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 Eight: Acceptance
I ran. Forgetting Gemma, forgetting the fucked-up criminal scene I had witnessed, forgetting my plans for revenge against Guru George, I fled on all fours like a dog from the dank, unnaturally lit confines of the black lodge. All thoughts, all noble impulses were buried under a landslide of terror and self-preservation. “These blokes mean to tear me apart,” I repeated again and again, not noticing or caring that my words came out in an unintelligible, babyish stream of whimpers and spit. Somehow, the lads’ nakedness made them all the more terrifying. I thought back to that Gender and Feminism in the 21st Century class, the one in which I’d first encountered Gemma. I’d been so distracted by Gemma—where she was sitting, what she was wearing, what I could do or say to make her laugh—that I had absorbed almost nothing of the actual lesson, and I had ended up dropping the class for no credit. But Gemma had been paying attention, and she still brought up things the professor had said as though it were yesterday. One of those things was that in humans, the size and location of the penis—front and center, like—was less about actual reproduction and more about displays of power and masculinity. A big and visible tallywacker was supposed to win over potential females and cow the male competition. It was conversations like this that made me particularly nervous about opening up to Gemma when I’d had no problem pulling other girls at Uni. My totem of masculinity wasn’t going to cow anyone, or even make them a bit nervous.
These lads, though, were fully on display. And I was cowed. I was, as I’ve said, bloody terrified. I finally understood what Gemma had been talking about. I wondered if I’d ever be able to tell her.
The skins slapped at my face and shoulders as I scrabbled through the low opening. Something was tangled in my hair; I reached up to free myself and found my fingers wrapped around a human hand, boneless and bloodless, the size of a doll’s. A distorted face, stretched and eyeless, gaped at me with its toothless, tongueless mouth. It had the soft features of an infant, but stretched out of proportion, like those atlases that try to map a globe onto a two-dimensional rectangle, warping the lines of latitude and longitude into a rectilinear grid. I felt the hot breath of the masculine boys on my heels.
With a last burst of speed, I emerged from the layers of skins and from the depravities of the black lodge into a drowning world. It was raining buckets, as my mum would say. Except that even that expression felt like an understatement. It was raining like the end of the world, like the sky was dissolving its holdings and liquefying its assets.
With the rain-clouds blotting out the sun and moon, and my pupils still adjusting from the sensory overload of the lodge, it might as well have been raining ink. The downpour painted the world black and featureless. I could barely see a foot in front of my face, and I kept plunging my feet into bottomless puddles that, with nothing to reflect, were indistinguishable from the muddy ground around them.
Then, a light flared behind me, and I looked over my shoulder to see the skins pushed aside and the blood-smeared, priapic cultists pour out like rats from a flooded sewer grate. As they spread out from the only source of light in the world, the inky rain seemed to disintegrate their features until they were shambling around with only half a body, or only the black outline of a person, lit from behind. I realized that they were spreading out because they didn’t know where I was. This was my chance to escape, if I could only move quietly enough.
I took a careful step backward, my eyes on the dissolving, murderous boys. Another step. They stopped moving, turned their faceless heads toward me. I froze like a rabbit about to bolt. The boys shifted position. In the darkness, I could not tell which way they were facing, like that optical illusion where the ballerina is spinning either clockwise or anticlockwise depending on how you think about it.
I slowed my breathing, and the magnetic field of the Earth slowly shimmered into being, like something rising from the bottom of a deep, murky lake. Its lines curved and wrapped around the boys, accentuating their outlines. I could see that they had me nearly surrounded.
I risked another step backward, and my heel slipped on the mud. I fell backward, praying that I would land on something soft shrubbery or something else that wouldn’t make any noise. Instead, I fell into water, puddle deep enough for my entire head to go under. I swallowed red, soupy earth. Unable to stop myself, I thrashed my arms, trying to claw myself back to the surface. When I did so, and had blinked the mud out of my eyes, I saw the silhouettes of the boys moving purposefully toward me. I couldn’t find my feet fast enough.
And I saw something else emerge from the multilayered flaps of skin. Something with the curling horns of a ram. Something that moved with unnatural jerks and twitches. Around it, the shimmering lines of attraction twisted and warped like an angry knot of barbed wire. I saw that its chakra points were broadcasting waves of electromagnetic energy below the visible spectrum, like a cell tower. They appeared to me now as a purplish light, oozing and rippling slowly outward from the ram-headed figure, fouling the neatly curved lines of the Earth’s magnetic field. The ram-head lowered its horned head and charged.
Soon, a tremendous weight was upon me, trampling me back down into the mud with limbs that were somewhere between human feet and cloven hooves. The masculine lads fell upon me, too, pressing me beneath their weight as they had Eliza. My lungs struggled against their gravity and failed. The ram’s head opened its jaws and emitted a noise like a dial-up modem. I was being buried alive beneath a mountain of hard flesh. I blacked out.
I awoke to the smell of smoke in the air. The sun was shining, and I was already on my feet. My skin was clean and shiny with fragrant oils. I wore a clean, white homespun tunic and trousers, and I stood in a line of similarly dressed individuals—my Spirit-Brothers and Spirit-Wives. We were all shuffling toward something large and brown in the center of the compound, some new shape that I coudn’t force my eyes to focus on.
My body felt pure, purged of its electronic toxins. In fact, it felt nearly immaterial. The moment I stopped thinking about it, it was as though my body ceased to exist, leaving me a being of pure starlight.
My Spirit-Brothers and Spirit-Wives were singing. I realized that I was, too, the song pouring forth from my lungs that were barely there, given shape by a tongue that might as well have been cloud. The words of the song were not in English. They were not in any tongue that is still spoken, or was ever spoken by any but the Knowing. They meant something like this:
“The seed is planted
The harvest reaped
Kissed by falling water
The harvest of the pure”
The line crept forward. There was something about the smoke in the air, something that awoke my senses, made me more alert to my surroundings. It smelled of sharp sap and green branches.
Gradually, the new thing in the center of the compound became clearer. It had the form of a man—no, the form of a woman, her belly round and spacious. It was hollow inside, but there were people climbing inside, nestling together like gophers. Guru George blessed each one of them as they passed through the wicker opening. I recognized Spirit-Wife Gemma, her belly still big from her last child, curling peacefully into the wider curve of the wicker womb.
It was hot. Something prickled at the back of my neck, an itch I couldn’t scratch. It was odd; I couldn’t remember the last time my body had itched, or ached, or felt discomfort. I was starting to sweat.
The line crept forward. The wicker opening was wide before me now, inviting me inside. I saw the straw stuffed into the effigy’s base. I saw Spirit-Brother Brianna holding a lit torch, a hungry look on his face. Something wasn’t right.
The memories came flooding back to me. The “digital detox” camp, the poison, the drugs, the murders, the horrible things that occurred in the little shrine in the woods and in the black lodge. I looked up at Guru George, my face full of fear and disgust. He smiled back at me like a god descended from Heaven.
I didn’t know how much time had passed since that night when the world drowned. I knew that I had witnessed, and participated in, many more nights like it. The memories were fragmentary and dream-like. I knew that now, following some sign known only to him, Guru George was preparing us to ascend to the next level. And, by some miracle, I had awakened to my senses. The wicker effigy loomed before me. I ran.
Over my shoulder, I saw Brianna start after me, but George laid a hand on his shoulder. “Let him go,” I heard him say. The rest of the cultists, oblivious, piled into the wicker effigy, and the opening was sealed behind them with a plug of tar. I felt the hot air rising off the thing as the flames caught. I didn’t look back, but I heard the screams. I smelled the smoke on the breeze, no longer sharp and woody but mixed now with bubbling fat and charred skin. I ran. I ran and tried not to think of Gemma.
I passed by the black lodge. Something drew my eyes down to the ground. There, at a corner of the warped structure, impressed into the earth like a paving stone, was my little Moleskine, containing the detailed account of everything leading up to Zak’s death. Another miracle. I understood, then, why I had been spared. I pried up the journal, scratched around nearby for my pen, and fled into the woods.
I ran as far as I could, but I haven’t seen anybody yet. No matter. I just need to wrap up these last few pages. You—whoever finds this—might find them hard to read. After all this time and being buried and dug up twice, there wasn’t much ink left. I have to trace the letters four times before they’re legible. But it’s important that the story gets told. And I don’t think I’ll be around to tell it.
You see, I saw him just now, among the trees. He walks with a limp now, ever since our last encounter. He still has his machete. He’s calling my name. “Spirit-Brother Fynn! Spirit-Brother Fynn! Come back to us! Guru George forgives. He sees a place for you at his right hand.” Brianna’s own right hand tests the weight of the machete with a few practice swings.
I’m going to bury this book. I’ll mark it with a twig or something, and then I’ll run, as fast as possible, in the opposite direction. I won’t be able to outrun Brianna, but I don’t need to. I just need to lead him away from this book. And then somebody will find it. And then they’ll know.
He’s closer now. He calls to me again: “Spirit-Brother Fynn! Guru George is preparing a great feast. And you will join us.”
(After recovering the Moleskine, authorities conducted a thorough search of the surrounding wood. Neither the compound nor any of the other structures described in this account were ever located. Gemma Watson and Zak Salt were declared missing in mid-2017, five years before wildfires devastated the more heavily wooded northwestern portion of the Dales.)
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 19: Environmental Obstacle—a mad ram attempts to gore you (failed).
Entry 20: Grey Lady—you confront a large wicker effigy. Campers are being forced inside. There is a smell of smoke in the air.
The narrator ended the story with 0 Spirit and 0 Resolve, resulting in this ending:
Your last entry tells of how you managed to scramble away from the effigy, recounting seeing campers being burned alive within the wicker shell. After you write, you fall asleep and wake up with a shadow looming over you, machete in hand. “You will join us” says the figure.