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 Three: Turn Around
My sleep was interrupted by the sensation of something sharp and cold being shoved through my eye socket. I snapped my eyes open and instantly regretted it. The morning light, washing the walls of the tent bleach-white, assaulted my eyes like sandpaper. I squeezed them shut, and the pain shrunk down to a single, blazing point that overwhelmed all thought and sensation, like a star collapsing under its own gravity. I wanted to vomit. It was the worst hangover I’ve ever had.
I sat there like that for who knows how long, in too much pain to move, to think, even to notice the passage of time. After a while, I did vomit. I just about managed to roll onto my side so that I wouldn’t drown in it; there was no question of running out to the hole. After emptying the entire contents of my stomach and retching air for a little while, I started to feel a little better. After a few more minutes, I was able to roll upright and open my eyes without that intense desire to be euthanized.
I looked around me. Zak the punk was going through a similar sort of ordeal in his corner of the tent. Gemma was still asleep, so pale and motionless that I worried for a second that she was dead. Her breathing was shallow enough that I couldn’t detect it without bringing my ear centimeters from her lips, and her pulse was slow and faint, but at least she didn’t seem to be in any pain. I pulled back with a start when I realized that she was naked inside her sleeping bag, at least the parts that I could see.
I looked around the tent again. This time, I caught the eyes of Guru George and Acolyte Brianna. Only they seemed hale and well-rested. “The day’s blessings upon thee, Spirit-Brother Fynn,” Brianna said by way of greeting. I grunted and belched.
“It is a transitional phase,” Guru George announced, indicating the puddle of black vomit that had started seeping into my bedroll. “Your body has accumulated many toxins, some of them deep down in the marrow. The ones that have sunk the deepest will be the most painful to purge.”
“I’ve done a lot of purging,” I replied. “I think I’m all purged out for a while. Maybe we can take a break from the purging?”
Acolyte Brianna scowled, and looked like he was about to rebuke me for my insolence, but Guru George smiled. “When I was in your place, I thought in much the same way.” He smiled even wider. “What, did you think that I have always lived this way? I had to free myself from the tyranny of technology, same as you. We have all gone through what you are going through now. Ask Spirit-Brother Brianna.” That wiped the smirk from the arse-kissing acolyte’s face.
“When I look on you,” Guru George continued, “I cannot help but feel a thrill at what you will become. As I said, it is a transformation, and those who feel it the strongest are those who emerge on the other side the purest. When I look on you, I see a thing of unsurpassable beauty waiting to break free. Not to downplay the progress of anybody else in the room,” he said, looking to Brianna and Zak, “but you…you may surpass even myself.”
I couldn’t tell whether he truly believed all of the bullshit he was spewing—in which case, he’s an absolute nutter—or if he is just really skilled at manipulating people’s emotions, as so many of these cult-leader types are. In either case, I wasn’t buying it for a second.
While we were having this conversation, Gemma began to wake up. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her sit up, then quickly realize she was topless and scramble to pull the sleeping bag over herself. I quickly averted my gaze, but not before registering her confused expression. Just what the fuck is going on here?
While Gemma got herself sorted, Guru George announced the day’s activity. Since everybody was feeling the effects of the cleanse, we would have a day of meditation and fasting. That meant—I don’t think I could have kept it down anyway—and what amounts to a free period. We were all encouraged to explore the woods and find a place through which “the land speaks” to us; it was strongly suggested that these places would be far away from each other. Getting us lost in the woods, weak from hunger and isolated from one another, seems like just the sort of thing a Jason Voorhees would want, but I knew that any objections I raised were liable to knock me down on the purity totem pole. Besides, I had a plan.
I made a show of getting ready for my communion with nature—closing my eyes and “listening” for the land to tell me where to go, like a kind of shrubby GPS. What I really did was pick a spot that was especially heavily wooded, with lots of deep shadow and thick shrubbery but a clear view of camp. I tramped off loudly, waited a count of sixty, and then doubled back and watched everyone else depart. George and Brianna waited until everyone else had left, then they exchanged a few words—I was not close enough to hear them clearly—and headed off in opposite directions. Moving as quietly as I could, I followed after Brianna.
To my surprise, he pulled the exact same maneuver I had, and I had to clamber up a tree to prevent being discovered. When he got near to where I had been a second before, he stopped and sniffed the air—what a weirdo—then continued on his way. I carefully climbed down and kept after him, keeping a careful eye out for any other sudden changes in direction. There weren’t any, though. I’ve seen enough telly to know what to expect when tailing a suspect: ducking into doorways and alleys, getting lost in massive meat freezers, being hit over the head with a bottle when you turn the wrong corner. None of that happened. Nothing happened, and it went on happening for a long time. Telly doesn’t prepare you for that.
After the most boring hour of my life, something interesting finally happened: Brianna arrived at that little pagoda/shack I stumbled upon on my first night and strode inside like he’d done it a million times before. After a little burst of adrenaline, I realized that nothing else was going to happen. Nobody else entered the shack (which isn’t to say there wasn’t somebody there already), Brianna didn’t come out, and I couldn’t exactly go in there after him.
What he didn’t know is that I had him exactly where I wanted him. I legged it back to camp—I’ve gotten a lot better at remembering my path through the woods—and, slowing down just long enough to check that there was nobody else around, grabbed the old shovel I’d used the day before. Then it was another sprint through the woods to the freshly dug hole.
In there, I knew, was my phone—or, if not my phone, then at least a phone. I could call the police, track down Gemma, and run. And maybe the sandwich was still good.
I dug. It hurt a lot more than it did yesterday, but I pushed through the pain. At one point, I had to stop to vomit into the hole I’d just cleared, but when I was done, I got right back to digging. I dug like my life depended on it, because it did.
And then there was that other moment telly had prepared me for, that glorious clink of metal hitting metal. I hurriedly cleared the dirt around the metal case and lifted it out of the hole.
There was still the padlock to contend with. To be honest, I’d forgotten about it—my thoughts still felt a little fuzzy. In desperation, I swung the heavy part of the shovel against the padlock, again and again, praying that it would break. It was noisy as hell, but I couldn’t afford to care about that. I swung until my hands bled from splinters from the shovel. I swung until black stars filled my vision. Then I swung some more.
“Hi-ho, hi-ho,” I sang, mad with exhaustion. “It’s off to work we go!”
Then there was a surprisingly quiet snapping noise, and the padlock fell to the ground. I fell to my knees, panting, and tried to get the lid open, but my hands were shaking too hard, and dirt had gotten trapped in the hinges. I took a deep breath, found my center, hooked my bloody fingers under the edge, and heaved. The lid swung open. I reached inside blindly.
I was expecting the familiar vinyl surface of my bag. Instead, my numb fingers closed around something round and a little soft, like a loaf of bread. I drew it out of the crate, and at the same moment, the smell hit me. I dropped the object immediately and vomited into the hole.
That smell…I can still smell it on my hands. It was like the time a rat died in our radiator and we didn’t find out until the first cold day of winter. Which isn’t really surprising, given what the object was.
It was a human head. It wasn’t attached to the rest of the human.
Next I knew, I was surrounded by earth, staring up at the bruise-colored sky through a rectangular frame. Something cold and damp was soaking into my hair. I thought it must be my grave, and any second now, dirt would start raining down over me. “A big fat hug from the Earth Mother,” I mumbled, disturbed by the slow, mushy quality of my voice. Then I saw the shadow of the metal crate, and my brain finally caught up to reality: I must have passed out and tumbled into the recently excavated hole.
My head felt fuzzy. As I waited for the feeling to come back into my fingers and toes, I seriously considered, for the first time, the possibility that I had been drugged. It would explain a lot of things: the weird euphoria of last night, the deadly hangover of this morning, and why, at that moment, I couldn’t convince my arms and legs to lift me out of the hole. I sat there for minutes while my brain screamed at my body to get to work.
Eventually, I was able to crawl out of the hole, where I was confronted again by the severed human head. It had started to go bad, or whatever it is that body parts do when they are removed from the rest of the body, so I couldn’t really make out the details of its features. It could have been a boy or a girl; it had long hair, but that doesn’t really prove anything in this day and age. The important bit is that it was certainly human, and it was certainly dead.
I struggled to my feet, took a moment to make sure I wasn’t going to fall back into the hole, then took another look in the crate. If I could get to my bag, there was still a chance I could phone the police or something.
There was no bag in the crate. Instead, there was the rest of the human. Not all at once, like, but if you added it all together, I’m pretty sure it would have come to one full human. Definitely a boy, I noted.
I staggered away from the crate. After a few steps, I started to run. All I could think about was finding Gemma. That Zak guy was probably worth saving, too; he seemed a decent enough chap. But if I had to leave him behind in order to get Gemma to safety, there would be no hesitation.
I thought about the direction I had seen Gemma go in, and where she was likely to be in relation to the hole, and I tried to head in that direction. I had no way of knowing if I was anywhere close, but there was nothing else I could think to do except return to camp and wait for her to get back, and I wanted to avoid being by myself in that tent if I could possibly help it. Even if I couldn’t find Gemma, if I ran for long enough, I’d be sure to run into some family on holiday.
The snapping of branches startled me, and I spun around, ready to defend my life against a real life Jason Voorhees. I wished I hadn’t left the shovel behind. But nothing emerged from the shadows, brandishing a bloody machete, and I realized that it was just the wind. It had really picked up and was whipping dead leaves and dirt around at highway speeds. The trees groaned as their branches shook.
I was about to turn back around and resume my search when I heard a different kind of snapping of branches. I felt light-headed. My eyes darted from tree to tree, searching for shadowy figures, but the input they were getting wasn’t making any sense. Then, there was a tremendous crack, and I looked up just in time to see a massive branch plummeting toward my head.
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 8: Grey Lady—a human skull is found in the wood.
Entry 9: Environmental Obstacle—a falling branch from above (failed).
The narrator ended this segment with 4 Spirit and 2 Resolve.