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 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roots seemed to rise up out of the ground to trip me, branches came out of nowhere to whack me in the face like some outdated slapstick routine, and even as I tried to run in a straight line, the rest of the world spun around me like a carousel.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.