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 Five: True Believers
“There are drugs in the food.” The thought came to me even before I was fully awake, as though a helpful spirit whispered it into my sleeping ear.
Of course there were drugs in the food. It was the only explanation for the unwavering loyalty of the sunken-eyes boys, the missing time, the headaches, the sickness. Not to mention the chanting and the goat eyes. Every time I accepted food or drink from the Exalted One, I was being drugged or poisoned.
“That’s an easy one, mate,” I told myself. “Just don’t accept any food or drink then.”
“Yeah, easy for you to say,” I replied. “You try being buried up to your head in piss-soaked mud and then say no to a bit of nosh.” Which was a pretty silly argument, I had to admit, because I was buried up to my head in piss-soaked mud.
“It’s confusing when you talk to yourself, mate,” I chided myself.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” I agreed. “Maybe you’re still feeling the effects of those drugs.”
“Must be.” I nodded happily, having reached an accord with myself.
Then, sensation from the rest of my body finally bubbled into my brain. It certainly didn’t feel like I was buried up to my head in piss-soaked mud. In fact, for the first time since the accident, my nostrils weren’t clogged with that slightly tangy, earthy aroma. I smelt rather nice, like lavender soap. And the subtle gravity spread throughout my body was gone, replaced by a tightness around my limbs and upper chest.
Experimentally, I tried wiggling my fingers. They certainly felt like they were moving. Brilliant. I tried the same thing with my toes. A little pain, but wiggling seemed to be happening. Great work, toes. At some point, I’d have to open my eyes to get a visual confirmation on this momentous event, but they still felt heavy. Next up, arms.
That’s when I hit my first hurdle. My arms just weren’t moving. Fingers, yes. Wrists, okay. Arms, no. Legs, not a chance. Shoulders…I nearly passed out from the pain. Better not to experiment with that more than I had to.
“Okay, Fynn, time to get those eyes open,” I muttered, hyping myself up.
“You said you were done talking to yourself,” I pointed out.
“Oh, bugger off,” I replied, parting my eyelids with a He Man-like effort.
I was in a dark room—not the big white tent from earlier, but a small space with earthen walls. There was nobody around to witness me acting like a spazzer, which was a relief. There did seem to be a window letting in a bit of light, but it was behind me.
As for myself, I was seated in a wicker chair covered in a woolen blanket. The blanket had a smiling yellow sun dyed onto it surrounded by rainbow-colored circles in a dartboard pattern. Because of the blanket, it was hard to see exactly what was going on with the chair, but based on the pressure around my upper arms, wrists, shins and ankles, I took a wild guess that I was strapped into it. I was able to confirm the toe-wiggling thing, which was a kind of relief. I was wearing a clean, white homespun shirt like I had seen on the sunken-eyed lads.
After I figured all this out, there wasn’t much else I could do, so I let my eyelids fall shut again and had a little doze. I woke up to the feeling of motion. Somehow, my chair was rotating around on its own and gliding toward an open doorway. “Drugs, not even once,” I muttered.
“Oh!” came a startled cry from behind me. There was a pause, then the same voice continued, more calmly, “I hadn’t realized you were awake, Spirit-Brother Fynn.” I recognized the voice as Eliza’s.
“I wasn’t, until a second ago,” I explained. At least, I tried to; my words, I realized in frustration, were still a slurred, lispy mess, and it felt as though my jaw wasn’t moving as it should.
“You still have some healing to do, Spirit-Brother Fynn,” Eliza confirmed. “And you should try not to move your jaw so much; you’ll loosen the bandages.” That explained the tightness I felt around my face, then.
“You fell right asleep after your meal,” Eliza went on. “You must have been exhausted, poor thing. We took the opportunity to dig you up, rinse you off and have a look at your injuries.” Her face swung around into my field of vision. “Mother Gaia has seen fit to remove the toxins that were plaguing you,” she said, beaming with joy. “Now all that’s left is for your bones to knit. That will just take time, stillness, and meditation, which is why we have you sequestered in the Meditation Room. And why you’re strapped in, of course, to prevent any nasty spills from undoing the progress we’ve made.
“But don’t you worry; I’ll nip round several times a day to give you a bit of fresh air and sunshine.” While this monologue had been going on, my chair—which I now realized was of course on wheels—had moved out the open doorway and into a sort of open yard. The big white tent was in the distance, but there were also many smaller buildings of earth and wood. This secret enclave, I realized, was a lot bigger than I had assumed. How the bloody hell was Guru George keeping a place like this secret? Maybe he had some magic crystals that scrambled satellite imagery or something.
And there were “true believers” everywhere, of the same sort I had seen in the tent: mostly girl’s around Gemma’s age, accompanied by a few sunken-eyed lads and big, dumb bruisers. It was dizzying trying to keep count, since I couldn’t move my head freely and Eliza kept taking me down twisting footpaths, but I estimate there were at least seventy people there. About fifty of them were girls.
And, as I now saw for the first time, about half of those—maybe two dozen—were in various stages of pregnancy. Some had little bumps that were barely noticeable under their homespun tops; others had full, round bellies. Three or four of the girls were nursing or rocking infants, but I couldn’t see any children over the age of twelve months. Odd, that.
“Now,” Eliza was saying, “you’ll see there’s a little bell on the right arm of your chair. If you ever need to…use the toilet or anything like that, just ring the bell and I or one of the other Spirit-Wives will run along and help you out.” I didn’t like the sound of that at all, but I’d been in hospital before when I broke my leg in fifth year, and I’d gone through the whole humiliation of sponge baths and bedpans. I supposed Eliza was basically like a nurse. What made it awkward was that I was starting to fancy her a little.
She wheeled me into a small, wooden building. Dried herbs and other ingredients hung on the wall, and there was a big clay stew-pot and a sort of stove.
“There are drugs in the food,” screamed a voice in my head. I began thrashing against my restraints.
“Now, now,” Eliza said, stepping around my chair and ladling some steaming liquid into a bowl. “I know you might not be hungry now, but your body needs sustenance if it’s going to heal.” She began chopping up ingredients and adding them to the steaming bowl: a purple flower, some kind of turnip, a bag of dried mushrooms.
Mushrooms. I’d seen mushrooms like those before. During my first year at Uni, I’d gone to a party at a mate’s flat. Most of the people there were older, and I had felt desperately uncool. One of them had a bag of mushrooms like those, and when he offered me some, it seemed rude to refuse, even though the hardest thing I’d done up to that point was whisky and weed. The only thing I remember from that night was that I spent most of it in the W.C. trying to peel off the top of my skull.
I thrashed even more wildly, but that brought too much pain to keep it up. So I settled down and awaited the inevitable. Eliza set the bowl over the heat for a minute to soften the ingredients, then wheeled me over to a table and set the bowl down beside me. “Let’s just loosen these a bit,” she said, fiddling with the bandages around my head. “There we go.” She dipped a spoon into the bowl and brought it to my face. “Open wide.” My jaw wouldn’t clench, and the spoon slipped easily between my slack lips. My caretaker tipped my head back and waited patiently until I swallowed.
Time moved differently for me after that. It was like streaming a vid on a piss-poor Wi-Fi connection. Every few frames, my brain stopped to buffer. Sound and video weren’t synced, and ten seconds’ worth of footage were condensed to one as my consciousness scrubbed forward through the timeline in a bid to catch up to the live feed. Instead of living events in the present, I felt I was merely remembering them moments after they happened, yet I continued to think and act in those memories, doing a spot-on impersonation of Fynn Barrow. It was as though I was merely hosting a mirror of myself.
I spent a lot of that time in the dark room, although it was hard to say how much time; a minute and an hour were pretty much interchangeable as far as I was concerned. Eliza showed up several times per day to wheel me around the compound, feed me, or tend to my other needs. The first time I had to use the toilet, I sat in agony for what felt like hours, wondering if one could die from holding in piss, until I remembered the bell. It nearly came off, I rang it so hard. To my relief, the girl who showed up wasn’t Eliza—she was one of the pregnant girls, flaxen-haired and subservient. She helped me get my trousers off and aim for a hole in the back of the compound. I hate myself for thinking this, but the whole thing was actually rather sexy, even with Guru George leading a muffled chant in the distance. And, somehow, before I knew it, we were shagging.
Well, some version of it, anyway. I think she just used her hands—it was all rather confused at the time. I could barely feel myself down there, but my body seemed to know what to do, and I finished in record time. I felt mortified, some combination of guilty and embarrassed and a little bit dirty, but the girl didn’t seem to mind at all. She just wiped her hand off on some leaves and did up my trousers as though nothing had happened, keeping her eyes on the ground the whole time.
That exact process repeated several more times. The hesitation about ringing the bell, the eventual desperate clanging, the girl showing up—not the same girl every time, never Eliza, thank God—and taking care of business without ever looking me in the eye. I stopped feeling so guilty about it, although thinking back on it, I like to fancy that it was the drugs that numbed my moral ethical center or something. Or maybe I was being conditioned, like that dog they taught us about in Intro to Psych at Uni, the bell and the girls and the pleasure and George’s religion all blending together in my weakened mind. “This is how cults operate,” I reminded myself on my most clear-headed moments. “You’re being brainwashed, mate.” But I was helpless to stop it.
Once, I thought to “return the favor,” as they say. It didn’t go over well. The girl immediately yanked my trousers up, nearly giving me an improvised circumcision, and darted off into the woods like a startled rabbit. An hour later, a confused-looking Spirit-Brother showed up and wheeled me back into the Meditation Room. I never saw that girl again.
I no longer resisted at meal-times. My brain knew that I shouldn’t eat the food, but my brain wasn’t running the show, remember. Plus, I had gone who knows how long without so much as a proper sammie; I was perpetually starving, so whenever the aroma of the soup struck me, instinct took over, and I guzzled every last drop.
This continued until one night when someone new came into the Meditation Room. I knew it wasn’t Eliza or one of the other girls because of the way this person moved. After that first time, when I gave her such a start by muttering to myself, Eliza always announced herself loudly and cheerfully when she came into the room. This person seemed to be making a tremendous effort not to be heard, and the shadow on the wall was furtive.
“Oh, God,” I thought. “This is it. Acolyte Brianna has finally come for me.”
But it wasn’t Acolyte Brianna, or if it was, he didn’t seem terribly eager to chop my head off. Instead, he grabbed my chair and wheeled it out the door—again, moving quietly, sneakily. Instead of turning right, toward the center of the compound, we turned left.
“Where are we going?” I slurred. A hand shot around from behind the wheelchair and clamped over my mouth.
“Shush!” a voice hissed. “Don’t you realize you’re in danger here?”
Finally, somebody was talking sense. I saw the way the owls were looking at me. The snakes came into my bedchamber every night, whispering secrets. Guru George was eating babies, and he was just waiting for his magic mushrooms to transform me into an infant before he ate me, too.
The mysterious stranger wheeled me toward a dark corner of the compound, past the piss-hole and deeper into the woods. There, in deep shadow, he wheeled my chair around so that I could face him.
I gasped. It was the sunken-eyed lad who had spoken to me on my first day in the compound, the one who had told me the truth about Zak. I’d forgotten about him. The shadows over his eyes stretched and shifted, swimming freely over the surface of his face. He dug a key out from his pocket and with shaking hands began fiddling with my restraints. I realized, for the first time, that there must be a lock on them. For my own safety, of course.
While he worked, he whispered, staring me straight in the eyes with his black, empty, sunken sockets. “Your friend—the girl Gemma—she’s in danger,” he hissed. I wondered if he was speaking Parseltongue, the language of snakes. Then I wondered when I had learned Parseltongue. “I just saw Guru George head into the woods carrying a machete. You don’t know what they do to the girls around here. It’s awful.”
Now, that couldn’t be right. Everyone knew it was Acolyte Brianna who had the machete. And Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the observatory. Poor Mr. Boddy….
The eyeless face before me floated closer, examining my pupils. “Shit. They’ve been feeding you the mushrooms. They give it to everybody who resists. The only way to avoid it is to starve yourself.” I noticed that his face was gaunt and skull-like. “Shit, shit. Okay. I drew you a map. You’ll need to find your way back to the camp on your own. They’ll notice I’m gone soon; I’m supposed to be using the toilet. I’ve got to go back in so that you have a chance to escape. Good luck, mate.”
The sunken-eyed lad handed me a wadded-up bit of fabric with a crude map stained into it. The lines twisted and snaked in confusing patterns. With my restraints undone, the lad helped me to my feet. I nearly collapsed as the world rocked in front of me; I hadn’t walked in days, even weeks, and the drugs were making it hard to find a fixed point of reality.
“Shit,” my savior repeated. “You’re in no shape, mate. But you gotta go. Go! Run! Find Gemma and get her out of here!” With those words, he scurried back toward the light of the compound, leaving me alone and unsteady in the dark woods.
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 13: Minor Clue—a bag of dried mushrooms.
Entry 14: Grey Lady—someone saw George wandering into the woods last night with a machete.
The narrator ended this segment with 2 Spirit and 1 Resolve.