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 Seven: Ritual
When my brain started working again, my first thoughts were, “Jesus Christ, enough with the dead bodies.” My next thoughts were, “This changes nothing.” My next thoughts after that: “This changes everything.”
I already knew Guru George, or somebody connected with him, was killing. I knew he was controlling people with drugs and rhetoric. I knew he was doing even more deplorable things in the name of pseudo-religiosity. I’d built up a pretty depressing picture of the functioning of this cult.
I hadn’t known that he was capable of killing his own, a member of his inner circle. The fact that he had done so meant two things: that Guru George knew of my escape, which was inevitable, really; and that he knew how it had happened, which was the scary part. It suggested that there might have been a witness when I fled the compound, which meant that somebody could easily have followed me this entire time, might still be following me. Which meant that this body, hanging in its wicker cage in a dark, untrodden corner of the woods, was left here for me to find, a message of some sort. Which meant that my encounter with Gemma could also have been choreographed. When I thought I heard a movement in the woods before Gemma woke up, and nothing ever came of it, was it just a hedgehog or badger? Or was it one of George’s agent’s, watching me, making sure I did whatever it was that he wanted me to do?
I shook my head. These conspiracy theories sounded far-fetched even to myself, and none of it altered what was going to happen next: I was going to return to the compound, rescue Gemma, and kill Guru George. The details were still up in the air, but my path was marked before me, as they say.
I shut my eyes, did my little incantation to Mother Gaia, and reattuned myself to the ley-lines or what-have-you. I marched through the woods, determined and a little sore. Trying to psych myself up for this oneness with nature thing, I listened for the singing of the birds, but I soon realized that there weren’t any. No birds, no birdsong. I stopped to wonder why this might be, and that’s when I was yanked back by the collar and slammed against a tree trunk, reigniting the fireworks in my injured shoulder.
A strong arm was held against my chest, keeping me pressed to the trunk. The body presumably attached to the arm was out of sight. “People in the North are rather keen on this whole hugs-from-behind business, aren’t they?” I thought. “They must be very shy.” On the arm’s exposed bicep was a tattoo of a skull vomiting worms onto the head of Queen Elizabeth. In a white-knuckled hand, it gripped a small hatchet, with the blade pressed against my throat.
“Did you know him?” came a gravelly, cracked voice. There was something familiar to it.
“That bloke?” I slurred. “I…well, that depends who’s asking, doesn’t it?”
The arm holding me loosened somewhat. I could now breathe in a full lungful, though I still couldn’t move an centimeter.
“You’re mumbling, mate,” the voice responded. “You get kicked in the teeth by a donkey or what?”
It didn’t seem worth my while to reply—the man attached to the arm wouldn’t understand me, anyway—so I merely shook my head, which shifted halfway through to a nod and then a half-shrug with my good shoulder.
“Complicated story, eh?” the voice asked. “I got one of those, too. Listen, mate, I’m about to let you go, but first, I got to ask: you ain’t one of them, like?”
This time, there was nothing uncertain or hesitant about my head-shake. The voice behind me breathed a ragged sigh of relief, and the arm’s grip loosened further. I could now move about slightly, and I could probably have squeezed out of the embrace if it weren’t for the hatchet-blade still pressed against my throat.
“Listen, mate,” the voice hissed, suddenly angry again. The grip on the hatchet tightened until I was worried the wood would splinter. “It’s that bastard Brianna, innit? He tried to do me with a fucking machete the day after that star walk. He got me in the leg, but I escaped, and I’ve been hiding in these woods ever since, trying to get the word to you and that girlfriend of yours.” The voice was getting more and more familiar, and I suddenly remembered where I had seen a similar tattoo before.
“Zak?” I asked, enunciating as carefully as I could. I wanted to point out that Gemma wasn’t my girlfriend—not that I’d be opposed to the idea, mind—but it didn’t seem to match the urgency of the moment.
The man pinning me to a tree whistled through his teeth. “Got it in one.” The arm relaxed fully and, twirling the hatchet dangerously close to my nose, retreated from view. I stumbled forward and turned to get a good look at Zak Salt.
He’d changed since last I’d seen him. He’d lost his shirt, for one, revealing the full pattern of his punk-rock tattoos and vacant piercings. He was dirty, skinny, and pale. He’d lost a lot of the mass he had when I first met him, but that loss only left him lean and wiry, like a footballer. And he looked absolutely stark raving mad. I supposed I must look the same.
“You look like shit, mate,” Zak observed, giving me a once-over. “Like literal shit. Like a badger ate you up and shit you out whole. What have they done to you, mate?”
He held up a rough-worn hand to cut me off. “Don’t answer that. You sound like a pig sitting on a pile of frogs. They really did a number on you, huh? And where’s the girl?”
“For fuck’s sake, I said don’t answer, didn’t I? Hearing you talk just makes me depressed. Don’t you have anything to write on?”
I wasn’t convinced Zak was literate, but it gave me an idea all the same. I pulled the Moleskine journal and pen out of my waistband and grinned a lopsided, toothless grin, which the skeletal visage of Zak the punk returned. I found a moss-covered stump to sit on and wrote down, with as much detail as I could remember, the events of the past…week?…starting from my tailing Brianna to the secret shrine, digging up the metal crate with the dead body, and being whacked in the bean by a falling branch (which I now knew was sabotaged), and ending with me discovering the mutilated corpse of the sunken-eyed-lad hanging in his wicker cage. All of that took me at least an hour, during which Zak alternated between fretful pacing, stealing peeks over my shoulder, scowling, and cat-napping. Then, I handed him the journal, and it was my turn to pace, peek, scowl, and nap while Zak read the entire story, stopping every once in a while with demands that I confirm (with a nod of the head) the more unbelievable bits.
Finally, the grizzled ex-punk stretched his long, catlike limbs, snapped the journal shut, and tossed it into my lap. I couldn’t clearly make out his expression in the failing light of day. “Sounds like the universe has really fucked you over, innit?” he said. I nodded bleakly.
Zak appeared to watch the horizon, scratching thoughtfully at his stubble-pocked chin. “And you’re pretty certain this girl Gemma is at the secret compound?” he asked. I nodded again. “The one filled with crazy, loyal, drug-addled cultists?” I nodded a third time. With each nod, I felt my heart sink deeper into despair.
Zak picked at a long scab on leg, near his hamstring, then took aim and flicked a bit of scab at a red squirrel, which scampered up a branch. “Well, we’d better go rescue her, innit?”
It turned out that Zak had been tracking Brianna’s comings and goings ever since his disappearance. The acolyte had only visited the compound once or twice, but Zak was fairly certain he could find it again if he had to. More importantly, he knew where to find other weapons like the hatchet he wielded. “We’ll need to lie low, stick to the shadows, like, but they’ve got to leave her alone at least once,” he said. I wasn’t sure if his confidence was real or just a show on my behalf, but I appreciated it all the same.
“You said there’s a place where they go to shit?” he continued. I nodded. “Maybe we wait there, then.” I wasn’t too sure about this suggestion, especially as I remembered the other bodily functions I had taken care of at that hole, and the guilt and shame associated, and the fear of Gemma taking the place of one of those cringing, beautiful girls; but the old punk was having none of it. “Look, mate, I don’t care how pure and perfect and flawless you think she is. Everybody shits eventually.” And that was the end of the discussion.
By this stage in the planning, we had arrived at the secret spot he knew, a hidden cache of items some people would characterize as “forestry tools” and others as “weapons from a bloody horror movie.” There were rusted but sharp machetes; hatchets and larger axes or mauls; long-handled clippers with gleaming, bird-like heads; heavy, sharp-edged shovels; even a chainsaw. I reached for the chainsaw, a gleam in my eye, but Zak shook his head.
“No juice. I checked first thing. Shame, innit?”
I sighed as if to say, “Shame,” and selected instead a long, scythe-like tool that was apparently intended for stacking logs but seemed just brilliant for gouging eyes. I shifted it in my hands, experimenting with grips, and gave a few practice stabs and swings. Then, I turned back to Zak and flashed him the thumbs-up, as if to say, “Let’s go creep on a toilet.”
But Zak didn’t return my gesture. His gaze was elsewhere, fixed on something beyond my right ear. Terror and confusion filled those eyes. I turned slowly, heavy with dread, spasmodically squeezing the handle of my eye-gouger, but saw nothing but trees. I turned back to Zak and gave him a “What’s up?” look. The old punk opened his mouth, but no words came out, only blood.
Then he collapsed forward, as though kicked from behind, and I saw a whole lot more blood bubbling up from his bare, tattooed back. And, standing where Zak had been a moment before, grinning behind a bloody machete, was Acolyte Brianna. “Mother’s blessings, Spirit-Brother Fynn,” he said a lopsided grin. “We’ve been looking all over for you.” Zak lay belly-down in the dirt, gaping like a dead fish. Then, Brianna brought the blade of the machete down hard on the base of Zak’s skull, snapping it loose from the rest of his body.
Acolyte Brianna did that thing you sometimes see in samurai films where he swished the machete through the air, spraying a line of blood onto the grass and leaving the blade a little less drippy. He turned back to me. “Aren’t you going to greet me, Spirit-Brother?” he asked, his voice oozing with false concern. “I thought we were getting somewhere with you.”
I had a weapon, and Brianna didn’t have the element of surprise, which meant I had a choice. I could try to fight him and maybe win. Killing Mad King George’s toady was an idea I could really get behind. I owed him for being such a right bastard. And it would get him out of my hair so I could really focus on saving Gemma from an evil cult.
On the other hand, it was a risk. Brianna had the look of a cold-blooded killer, he was bigger than me, and he actually had experience using his weapon. I could easily lose, which would mean nobody left to save Gemma.
“I guess I have no choice but to kill you,” Brianna went on. “What a waste.” He wound up to swing the machete.
My weapon had more reach than his, and he knew it, but his had more power; he could probably knock it clean from my hands if he wanted. So rather than try to lock blades with the acolyte, I fell backward—the only way I could be certain of dodging his attack. I landed on my shoulder, signaling the return of the world’s longest-running but least-loved fireworks show. But I managed to keep from falling on my own weapon, which was something. And as Brianna stepped over me, following the momentum of his swing, I stabbed blindly upwards.
The high-pitched scream that followed told me I had scored a lucky blow, what a dartsman might call a bullseye, a bag o’ nuts, a downstairs treble, striking oil in the diddle for the middle, or some other phrase I’ve heard on telly (I don’t play darts myself).
Now, I could have stuck around and made it a perfect finish. But I didn’t want to risk a leg of sloppy darts. So I did the smart thing. I turned rabbit. Brianna, clutching at the jagged wound at the junction of his thighs, had dropped the bloody machete. Seeing me reach for it, the emasculated acolyte gave the weapon a swift kick, sending it flying into the bushes, and aimed a stomp for my fingers. I managed to pull my arm back in time and hook my fingers around his ankle. He fell backward onto a pile of rusted forestry implements, and I scarpered. I might have killed him, but I didn’t bother looking back.
I ran. From my one-sided conversations with Zak, I knew roughly where I was going. Brianna, if he was alive, knew it too. I was no longer armed, and I no longer had the lean mass of the ex-punk on my side, and the entire plan was probably suicidal, but it was the only one I had.
I made it to the compound just as night was falling. The place was dark and utterly abandoned, as though the entire population had ascended bodily to Heaven. But as I got closer, I began to hear a sound, a low drone like the humming of wasps reverberating through corrugated steel. It was coming from a squat, rectangular structure at the very end of the compound, a lodge of red mud and black wood that I had never entered. The black lodge had no windows and no visible openings, but flickering light shone through odd gaps in the structure. It had a purplish tint, like a bruised, smashed monitor.
I crept around the entire perimeter of the compound, on the lookout for posted guards, but the place was hollowed out. Everybody was in that lodge. So that was where I had to be. As I approached, the low drone became stronger, clearer, and I could make out words rising above the wave of sound like silvery fish flashing in a lake. It was that same chant I had heard before, the one in a language I could not place. I’d heard it first from Acolyte Brianna while he was getting me lost in the woods. I’d heard it next when waking up from a nightmare, then several times here, at Guru George’s secret compound. Sometimes it had sounded like Latin, other times Welsh, or Gaelic, or maybe Old English. This night, it had a French ring to it:
“Ombre coeur du lamentir, brûlé coeur du sang morir.”
But I don’t speak Latin, or Welsh, or Gaelic, and I barely passed French, so it wasn’t much use to speculate. I circled the building once, twice, three times, looking for a way in. The chant got louder; some people were now shrieking it, or merely screaming incoherently. Nobody seemed to be saying the same thing at the same time, but it all came together in an overwhelming flood of noise, like the least listenable bits of Skrillex. Finally, I found a low opening hung with leather of some kind. I had to get down and crawl on my belly to get through, but I didn’t see any other way inside. As I crawled through the opening, the flaps of leather brushed against me; it didn’t feel like cow or sheep but was incredibly soft and smooth, like lambskin. It also reeked. Kid, maybe? There were dozens of layers, trapping the light, sound, and heat of the lodge inside.
And smell. When I broke through the final layer or skins, the smell hit me like a landslide of shit. It was rancid, like the weeks-old sweat of a sick person. And there other notes beneath that: something bright and coppery, and something dank like black fungus.
Of course, the sound, too, was overwhelming, like standing directly in front of the speakers at an EDM concert. And the light. And the bodies. In fact, there was a lot about this that was like being in the front row at an EDM concert, which was ironic given the particular focus of this cult. If I had planned on sticking to the shadows, there was no chance of that now. But neither did there seem to be any chance of me being spotted. The people packed into the lodge—every member of George’s cult, it seemed—were entirely focused on themselves. Or, more accurately, on one another.
It seemed I had stumbled into some kind of orgy, which had always been a dream of mine. But like most dreams, the reality didn’t live up to the fantasy. Everybody was young, naked, and fit, and there were far more girls than boys; thus far, it was like most things I had seen on the internet. What the girls were doing was a lot like what had happened to me while I was strapped into the chair, but on a massive scale. Okay, but a bit too much sausage for my tastes. Unlike what had happened to me in the wheelchair, these girls were visibly aroused to an extent I had only seen in porn. Nobody was touching them, but they were gyrating madly, the rhythm of the chant frequently devolving into moans, shudders and screams.
Okay, from that description, it sounds pretty appealing. What I haven’t mentioned was the way the bruised purple light, which seemed everywhere but had no visible source, made their bodies look elongated, grotesque, amplifying every imperfection, deepening every blemish. Their mouths appeared stretched and toothless, their eyes black, all pupil, like a prey animal. Then there was the blood. The corpses of small animals filled every space that wasn’t occupied by moaning cultists: chickens, rabbits, baby goats. Their bellies were torn open, entrails spilling out, wrapped around the writhing bodies. The girls scooped up the blood and other fluids and smeared them over their own chests and stomachs or over the engorged members of the lads, who kept their hands to themselves, shouting snatches of chant with mad, frothy fervor. Thick ropes of yellowish drool hung from their mouths unattended or sprayed over the already filthy faces of the girls.
As I mentioned, nobody was touching the girls. Except one. In the middle of everything, sprawled over a raised, wicker platform—much like a larger version of the shrine in the woods—was Eliza. She had those same knotlike patterns drawn in blood on her stomach and breasts, just as I had seen on Gemma. Her head lolled backward, and though her lips moved and her voice called out, they didn’t form coherent words. It reminded me of a video we’d watched in World Cultures of people speaking in tongues during certain shamanic rituals. Her eyes were open wide, but they were all white, the pupils rolled back far into her skull. And moving in and out of her was a large figure with the head of a ram.
It had to be Guru George. He was considerably older than anybody else in the room, but powerfully built. Thick, clotted blood dripped down his bare chest and back where the ram’s head rested on his shoulders, tattered strips of bloody skin and fur slapping rhythmically against him as he moved. It must have been hollowed-out somehow, worn like a fancy dress mask. Somehow, his voice rolled out of the ram’s mouth clear and deep, louder than any other in the room. He gestured wildly while he fucked Eliza, twisting his arms and figures into configurations I would not have thought possible, popping his bones in and out of joint as they writhed like muscular worms. I got the sense that he was directing the chant somehow through his undulations.
I scanned the room for Gemma. She had to be here somewhere—there was nowhere else in the compound. Moaning, pleasure-distorted faces and offal-smeared bodies blurred together. Everywhere I turned my gaze, I was assaulted by another indecent display, by another erect nipple or shining vulva or grotesquely swollen penis. I felt as though I had clicked the wrong link and was trapped in a Hell of malicious pop-up ads.
Then, I found her. Just a glimpse of her, through the press of sweating, chanting bodies, in the farthest corner of the lodge. Fully naked, as before, and writhing in ecstacy. I couldn’t see what she was doing with her hands, but one arm was raised, moving vigorously. I felt sick. I had to look away.
The chanting rose to a crescendo. Something in the ram-headed man’s twisted, unnatural gestures indicated a shift in pitch and intensity. The bodies pressed closer until they were piled on top of Eliza, smothering her, body parts dipping in and out of her open mouth. The ram-headed man lifted something out of a wicker cage and held it above Eliza. It was wriggling and fleshy. It squealed in terror. A stream of urine escaped from between the creature’s legs and splashed over Eliza’s face, finding its way into her mouth and eyes.
Except it wasn’t an animal. It was a human child, about six months old.
Ram-head’s other arm produced a short, serrated knife from somewhere and pressed it against the wriggling child’s belly. I must have shouted something, pushed forward through the mass of slippery bodies, but there was nothing I could do to stop things once they were in motion. The knife pierced the child’s flesh, and with a single, long movement, Ram-head gutted it. Entrails fell out of the gash, into Eliza’s waiting mouth. She bit down on them until they burst with obscene fluids that dribbled over her tongue and across her face. The sound that came out of the child’s mouth was indescribable.
The first of the boys climaxed, spraying hot against Eliza’s stomach, and the others soon followed. Ram-head slammed hard into Eliza several more times, flanks juddering, as he finished inside her. She had lost consciousness at some point and was turning darker shades of purple under the bruise-colored lighting. The girls, their appetites unfulfilled, closed in lustily on the now-motionless child and began tearing into it with their teeth, fighting over the carcass like stray dogs. Gemma was among them.
Meanwhile, Ram-head unfolded his limbs and pointed the serrated knife in my direction. It seemed as though my eyes met the mad, dead eyes of the goat. A wordless howl escaped from beneath the mask. The boys—still erect—turned as one to face me.
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 17: Secondary Character Obstacle—a character attempts to kill another character (failed).
Entry 18: A secondary character (the infant) is harmed.
The narrator ended this segment with 1 Spirit and 1 Resolve.