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.
English Eerie: Detox
Part Two: The Test
I woke up choking. All around me, voices were chanting that same bit of Welsh-Gaelic nonsense: “Hex curt lawnmower barn cart Sainsbury’s.” Or maybe it’s Latin; isn’t “Hvc cvrt liminir brvn cvrt sinispiro” one of those phrases that shows up on old maps or something? “Here be nutters.” Hey, at least they’re being honest with themselves. What I wouldn’t give for a Google Translate right now!
Anyway, that was the first thing I heard—the chanting, loud enough to melt earwax, like they were screaming directly into my ears. And it wasn’t just one voice, either, or even two; it sounded like hundreds of them, all chanting in unison. And I tried to take a breath, but I couldn’t pull in air. For a moment, I worried that my throat had closed up. “Fantastic,” I thought. “I’d better not be allergic to shit-tea.” But then my body took over, and I coughed up a thick gob of brownish phlegm, and I sneezed, and I could breathe again, albeit in a labored, wheezing way. I swallowed, and it felt as though somebody had stabbed me in the throat with a rusty knife.
“Fantastic,” I thought again. “I’ve caught a cold. On the first day of holiday. What an exciting three weeks you have ahead of you, Fynn, you lucky bastard.” But at least I was breathing now, even if it hurt a little. As the pounding in my head died down, I began to hear the world around me again, and I realized that it wasn’t chanting after all; it was singing, of the nutty cult/wilderness camp variety, like I’d heard last night. Acolyte Brianna was on guitar, and Guru George was leading some sort of call-and-response folk ballad about the beauty of Mother Gaia and the evils of modern living.
“I sold my soul to cars and e-mail
I sold my soul to cars and e-mail
But now it rests in the bosom of the dale
But now it rests in the bosom of the dale”
…was one of the verses. Gemma was belting it out wholeheartedly—off-key, of course—and even Zak was singing along in a less enthusiastic but surprisingly rich baritone. He looked a little grey, but at least he was upright, which was more than I could say for myself. He caught my eye and gave me a sympathetic nod.
After the song wound down, Guru George gestured toward me. “I see that Spirit-Brother Fynn has awakened. The day’s blessings upon you, Spirit-Brother,” he said with a genial nod. I returned the greeting awkwardly.
“How are you feeling, Spirit-Brother? No need to answer that; I can see from your aura that you are still unwell.” I’m sure the bags under my eyes and the mucus plastering my face had nothing to do with it. “The first day of a cleanse is always the hardest,” he said with what looked like sincere compassion. “Your soul is still fighting to free itself from the toxins. And it is losing because there is still a part of you that does not want to win”
“I’m sure it has nothing to do with spending the night shitting into a hole whilst getting rained on,” I retorted, or tried to; what came out was more like a sad croak and a long bout of coughing.
“You are like a drug addict going through withdrawals,” Guru George went on, “except that it is technology to which you are addicted. You must release all ties to the material world before your soul—and body—can be healed.” Behind him, Gemma was nodding emphatically, concern plastered all over her face. While I knew that everything Guru George said was bullshit, I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I compromised with a shrug.
“We were just about to eat,” Acolyte Brianna announced. Now that he mentioned it, I noticed that they each had a plate in front of them; the delicious smell of fried eggs wafted over to me. I realized that I was starving.
“Eggs?” I croaked, starting up hungrily.
“Guru George keeps hens,” Brianna explained. “But I’m afraid that eating such things now would only feed the technotoxins inside you. It’s imperative that we continue with your cleanse.” He produced a bowl of watery millet and a steaming mug. “Please, drink plenty of tea. You are probably dehydrated.” He smirked so that only I could see.
I begrudgingly accepted the food. Eyeing the plates of eggs jealously, I choked down as much millet as I could—I was finding it hard to swallow at the moment—and pretended to sip the tea, letting most of it backwash into the mug and the rest dribble down my chin. “Mmmm,” I burbled, giving Brianna a thumbs-up. “Cleansing.”
Eventually, I excused myself to go “visit the hole” and dumped the rest of the tea out behind the tent. By this point, my stomach was really rumbling—hunger, this time, thank God. I remembered the half-eaten sandwich in my bag. Hallelujah! And there was a water bottle in there, too!
I dropped a couple of pebbles into the hole to complete the illusion and hurried back to the tent. Everybody was carrying out some trust exercise outside the tent; this was my chance to sneak to my bag and retrieve the food! I slipped inside and made a beeline for my bag.
Rather, I made a beeline for where my bag should have been. There was nothing there anymore. I searched frantically, picking up Gemma’s rucksack, looking under and behind my bedroll…until a polite cough behind my back attracted my attention.
“Looking for this?” Brianna held my bag like a trophy. “I’m afraid we’ve had to confiscate this for your own good. Just until it’s no longer a temptation.”
“You can’t do that!” I protested. “That’s my private property!”
“And what will your friend Gemma think when she hears you brought an illegal piece of technology onto the healing grounds?” Unzipping the front pocket of my bag, he pulled out a new-looking phone.
“That’s…not mine,” I said, flabbergasted. It couldn’t be. It looked like mine, but my phone is still in the storage locker at King’s Cross, next to Gemma’s.
Brianna pushed the home button, and the phone’s display lit up. There was my lock screen, a picture of me and Gemma from last summer.
“How did you get that?” I demanded, furious. Brianna only clicked his tongue and put the phone back into the bag.
“If you don’t take this seriously, Spirit-Brother Fynn, you’ll never get better,” he said, shoving the bag into a metal crate and securing it with a padlock. “Now, how about some more tea?”
I spent the rest of the morning in the tent. I didn’t want to go outside and see what the others were doing, and they didn’t ask me to. I just kept thinking about that phone. Is it really mine? How could it be? On the other hand, how could it not be? For this to be a fake, Brianna would have to know how to clone my lock screen. He’d have to remotely access my photo library. Did I put that pic on Instagram? I honestly can’t remember. But he’d still have to access my phone settings to know which picture to use. Is he some mad hacker? It just doesn’t fit with his Nature Boy persona. Then again, I already know he’s full of shit.
Much easier, then, to just send someone to King’s Cross, get the locker combination (it’s written down on a slip of paper in my bag), take the actual phone, and plant it in my bag. But Brianna can’t have done it himself; he’d be gone long enough for people to notice. That suggests there are other people in on the conspiracy, people I haven’t met yet.
What conspiracy, though? What’s Brianna’s end game, apart from humiliating me? I remembered the way he’d called out to me that night over the hole, hiding a machete behind his back.
It’s just unreal. This isn’t some slasher movie; Brianna Gable isn’t Jason Voorhees. Maybe the machete was for, I don’t know, clearing the underbrush. Maybe he just wanted to check up on me. Maybe I really did leave my phone in my bag by accident. He’s still a dickhead.
I kept staring at the metal crate, wishing I could get it open. But unlike Acolyte Brianna, I don’t know all the codes.
Around mid-afternoon, Gemma came in to check on me. This made my day immeasurably better. “Listen, Gemma—” I began.
“Shhh.” She put a finger to my lips, and this actually did shut me up. “I know you’re not having a good time. Detoxing is never fun. But I wanted to let you know that I’m really proud of you.”
Hearing that from her, and seeing her smile, made my heart swell with happiness. I had to force myself to shake off that happy feeling and latch back on to the urgency of the situation. “Gemma, I think something’s up. Brianna isn’t to be trusted. I think I might—you might be in danger.”
Gemma shook her head sadly. “He told me you would say that. That’s your attachment to the digital world. It sees all this…all this joy and wonder as a threat.” She made a gesture with her hand as though we could see through the white canvas walls of the tent and take in the full majesty of the Yorkshire Dales in an instant. Maybe she could.
I shook my head. “Dammit, Gemma, don’t be so gullible. He doesn’t believe any of that. He’s just using you.” I knew immediately that I had said the wrong thing. Gemma’s expression hardened, as it had on the previous occasions I had been foolish enough to challenge her beliefs.
“I guess you’re not ready to open your heart to the Earth Mother,” she said, getting up to leave. Helpless, I watched her go. She stopped in the doorway of the tent. “He told me about the phone, Fynn. I’m disappointed.” And she left. I might have cried a little bit.
Guru George came in a few minutes later. “Spirit-Wife Gemma tells me that you are not ready to accept the cleanse,” he announced, “but I tend to see the best in people. Spirit-Brother Brianna tells me it’s a weakness.” What a creep. Why does it have to be Spirit-Wife?
“I believe that you are ready to progress in your spiritual awakening,” George continued. “I have prepared a test of devotion. If you pass, then you will be allowed to rejoin the others.”
I was about to curse him out, but something made me hold my tongue. I thought about it. I don’t know if Guru George is part of the conspiracy; if he isn’t, then the best way to shut Brianna down is to go above his head. But to do that, I need to get into the Guru’s good graces. And if he is a danger, I need to get close to Gemma again so that she’ll trust me when the time comes to escape. Either way, it’s better for me to go along with things, at least outwardly.
I agreed to the test. Guru George seemed genuinely pleased; he practically beamed. He led me out about half a kilometer into the woods, into a clearing that, to me, looked no different from anything around it. Then, he handed me a shovel. “Dig.”
“That’s the test?” I asked incredulously.
The Guru nodded. “Dig as much as you feel is necessary. Mother Gaia will guide you. I will return before nightfall; if the hole meets my specifications, you have passed the test.” And he left.
I stared at the ground in front of me. A hole. For what? Maybe George was planning on planting a tree; I’m not sure that’s legal in the Yorkshire Dales, but whatever. Or maybe he just likes to see young lads work up a sweat. Well, ours is not to reason why and all that. I picked up the shovel and started to dig.
Not knowing what Guru George was looking for, if he was looking for anything, I tried to clear my mind and just dig. To my surprise, I immediately entered a sort of meditative state. Maybe it was exhaustion or malnutrition, but my mind went blank, and when I came back to myself, the sun was going down and I was standing before a two-by-three meter hole that was about two meters deep. I barely felt the pain in my arms and shoulders, and even my sore throat seemed to have cleared up. I actually felt refreshed, invigorated.
I leaned the shovel against a tree and waited. After a while, Guru George arrived, looked down at the hole, and left without a word. He didn’t invite me to follow, so I continued to wait. About twenty minutes later, Guru George returned with Acolyte Brianna. My blood boiled at the sight of the man, but I didn’t let it show on my face. Pure zen. The men were carrying a heavy metal crate between them. The metal crate, I knew, that contained my bag and my phone. They lowered it into the hole, then Acolyte Brianna grabbed the shovel and started piling dirt back into it.
Guru George turned to me. “Congratulations, Spirit-Brother Fynn. You’ve passed the test.”
Guru George led me back to camp while Acolyte Brianna buried the crate. I should have been seething, knowing what was being buried, but the curious calm from earlier still suffused my thoughts. I felt at peace with my situation—not happy, but not angry or panicked either. Maybe I should do manual labor more often.
When we got back to the camp, Gemma and the punk Zak were sitting around the cook-fire finishing up their dinner. This might be the starvation diet talking, but it smelled amazing. Guru George must have filled them in on the situation, because there was a little celebration when they saw me. Zak raised his bowl in a little salute, and Gemma sprang up from the log she’d been sitting on and wrapped me in a tight hug. Now I really did feel happy; in fact, I felt like the coolest lad in the world. “I knew you could do it, Fynn,” she whispered in my ear. That isn’t quite how I remember our last conversation, but I’ve learned never to correct a girl whispering in your ear.
Guru George smiled a patronizing smile, but I think there was genuine happiness behind it, too; he might just have resting patronizing face. “Spirit-Brother Fynn has made great strides this evening,” he announced. “I have looked into his soul and judged it pure enough to progress to the next stage of the cleanse.” This business about there being a next stage to the cleanse was news to me, but if it meant I could have real food instead of millet and shit-tea, and I could sit next to Gemma, I was all for it. “He will be having supper with us tonight,” George concluded, ladling me a bowl of something nutritious made with lots of root vegetables. It was your standard health food—so bland and high in fiber it might as well have been cardboard—but after the past couple of days, it was heavenly. I slurped it down as quickly as I could without offending the Guru, burning my tongue and the roof of my mouth in the process, and asked for seconds, which he graciously supplied.
After supper, Guru George led us in another of his weird songs—Zak took over guitar duties for this one, since Acolyte Brianna still hadn’t returned—and then announced that we would be going on a “star walk.” Nobody asked him what the hell he was talking about, by which I cleverly deduced it was one of the activities I’d missed out on while lost, sick, or digging. I decided to stick close to Gemma and follow her lead.
As it turns out, a “star walk” is just like a normal walk, but at night, like. I guess you were supposed to focus on the night sky and let your body be washed by the stellar radiation, which is better, somehow, than the radiation from cell towers and power lines. I don’t know if we were supposed to be meditating or if everybody was just feeling quiet and awkward. Gemma and I lagged behind.
“I wanted to say thanks for coming,” she said. It sounded as though she’d said it in her head a dozen times already. “I know this trip has been terrible for you so far. But I’m really glad you’re here. And I’m glad you’re better.”
“Sure,” I replied awkwardly. I didn’t think it was the time to bring up the stolen cell phone, the buried crate, or the machete.
“I know you don’t really believe in this,” she continued. There was a long pause. “So why’d you come?”
“Because I’m in love with you, obviously,” I replied with a grin. Gemma snorted and gave me a friendly shove. “But seriously,” I continued, my ears burning red, “this summer was supposed to be about new experiences. And this is certainly a new experience.”
“I’m glad you’re here,” she repeated. We were silent for the rest of the walk. Maybe it was just the stellar radiation, but my entire body felt warm, despite the crisp night air.
When we got back to the tent, the fatigue I’d somehow dodged all day finally caught up to me. I practically fell face-first into my sleeping roll and was asleep immediately. The other campers did the same.
I was so tired that I don’t even remember dreaming. I do remember, however, waking up with a blood-curdling scream echoing in my ears. It was a woman’s scream, and my first thought was Gemma, but I looked over and saw her sleeping soundly in the darkness. I had just about convinced myself that it was all in my imagination when I heard a second scream. It was coming from somewhere in the woods—I couldn’t really tell which direction. There was the start of a third scream, but it got cut off suddenly and with an ominous finality.
I looked around the tent to see if anybody else had heard it. Gemma was still asleep, as was Zak. Guru George and Acolyte Brianna were nowhere to be seen, which was pretty odd considering it was the middle of the night. It suddenly felt very cold in the tent. “This isn’t right,” I remember thinking. “I need to get up, grab Gemma, and get the fuck out of here.” But I couldn’t will my muscles to move, and a few seconds later, I felt my head hit the pillow hard. I plunged into another dreamless sleep.
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 5: Secondary Character Obstacle—a character steals something from you (failed).
Entry 6: Environmental Obstacle—a deep dug out pit (passed).
Entry 7: Minor Clue—a scream from the nearby wood.
The narrator ended this segment with 5 Spirit and 3 Resolve.