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 Four: Red Earth
I spent the first moments after I woke up trying to decide whether or not I had died. If that sounds daft, you try getting whacked in the bean by a five-stone branch whilst fleeing for your life from a bloody axe murderer. Machete murderer. Whatever. The point being that, until I saw evidence to the contrary, I had to assume that I was dead, since it would take a bloody miracle for me not to be.
Evidence for this assumption included a brilliant white light pouring down over me, just the way Heaven looks on the telly (I have telly on the brain; must be withdrawal symptoms), and Gemma running her fingers through my hair. Evidence against it included the fact that, even if I believed in Heaven, I most likely wouldn’t be headed there. I’m a decent bloke, like, but the chips are stacked against me: I can’t help being young, pretty, and imbued with piss-poor impulse control. Further evidence against this being any kind of afterlife was the crippling pain every time Gemma’s fingers brushed past a particular spot on my head.
In spite of all that, I did the cliché thing and blurted out, “I must have died and gone to Heaven.” Which, you have to admit, is pretty bloody suave. The effect was spoilt by a couple of things. One, the words that came out of my mouth weren’t recognizable as a suave chat-up line, or as any kind of words, really. It sounded more like “Ughmudblurferglopenennen.” My tongue felt ten sizes too large, like a sponge cake all soaked with sherry, and I had a hard time finding my teeth at their usual addresses. Second, the person stroking my hair turned out not to be Gemma at all, but rather some other girl I had never seen before.
While my line didn’t land exactly as planned, it seemed to have a profound effect on the girl anyway. Her eyes went wide with excitement, and she spun around to address somebody over her shoulder, outside my field of view. “Guru George, he’s awake!” she called out.
“Oh, bloody hell,” I cursed, although what came out sounded more like “Uhduddlyeh.”
I tried to look around me, but I couldn’t really swivel my head. It felt as though my entire body was encased in plaster. I had to know if Gemma was safe, but I couldn’t form the words to ask, or move my body enough to check. It was maddening. I sat there, crying internally, while I waited for someone familiar to come into my field of view.
The next face I saw was another stranger, a lad of about my age with big, simple, honest eyes, like a baby cow. Calf. Whatever they call it. His face was replaced by another, then another, none of them familiar. Most of them, I noticed, were girls, and all of the blokes were either big and dumb, like the baby cow guy, or had dead-fish expressions in their sunken eyes. After a seemingly endless parade of new faces, Guru George appeared, concern showing in his kind eyes.
“Thank you, Spirit-Wife Eliza,” he said. “I am sure Spirit-Brother Fynn is all the better for your care.” The original face—Eliza, I guess—lit up at the Guru’s words, and she treated him to a deep bow, eyes averted. Oh boy.
“Welcome back to us, Spirit-Brother Fynn,” George announced, dipping his fingers in some sort of fragrant oil and spreading it on my temples. “Don’t try to speak. You lost a lot of teeth in the accident, and I believe you suffered a hairline fracture to your jaw. I’m afraid speech will be beyond your capabilities for a while yet.”
I screamed incoherently. Guru George smiled sympathetically. “I understand your frustration, but you have no choice but to let the healing proceed at its own pace.
“As far as we can tell, you were injured in the storm of two nights ago. Spirit-Brother Brianna found you trapped under a fallen branch. I’m afraid you injured your neck and shoulder quite badly, so you should try to move around as little as possible.
“As you know, Spirit-Brother Fynn, you were at a critical juncture in your cleanse. At that stage, it would have been disastrous to bring you to a city hospital, with their machines and fluorescent lights. Your body might have mended, but your soul would have been destroyed. But not to worry. Spirit-Wife Eliza is well versed in the study of holistic medicine.” “Spirit-Wife” Eliza bowed again, blushing deeply.
“You might be wondering where you are and what has happened to your friends. Try not to think on them, Spirit-Brother Fynn. They are being well looked after back at the detox camp. I have left Spirit-Brother Brianna as their watchful shepherd.”
I screamed again and thrashed my limbs, but they felt stuck in place. “You’ll find it difficult to move your limbs,” Guru George explained. “You are receiving a healing red earth treatment. In essence, we have encased your body in a blessed clay mixed with healing herbs, which is absorbing the toxins as they leave your body.
“As for where you are, I have taken you to a secret enclave of true believers. Normally, none may enter until they have completed the Ritual of Purification. In your case, I was forced to make an exception. You really got yourself into quite the predicament.” I couldn’t tell whether he was talking about the body in the crate—whether he knew about the body in the crate—or if he was simply referring to the accident with the tree branch.
“Now rest,” Guru George concluded. “Spirit-Wife Eliza and the others will attend to your needs. Mother Gaia’s blessings upon you.” He receded from my field of view, trailing a wake of “true believers” behind. Eliza reappeared and lay her warm, small hands on my cheeks and forehead, closing her eyes in fervent concentration. I have to admit, it was a little comforting.
Eventually, given nothing else to do, I slept. The red earth treatment is good for that, at least. When I opened my eyes again, it was dark, and I realized the white light I had seen earlier was just daylight shining through the roof of another white tent. Everything was still around me. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear voices chanting—not the upbeat, hokey folk songs from back at the camp, but a sort of droning monastic chant. The words were familiar: “Hoch caert laemnir brroon caert saemnegarr.”
I was startled by the sudden appearance of a face above my head. It was one of the sunken-eyed lads. “I shouldn’t be talking to you,” he whispered urgently. “But I thought you should know the truth. Guru George lied to you about your friends being safe.” The bottom dropped out of my stomach.
“Your friend Zak…he never made it back from the meditation walk. He—” The hollow-eyed boy jerked his head around suddenly, as if he had heard or seen something in the shadows of the tent, then without a word, he disappeared from my world.
I had been worried about Gemma before; now I was terrified. The one thought that had kept me sane was that, should Acolyte Brianna try something, he was at least outnumbered, and Zak looks like he’s had a few scraps in his day. Looked, I should say. With me and Zak gone, Gemma was now alone with that maniac. And I couldn’t even wiggle my little toe.
And what really happened to Zak? Was he picked off by Brianna? Did he get wise to what was going on—stumble on another dead body, like—and run to save his inked skin? Or did he just decide he’d had enough of the bullshit and hitchhiked his way back to civilization? Those last two options were nice thoughts, and I wished him the best, but I had a horrible, sinking feeling that nobody was going to hear from Zak the punk ever again. His family might get a letter from him saying he’d decided to live on a commune or go study with the Tibetan masters, somewhere conveniently far away from Britain and wi-fi.
I was angry. I was seething. My head was filled with thoughts of what I would do once I could walk again, how I would sneak back to the camp and saw Brianna’s bollocks off with his own machete. My family is fairly well to do, and for the first time in my life, I felt truly powerless. I suddenly understood what Professor Beresford was prattling on about in the Intersectional Identities course two years ago—the “easy marks” elective where I had first met Gemma. Oh, Gemma.
Whenever Guru George made an appearance, I was forced to bite my tongue until it bled. I didn’t want to betray my new ally—that was a precious thing to have among the Guru’s inner circle, and besides, he seemed like a nice lad despite some poor life choices—but I couldn’t restrain my anger. How could George lie to me about Gemma’s safety? Either he had no idea the extent of the danger she was in, or—what was more likely—he knew exactly how much danger she was in, and he wanted to keep her in it.
It was probably a good thing that I still couldn’t form anything resembling words. Part of the problem, I realized, was that I was buried up to my lower jaw—the Guru’s “treatment” had the convenient effect of leaving me both lame and dumb. Once they dug me out, I would be able to fully speak my mind. I wondered if that was part of George’s plan. I wondered how I was supposed to use the toilet. I hadn’t needed to, yet, which by itself was distressing.
I couldn’t speak with my mouth, but I guess my eyes made my feelings clear, because after one such encounter with the Guru—after he had left the tent on some errand, dragging his most fawning admirers behind him—a group of dumb-looking, muscle-bound blokes in homespun clothes surrounded me. “We saw the way you were looking at the Guru,” one of them said.
“We don’t think you’re a true believer,” another one chimed in.
“We don’t think your spirit is pure,” a third said. “Your presence is an affront to Mother Gaia and a blight on this humble community.”
There wasn’t anything I could do or say to respond to these accusations. What I would have said is that if they loved the Guru so much, why didn’t they marry him, and while they were at it, ask him why he brought me here, since I certainly didn’t choose it. But since I couldn’t say anything, I didn’t. I tried to remain calm, but an intense dread filled me as I realized these guys could do absolutely whatever they wanted with me, and I had no way to fight back. I could only wait.
I didn’t have to wait long. One of the Spirit-Brothers produced a bucket from somewhere offscreen. “We have devised a test of your faith,” he said. As he spoke, he held the bucket above my head and slowly tilted it. I braced myself for whatever was inside: piss, or shit, or maybe acid. I could be acid; the bucket was hissing.
“If you are pure of spirit, the Earth Mother will surely protect you,” the bloke with the bucket was saying. The bucket tilted further, and something dark tumbled out of it, hitting my face with a slap. What the bloody hell was that?
More dark shapes followed as the bucket was up-ended. One of them landed in a spot where I could get a good look at it. “Hooray,” I thought. “A snake. That explains the hissing, then.” I gave the toilet thing a try.
The snake, which I assume was as pissed off about being dumped onto my head as I was, lashed out and bit me somewhere above the eye. A couple of other snakes did the same thing, although most of them ignored me. “Mother Gaia’s blessings upon thee, ‘Spirit-Brother,’” the first arsehole said, dropping the bucket and departing.
I never thought I would need to know much about snakes: which ones are poisonous and all that. I suppose I always assumed I would have Wikipedia handy if the situation came up. “Siri, what does an asp look like?” But at that moment, I really, really wished I had studied up.
These ones definitely were, I decided. Poisonous. At least, that’s what the intense pain and swelling was telling me. My left eye had swollen shut under a lump the size of a cricket ball. I assumed those were symptoms of deadly snakebite; I couldn’t really ask WebMD.
Maybe the Earth Mother really does like me, though, because before I could be poisoned to death, Eliza—blessed angel, she—popped into view. “Oh, dear,” she said, obviously flustered, as she plucked snakes from around my face and flung them into corners of the tent. “How could something like this happen? It’s surely an ill omen. I’ll have to inform the Guru.” She scurried off again, returning in a few minutes’ time with a crew of sunken-eyes lads—none of the bad ones from earlier—who set to work herding the serpents out the door with rakes and brooms.
Once the immediate threat was taken care of, Eliza knelt down and kissed me above the eye. At least, that’s what it looked like, but it was accompanied by a strange feeling, and when she pulled her head away, she had a queer expression on her face, like a girl caught raiding the biscuit jar. She turned her head carefully and spat into a small bowl. There was blood and something else in her saliva. “I have to suck out the venom, or you could get very ill,” she explained. “But you should be fine now. Poor, poor Spirit-Brother Fynn.” She stroked my hair, looking worried.
It took about fifteen minutes for Eliza to get all of the venom out. It was weirdly sensual, but I suppose having a cute girl kiss and suck at your face always is, even when you’re surrounded by loonies who’ve buried you up to your chin in mud. I had to assume she knew what she was doing; it wasn’t like I could request a second opinion. So when she announced, at the end of it, that I would be right as rain, I gave her my best attempt at a grateful smile.
When that was taken care of, she announced brightly, “Guru George says you’re well enough to eat! I’m sure you must be starving, poor thing.” I hadn’t thought about it, but now I did, I was well famished. My stomach gurgled.
Eliza disappeared for a few minutes, leaving me alone with the sunken-eyes boys, who all avoided eye contact. Then she returned carrying an earthenware saucer. Steam rose from it, smelling of—if I wasn’t mistaken—chicken stock and boiled with some kind of root vegetables and mushrooms. Whatever it was, it smelled amazing.
Eliza set the bowl down near my head, wiped away the mud and blood caked on my lips with a damp towel, and started spooning the warm broth into my mouth. The first swallow was like drinking daggers; I guess my throat had swelled up or something. I choked and sputtered, but Eliza soothed me with little shushing noises. The next swallow went down easier, and my stomach immediately demanded more sustenance. If I had control over my arms, I would have snatched the bowl from her and guzzled the whole thing, and probably vomited it up the next minute. Fortunately for me, Eliza kept steadily spooning one sip at a time.
I still didn’t have full control over my jaws, so it was messy. I felt like a giant baby, and Eliza, I realized, was treating me like one. Whenever the soup would dribble from my toothless mouth, she would carefully and patiently wipe it away with the towel. It didn’t help my sense of machismo any. She even sang me a little song:
“O, Mother, when you find me
Please take me in your arms
For you, I walk through fire
And do not come to harm”
A little creepy, but she had a sweet voice, and she sang it like a lullaby. Before I knew it, I was nodding off. I caught myself and tried to stay alert, but something wasn’t right. Eliza’s face span and twisted before my eyes, and the walls of the tent seemed to stretch into the distance as the shadows grew thicker and more substantial. The nature of her song changed as other voices seemed to join hers, deep and monotonous, harmonizing with her melody but singing different words altogether:
“Haeg cayrt lamnyar
Bruuyn cayrt saengaernyar”
Figures kept appearing and disappearing at the edges of my vision, figures in black robes, figures with blood-smeared mouths. I was terrified, but the faster my heart beat, the heavier my eyelids got. Guru George appeared, but he was different somehow, with the long beard and misshapen eyes of a billy goat. He wore a crown of thorns, and blood poured from his scalp in thick streams, mixing into his beard and staining his white robe. “He’s ready, Exalted One,” Eliza said, kissing the head of a serpent. Twisting her knees and elbows the wrong way round, she crawled backward along the ceiling. Guru George pulled a machete from his robes and advanced toward me, grinning a blood-soaked grin, as I lost consciousness.
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 10: A secondary character (Zak) is harmed.
Entry 11: Secondary Character Obstacle—a character confronts you about “looking at George like that” (failed).
Entry 12: Secondary Character Obstacle—a character drugs you (failed). [Note: this wasn’t one of the scenario suggestions, but it fit the tone of the story.]
The narrator ended this segment with 2 Spirit and 2 Resolve.