth’s magnetic fields. Maybe it was just the mushrooms, but I could almost feel them, a faint vibrating at the edge of my consciousness.

“You’re just going on a star walk,” I told myself. “Just like last time.” I could swear I heard angels sing as the stellar radiation poured over me. And I walked, giving myself over completely to the Earth Mother.

When I stopped worrying about following the map, finding my way through the woods became surprisingly easy. I listened to the night-birds, and I even sang along to the best bits. My cheeks got sore from all the smiling, and a warm feeling surrounded me, like floating in a nice warm bath.

As I walked, the woods started to look more familiar. I still couldn’t tell you where I was, but I could tell you that I’d been there before. And then I saw it: the splintered tree, still bleeding sap from its wound; the fallen branch; the dark stain on the soil where I had bled into the ground. My shoulder twinged in recognition. This was where it had happened.

Something about the scene drew my attention. The way the branch had snapped off didn’t seem natural. What were those long, thin scars near the break point? I bent to get a closer look. Sure enough, it looked like somebody had hacked at the limb with a bladed tool—some kind of hatchet or machete—to weaken it. So even this was part of George’s plan.

If I hadn’t been bending over, I would never have noticed something black and oblong half-buried in the leaves. I brushed them away to uncover a small pocket journal and a Pilot pen. My Moleskine! My new outfit didn’t have any pockets, so I tucked it into my waistband and continued on my way.

Maybe it was Mother Gaia, maybe it was luck, or maybe it was my unconscious mind guiding me, but I made it. Well, I didn’t exactly find my way back to camp, but the Earth Mother did me one better: she took me exactly where I needed to be.

Where I needed to be, it turns out, was that little pagoda/groundskeeper’s shack in the middle of the woods, the one with the little wicker shrine in it. I remembered seeing Acolyte Brianna enter the shrine on the day of my accident, the same day I discovered the hacked-up corpse in that metal crate buried in the clearing. Maybe he left something important inside, I reasoned, like a semi-automatic rifle or a satellite phone. Or maybe just a bottle of water.

When I got closer to the door of the shack, however, I heard movement inside, the sound of somebody shifting around, then a voice murmuring. I reeled away from the opening as though it were made of fire and flattened myself against the outer wall of the shack with enough force to make the timbers quiver, making myself ten times more conspicuous than I’d been before. “Oh no,” I slurred through my bandages. The words came out as a sort of “David After Dentist” moan. “Oh, no. I am not stealthy at all. I’m about to die. Oh, no.”

But the thought eventually came to me that I wasn’t dead. I risked opening my eyes. There were no masked maniacs threatening me with a machete. I heard another noise within the shack, and another murmur. This time, I could make out that it was a girl’s voice. Not just any girl’s voice: Gemma’s voice.

Forgetting all danger, I dashed into the shack. It was dark inside except for a few fat tallow candles scattered haphazardly about the place. As my eyes adjusted, I made out that the candles had previously been arranged in a wide circle, but that most of them had already burned out. In the middle of that circle was the shrine. And on the shrine was Gemma.

It took me a long time to comprehend what I was seeing, and it took me even longer to believe it. Gemma had been stripped completely naked and laid out like a corpse, with her arms and legs dangling off of the wicker shrine. I knew she hadn’t undressed herself because her clothes, in a messy pile in the corner, were torn and soiled. She was incredibly pale, and there was blood everywhere. She wasn’t breathing. I reached out and touched her, and she was cold to the touch.

Except, as my mind processed the scene in front of me, I saw that there were no cuts or wounds visible on her body. The blood wasn’t hers; it had been painted on her skin, especially her belly and breasts, in patterns that brought to my mind celtic knots. There was a butchered hen lying on the shrine beside her head. And when I got closer, I saw that she was breathing, just so slowly and shallowly that you could only see it if you were close enough to make out the downy hairs on her stomach.

My relief turned to nausea and rage when I realized that, while Gemma hadn’t been murdered, something just as evil and disgusting had happened to her. I wasn’t in time to save her from Guru George. Her legs were spread wide enough apart for me to plainly see that the bastard had already come and gone.

§

I shook. I stared for longer than I ought to’ve. I realized that my fingernails were digging hard enough into my palms to make them bleed. My brain kept trying to come up with alternative explanations for what I was looking at, but each one of them crashed and burned when it came up against the solid wall of evidence before me.

While all this was going on, a little voice inside my head was screaming to be heard over the roar of blood boiling through my brain. I calmed myself and had a listen.

“Get. Gemma. The. Fuck. Out of here!” the voice shrieked, exasperated. I had to admit it had a point. So what if I had failed her in the most fundamental way possible? She and I were still in danger.

I wrapped my arms around Gemma’s cold body and tried to lift it, but the still-wet blood made her slippery, and I couldn’t manage her limp, dead weight. It was like trying to carry a passed-out mate home after a night of heavy drinking. Gemma didn’t really drink, I recalled. She said it polluted the body.

I stripped off my homespun tunic and used it to wipe up as much of the blood as I could manage. At this point, Gemma had started murmuring again, confirming that she was indeed alive. I couldn’t quite make out the words, but I thought I heard the phrase:

“…sold my soul…bosom of the dale….”

Most people would have been wide awake, the way I was jostling her, but she was still out cold. It gave me an idea, however. My bones and muscles were weak from who knows how long without proper exercise. In that state, I couldn’t hope to carry Gemma out of the woods and outrun Guru George and his minions. So I stopped trying to lift her and started trying to wake her.

I wasn’t really sure how to go about this, so I did what I’d seen in the cinema: grabbed her by the shoulders and shook the devil out of her. It was like shaking a stuffed animal. I stopped when her head came down against the wicker shrine hard enough to make an audible crack. She still wasn’t awake, but the color was coming back into her cheeks, and her eyelids were fluttering.

I thought I heard a noise in the woods, a sort of scraping like something heavy being dragged along the earth. We had to get out of there now. “Sorry, Gemma,” I slurred, lifting my hand above my head. I couldn’t look as I slapped her hard across the face.

Finally, Gemma’s eyes shot open. Her cheek burned red with the mark of my hand. Her eyes wouldn’t focus, but she seemed to take me in. “Fynn?” she asked incredulously, speaking as though her mouth were stuffed with gauze.

“It’s me, Gemma,” I tried to say, happy tears running down my face.

“I can’t understand you,” she replied, her voice like that of a petulant child. “Fynn, they said you and that Zak gave up. They said you went home. It’s so good to see you.” She smiled in a not-all-there way.

“It’s good to see you too, Gemma,” I replied. “But we need to go. Can you stand?”

“You’re not making any sense, Fynn,” Gemma pouted. She seemed to remember something. “You left me all alone, Fynn. You just left me there. How could you do that to me?”

I didn’t answer.

Gemma seemed to have forgotten whatever emotions she was experiencing moments before. Her gaze slid loosely over the room. “Where are we?”

“We need to get out of here, Gemma,” I repeated, trying to keep each syllable low, slow, and distinct. I handed her what was left of her clothes.

Gemma looked at the torn, soiled bundle in confusion, then she looked down at her own naked body, still covered in a pink film of blood. Her pupils seemed to focus for the first time. “What the fuck?” she muttered.

“There’s no time to explain, Gemma–,” I began.

Gemma looked at me, at my naked torso and the blood-soaked shirt in my hand. “What the fuck, Fynn?” she repeated, more loudly and distinctly. She sat up abruptly and nearly fell off of the shrine. I caught her and helped her stand, but once she was firmly on two feet, she shoved me away forcefully. “What the fuck is this, Fynn?” she demanded, her voice becoming clearer by the syllable.

“It’s not…it wasn’t me. Look, Gemma, I’m trying to save you, if you’d only let me. That bastard George–”

But if she could understand my speech, Gemma wasn’t listening. She snatched up her clothes and ran, stumbling every few steps, out the door and into the woods. I ran after her and got close enough to lay a hand on her bare shoulder, but she shoved me again. My heel slipped on a slick of blood and I fell backward, cracking the back of my skull against an abandoned table and sending pain blazing through my shoulder and jaw. I blacked out, and when I came to, the blood was dry, and Gemma was long gone.

“Shit,” I thought, starting to my feet. The pain was immense. Either the drugs they’d been giving me had some painkilling effect, or the blow to my shoulder had re-opened a fracture, or both. I stumbled over and scooped up my bloody shirt, pulling it awkwardly over my head. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed the book on the shrine, the one called The Bringing of Rains, reasoning that once I got Gemma out, I might be able to use it as evidence against Mad King George.

I made my way back to the camp, wincing with every step as the vibrations of my footfalls were echoed in the wildfire of pain around my shoulder. I approached quietly, in case Zak and Brianna were watching, but the place was abandoned. If Gemma had come back there, she wasn’t there now.

Which left two options. She had done the smart thing, even in her confusion, and run toward the nearest tourist spot. Or Guru George had found her and brought her back to his secret compound.

There was only one way to find out.

The only problem was that I didn’t really know where George’s secret compound was. I didn’t expect it would be easy to find; that was the point of a secret compound, after all. I’d lost the map at some point. If I only had a brain.

“Okay, Mother Gaia,” I announced, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath. “Here’s the deal. You helped me once before, but we’re not out of the woods yet.” I opened my eyes and looked around. “No offense. I know you don’t owe me anything, and to be honest, I’ll probably go right back to my phone and my laptop as soon as we get out of this jam. I’ll probably binge watch the entire series of Black Mirror. But if you could find it in your heart to help me find Gemma, that would be…really cool.”

It wasn’t the most articulate prayer ever, but it seemed to work. I felt that same tug on the edge of my consciousness, that same vague sense of the Earth’s magnetic fields buzzing all around me like a net. It was fainter than before, maybe because it was daylight now, maybe because I was running out of favors from Mother Gaia, maybe because the shrooms were wearing off. In any case, it was something, and I said a fervent “thank you” and was on my way.

And blundered straight into a dead body. He was hanging from a tree-branch in a small wicker cage. His skin was purple all over, an unnatural shade of purple that I didn’t think even corpses should be. Flies swarmed around his gaping mouth. Beneath their fat, black bodies, the opening was misshapen somehow. It took me a moment to realize why: the tongue had been removed. He had possibly died from drowning in his own blood. There was another bloody mess at the corpse’s crotch (the body was naked), and more flies streamed from his sunken, bloody eye-holes.

It was that last detail that finally triggered my gasp of recognition. I’d seen that face as recently as the night before. It was the face of the sunken-eyed lad.

§


How Does This All Work, Anyway?

In case you missed it, Part 1 contains a breakdown of English Eerie‘s mechanics and a general sense of how they were used to inspire this tale.

Here are the card draws and suggestions that inspired the journal entries in this segment of the story:

Entry 15: A secondary character (Gemma) is harmed.

Entry 16: A secondary character (the sunken-eyed lad) is harmed.

The narrator ended this segment with 2 Spirit and 1 Resolve.