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Indie Horror Lifestyle

The 7th Guest: remembering 1993’s CD-ROM smash horror video game hit, and celebrating its long-awaited 2019 follow-up

Anyone who owned a PC with a CD-ROM drive in 1993 was the envy of their friends; compared with the archaic floppy disks PC gamers had been familiar with, a CD drive seemed so futuristic it was almost like alien technology.  This new era promised huge games, orchestral soundtracks, and even (whisper it) full motion video (still known as FMV).

With any new video gaming hardware, a successful product relies upon early platform-shifting ‘must have’ software; only a couple of years previously a certain blue hedgehog had helped to launch Sega’s Mega Drive (or Genesis for any readers outside Europe) into the stratosphere.  In this case, it fell to a peculiar little puzzle game called The 7th Guest to encourage people to splash out on a CD-ROM.  Developed by Trilobyte and published by Virgin Interactive Entertainment, the game was released to much fanfare, leaning on its use of live action video clips as well as its adult themes and content.  Although amusingly tame today, the game really did seem genuinely dark and disturbing at the time, a much more cerebral and chilling proposal than the comedy cartoon gore we’d been drenched in by the likes of Mortal Kombat.

Despite its psychological horror trappings, the game was a simple puzzle affair, with the player taking on the role of an amnesiac trapped in a haunted house.  Only by solving a series of brainteasers could they learn the truth of their identity and make their escape. The puzzles themselves were apparently lifted straight from 19th century puzzle books to avoid copyright issues, and although they were cleverly worked into the game’s themes and a bizarre storyline about a demented toymaker (more on him later…) they were hardly revolutionary from a gameplay standpoint.  Despite these shortcomings, The 7th Guest video game sold a staggering two million copies, with Bill Gates calling it ‘the new standard in interactive entertainment’.

I first played it at a friend’s house (my parents hadn’t yet caved into my demands for a high-spec PC) and was hooked straight from the introduction – follow this link to relive the (dark) magic!

In this sequence, the game’s ground-breaking graphics were showcased via a 3D-rendered story book, whose pages flipped over to present short video clips.  An ominous lullaby plays in the background as a deadpan narrator sets the scene, detailing the fall and rise of a certain Henry Stauf, a toymaker whose creations made him rich and famous… that is, until the children that bought his toys begin to die of a mysterious disease, and Stauf retreats into self-imposed incarceration inside his greatest plaything of all, a sinister and imposing mansion at the top of a hill.  Six guests find themselves invited to the house, each baffled but intrigued by the mysterious letter they have received from the enigmatic entrepreneur.

Each visitor is then introduced via a short clip; the acting on display is serviceable at best, but such is the quality of Robert Hirschboek’s performance as the dastardly Stauf that the game’s ludicrous plot and grainy cutscenes are genuinely engrossing.  Stauf taunts you at every turn, laughing at your attempts to solve his fiendish puzzles, shrieking in exasperation when you do, and revealing himself to be a master Machiavellian manipulator as he gleefully turns the guests against each other. Follow the link below for a poem that perhaps best sums up the character’s cruel, sadistic and at times downright frightening portrayal – I honestly could listen to Hirschboeck’s maniacal ramblings all day long.

Mention should also be made of the game’s soundtrack, which took full advantage of the new CD technology to bring us an array of truly dread-inducing tracks – indeed, the game’s second disc was almost entirely taken up by the music, which could be played in a normal CD player.  Check out the link below for a near-perfect half hour of dark ambience, which I use as a nice change from Akira Yamaoka whenever I’m writing something eerie.

The 7th Guest was a flawed but delightful horror masterpiece, and like all successful video games it spawned a sequel.  The 11th Hour game is a real curiosity – released in 1995, it did little to advance upon the mechanics of the original, and its storyline ventures into utterly preposterous territory – you can watch a compilation of all of its cut scenes below if you want to attempt to decipher the preposterous, often unintentionally hilarious goings-on.  Personally, I don’t rate it very highly, despite the best efforts of Hirschboeck, who reprises his role as the nefarious Stauf.

And that was it: two games, two major commercial successes, and then the franchise faded into obscurity as CDs became the default platform for video games for the next three decades.

And then.

In 2019, a fan-made and crowd-funded follow-up to The 7th Guest was released, disregarding the events of The 11th Hour and taking us back to Stauf’s mansion.  I contributed to The 13th Doll’s Kickstarter campaign and was absolutely overjoyed to receive a short video message from Stauf himself, after the development team managed to get Hirschboeck board for the project!  I was worried that the ageing actor might not be able to make a large contribution to the final product, but my fears were completely unfounded – Stauf is in fine form, sounding like he’s enjoying his devilish schemes more than ever!  (There is very little information about Hirschboeck online, although it’s worth checking out his official website at the link below, if only because it hasn’t been updated for so long that it’s a fascinating relic of the internet’s early days… I can feel myself tearing up as I recall the rough and ready Myspace era!) http://rhstauf.tripod.com/main.html

The game itself is far from perfect, but it’s an admirable attempt to recreate the style and gameplay of the original, and I had a great time with it. The puzzles are very well-crafted, and the soundtrack manages to perfectly recapture the feel of the first game; sadly, though, the storyline is pretty porous, and aside from Hirschboeck himself the acting is of a uniformly mediocre standard.  Still, to nit-pick is to miss the point – this is not some big budget production but a fan-made labour of love, and the development team’s affection for the original comes through in every dark corridor, creaking door and diabolical riddle.

I would thoroughly recommend The 13th Doll, especially if you fondly remember creeping around Stauf’s mansion back in 1993.

Just remember: only he knows the rules…

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post.  If you did, you can find more of my ramblings on my blog, which can be found along with my horror and crime thriller novels at www.jon-richter.com.  I’d be honored if you’d visit the site and sign up for my mailing list, as I have a couple of new novels out later this year that I think might be right up your (dark) alley…

Thanks for reading!
Jon Richter

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

The History of Halloween

September is coming to a close and the heat, brief as it was, is beginning to wane. For some this is a dark time, one foretelling many months of bitter cold, long stretches of darkness and bouts of seasonal affective disorder. Though for others an excitement builds through these darkening months that leads to the spookiest and one of the most beloved traditions in recent history; Halloween. Explore the history of Halloween from ancient Celtic traditions to trick or treating today in the U.S.

History of Halloween Celtic Roots

For many Americans, Halloween will feel as culturally homely as eagles and apple pies, although, (hold awed gasps) the tradition didn’t actually start stateside. The origins of this delectably macabre holiday date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who occupied the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France over 2,000 years ago, celebrated their new year on November 1.

The date was considered the end of the autumn period and symbolizes the emergence of winter, when herds were returned from pasture and land tenures renewed. Legend told that during the Samhain festival, the souls of the departed would once more return to their homes and those who had died since the last festival would have their souls pass over to the afterlife. Bonfires were lit atop hills to ward off evil spirits, and to give the folk a place to relight their hearth fires over winter. They would wear animal heads and skin masks to the ceremonies to avoid being recognized by those spirits, while sacrificing animals to appease the gods. It was believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between our world and that of the dead became thin, allowing them to communicate with spirits. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

According to historical records,the Celts believed that the spiritual communication on Samhain enhanced the premonitory powers of the Celtic druids, allowing them to predict the future in a far more accurate way. 

Bats and Halloween

Bats Flying by a full moon on Halloween

The widespread modern association of bats with Halloween actually has its historical origins too. The Samhain bonfires lit by the Celtic Druids attracted swarms of bugs from the surrounding wilderness which, in turn, drew flocks of bats to enjoy a rather fruitful supper. In later years, various folklore emerged citing bats as harbingers of death or doom. In Nova Scotian mythology, a bat settling in your home foretells that a man in your family will die. If it flaps around the place trying to escape, a woman in the family will pass on instead.

History of Halloween Roman Influence

According to other records, some Halloween traditions are actually rooted in ancient Roman history. By 43 A.D. The Romans had conquered and occupied most of the Celtic’s territory, bringing with them festivals such as Feralia, which took place in October and also commemorated the passing over of the dead to the afterlife. Another holiday, Pomona, was held in honour of the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees, which developed to this day as the reason why we bob for apples on Halloween.

A few Centuries later saw the further development of the festivals that would eventually become Halloween, as several Christian figures attempted to replace the pagan traditions with ones closer to God. By 1000 A.D., All Souls’ Day was announced on November 2 as a time for the living to pray for the souls of the dead. All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows, honored the saints on November 1. That made October 31 All Hallows Eve, which later became Halloween.

Halloween in The United Kingdom

Of course, old habits die hard, and people in England and Ireland mostly continued on as they had done, using the time of year to focus their attention on the wandering dead. They set out gifts of food to feed the peckish spirits, and as time went on and the tradition continued, folk would dress in creepy masks in exchange for treats themselves. The practice was called “mumming,” and was the beginning of a tradition we now know as trick-or-treating.

Trick or Treating in America

Scary Halloween Mask

In America, the southern colonies were the first to adopt the original festivities resembling Halloween, these early renditions of the festivals being called “play parties”. Towns would gather to celebrate the harvest, swap ghost stories and read each other’s fortunes, with far more events and activities being added over the years.

By the 1950s Trick-or-treating had exploded in popularity around the US, and Halloween had become a true national event. Today the holiday is celebrated by over 179 million Americans who spend around $9.1 billion on it per year, according to the National Retail Federation. 

Halloween obviously remains a popular holiday in America and the UK today, but it actually almost didn’t make it across the Atlantic in the first place. Puritans shunned the tradition, disapproving of its Pagan roots, though once Scottish and Irish immigrants began to arrive in America in greater numbers, Halloween made its way back into the zeitgeist. The very first American colonial Halloween celebrations featured large public parties to commemorate the upcoming harvest, tell ghost stories, sing, and dance.

https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

https://www.countryliving.com/entertaining/a40250/heres-why-we-really-celebrate-halloween/

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/halloween-ideas/g4607/history-of-halloween/

https://www.businessinsider.com/history-of-halloween-2017-10?r=US&IR=T

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Halloween

https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Halloween/

https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1456/history-of-halloween/

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Featured Lifestyle

The Horror and Occult of Russia’s Anti-Christ, Rasputin

Grigori Efimovich Rasputin was born in 1969 into a peasant family who survived by farming and the courier service that his father provided. Since there was less opportunity for education for those living in poverty, it is believed that Grigori was illiterate until he was older. During his youth, he was a petty criminal but had a revelation during his late twenties when he was motivated to go on a spiritual pilgrimage. It was at this point that he spent several months at St. Nicholas Monastery which was several hundred miles from his home. Upon his return, he was apparently a changed man and wandered for years as a Strannik or, “holy wanderer,” with a small group of loyal followers.

His Return as a Holy-Man

Ecstatic Ritual of Khylysts by Radeniye
Ecstatic Ritual of Khylysts by Radeniye

Once he returned home he created a church in the basement of his family’s basement; something that would later be considered the beginning of his religious blasphemy. It is believed that Rasputin had actually created a church in the name of the fringe sect of the Russian Orthodox Church by the name of Khlysty. The root of the word Khlysty, khlyst translates to the Russian, “whip”–the followers of Khlysty didn’t worship God or the Holy Spirit through the conventional means, by attending church or studying scripture, instead they believed they could communicate directly with their higher power.

Sinning to Be Rid of Sin

These ritualistic gatherings entailed Rasputin’s acolytes gathering in his would-be church to sing strange hymns and take part in orgies and various other sexual acts. Practicing self-flagellation and these orgies were designed to help believers attain grace by performing sinful acts, a belief that a willful practice of sin within ritual performance was ridding them of their sin altogether.

It was said that there would be one man and one woman designated to be physical representations of Christ and the Mother of God. Of course, these practices were never endorsed by church officials and his group of Khylysts were oftentimes persecuted by the mainstream Russian Orthodoxy. While this wasn’t an extremely long-lived part of his pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, he would continue the acts later in life, even after being accused by many women of assault and even rape.

Rasputin’s Infamy

This holy man’s charisma and influence are what led to his infamy in the early 1900s and he became one of the most well-known monks within monastic circles as a mystic with enormous power. He gained influence over the royal family in 1905, after having journeyed to St. Petersburg and befriended the Russian aristocracy, then cemented his status as a spiritual guide, healer, and eventually the political advisor to Nicholas II and the Czarina, Alexandra.

Rasputin was officially endeared to Alexandra and immediately caused them to form a significant bond, was his ability to heal her sick son, Alexei. Diagnosed with hemophilia, the inability to clot after an injury that drew blood, which was an incurable disease at the time. Rasputin, having the reputation of a healer was called to help heal Alexei after an internal hemorrhage would have meant his inevitable death. Two days after Rasputin’s faith healing, Alexei somehow made a full recovery which caused Alexandra to place her full trust in this strange, mysterious holy-man.

Being Seen For What He Was

Those who were outside of the immediate royal family could see his malignant hold over the Czar and Czarina and believed he would be the downfall of the Romanov family. These Russian court members referred to him as the Mad Monk and believed he was an immoral man who sought only to meddle in the affairs of royalty. This distrust spurred them to have him surveilled regularly, which revealed to them his true nature; they even created detailed records that took account of the many prostitutes he engaged with, as well as his lust over money and alcohol–they were of course published and circulated in newspapers which caused the people of Russia to oppose him as well.

The naysayers were right though, Rasputin’s hold over the Russian royal family brought the entire country to unrest during World War I. Rasputin even endeavored to make things worse when he told Nicholas II to take control over his military forces because he would otherwise face defeat. Unfortunately, following his advisor’s words proved to be a ruinous move for the Czar. Within the calamity of the First World War, the Czar was away at war, which gave Rasputin full opportunity to seize control over Russia’s government and the rich. This lowered his reputation as well as that of the royal family in such a way that even Alexandra, who was half German, was accused of being a German spy. Rasputin himself was regularly accused of using hypnosis to bend the wills of others and was said to have, “satanic eyes.”

The Many Assassination Attempts

There were so many attempts made against Rasputin’s life, but the final attempts were what proved to make him famous for being the man who would not die. In Moika Palace, Prince Yusupov and politician Purshkevich came together in an effort to take him down; he was given cakes and wine laced with lethal amounts of cyanide, but even two hours after eating the cakes and drinking the wine Rasputin didn’t seem to be affected by the attempted poisoning. It was at this point that Yusupov shot Rasputin several times in the chest, which after an elaborate attempt to cover up the shooting, found that this crazy monk was still alive. He even managed to escape outside, at which point he was shot in the back, then thrown into an icy river. When his body was recovered and an autopsy was performed, it was revealed that Rasputin only succumbed to death after drowning and by any of the other failed attempts.

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Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Hammer Film Productions came out with this largely fictionalized story that features only half-truths about some of the events that led up to Rasputin’s assassination. The film shows us Grigori Rasputin, the Russian peasant who is a self-proclaimed mystic, holy-man, and healer; he had gained a powerful position of influence with the royal family prior to the Russian Revolution and World War I. Interestingly enough, the character of Yusupov within the movie had to be changed for legal reasons, since the real Yusupov was still alive when the film was released.

Rasputin: The Mad Monk IMDB listing

Who Is the Real Rasputin? – Russia’s Own Anti-Christ

The mystery of one of Russia’s most historically notable and powerful men, Rasputin, is often regarded with skepticism yet undeniable uncertainty. Shiver gave us a good in-depth look into Rasputin’s life and the kind of control he really had over the royal family.

https://youtu.be/c1rJZO_c4Go

The Mysterious Life and Death of Rasputin

The experts at TEDEd gave us their best explanation of the life and death of the holy-man Rasputin and how they believe he became the man who wouldn’t die.

Was He Truly an Occultist?

Widely considered to be the anti-Christ by the people of his day, it is speculated that Rasputin was deeply immersed in the occult, consorting with demons and eventually being possessed by them himself. Skeptics have found other theories to explain his inability to die after so many attempts, but it doesn’t account for Rasputin’s prophecy of his own death.

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Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers Lifestyle Short Horror Stories

The Paranormal Journal of Ezekiel Kincaid Entry 5: James and Alice

Interruptions.

They are a part of life but I still haven’t grown accustomed to them. In fact, I hate them so much I stopped taking walk-ins years ago…

It was a Tuesday morning and I had just poured a fresh cup of coffee. The aroma was rising in my nose as my computer booted up for the day. I was about to sit down and work on putting the final touches on the first draft of Johnny Walker Ranger: Demon Slayer, Vol. 2. I didn’t even get to sit my butt in the chair when the doorbell rang.

“I moved outta neighborhoods cause of crap like this.” I glanced at the bottom left of the computer screen. It was 7:59 a.m. “Better be Girl Scout cookies.” I placed my mug next to my computer and walked towards the door.

I turned the knob and pulled. The sunlight danced across my night-laden eyes and I squinted. I raised a hand over my forehead to shield my face from the light. I blinked a few times to focus on the shadowy figures standing before me. They came into view and I saw a man and woman around my age.

The man stood with his hands crossed in front of him. He was lanky, had scraggly facial hair and donned tattered jeans and red Dr. Pepper shirt. The lady had short brown hair with round features. She was wearing a white tank top and cut-off jean shorts.

I eyed them up and down. “Look, a homeless man and a hooker.” I motioned at the guy with my head. “Good thing you’re not an add for Dr. Pepper, cause if you were, I’d never drink the stuff.” I started to close the door.

The lady thrust her foot forward and stopped the door.

“Mr. Kincaid, please,” the man said and placed his hand on the lady’s shoulder.

“I don’t do walk-ins. Hold on, let me get my secretary so you can make an appointment.” I peeked over my shoulder. “Hey, Janet!” I paused for a moment then looked back at them. “She must be out. Sorry, you’ll have to reschedule—never.”

“Please!” The man raised his voice. His eyes rounded and a look of desperation flowed over him. His lip quivered. “I’m a friend of Trisha’s.”

The name punched me in the gut.

Trisha.

She came to me on a whim. She was having nightmares about an entity with the head of a goat skull, body of a feline, and tail of a serpent. To make a long story I short, I used my ability to save her from being cult stew.

I narrowed my eyes and glared at them for a few moments. “Fine.” I eased off the door. “You got five minutes to make sense or you’re gone.”

“Thank you,” the man nodded and came in.

“Stubborn jackass,” the woman said then walked over the threshold.

“Don’t mention it, Roxanne,” I huffed.

“I hate that song!” She snapped back.

“Who hates that song?” I snickered.

I stepped in front of them and made my way into the kitchen and arrived at the coffee pot. “Anyone want some? I just put it on.”

“Yes,” the man said. “We would both like a cup.” He gave the woman a brazen glare.

“We would.” The woman’s voice was flat, monotone.

The couple moved toward my table. He pulled the chair out for her and let her sit. He took his place next to her.

I poured them each a cup of coffee and placed it before them on the table.

“Thank you,” the man said and took a sip as the steam snaked around his face.

I pulled out a chair from the table, turned it around, and sat down with my arms draping over the back. “Your five minutes start now.”

“My name is James,” the man said. “This is my wife, Alice.”

I acknowledge them with a nod.

“You helped Trisha, and now I need you to help my wife,” James said.

I glared at the woman as she wrapped her lips around the cup. “Someone looks like they think I’m a fake.”

“Excuse me,” the woman strutted her head back like a turkey.

“Yeah. I seen that look a thousand times,” I said.

Alice wrapped her hands around the mug and glanced down, her eyes heavy. “I—I do have a hard time believing any of this.”

I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. “Number one, its early and I don’t like morning interruptions. Number two, its early and I don’t like morning interruptions. And three, I don’t like interruptions so get on with it. You either want my help or not.”

“My wife has lost something very important to her,” James said.

I rolled my neck then rubbed the back of it. “Dear Lord, please?” I lifted my eyes while my head was lowered. “I’m not a psychic lost and found. Get out.” I waved my hands at them.

“Told you he was a fake,” Alice said and pushed her cup away.

James gripped her wrist. “Just wait.”

“If I was a smoker, I would light one up right now,” I said. “The mood calls for it.” I placed my forearms on the table and interlocked my fingers. I breathed in deep and exhaled. I could hear the ringing of my computer as updates and messages dinged off. I shot a glance over at it then returned my eyes to my audience. “People usually call me a fake to try and manipulate me to do what they want. Doesn’t work on me. If you think I am a fake or a circus side show, you can drag your ass out the same way you came in. We are done.”

I stood up from the table and kicked my chair back. “You want a prediction? You both will die one day. How’s that?”

Alice placed the back of her hand over her mouth and gasped. James hung his head.

“Alice, stop.” James lifted his eyes to me. “She doesn’t mean it.” He glared at Alice. “Tell him.”

Alice placed her hands on the table and cleared her throat. “I am sorry I offended you.” She wouldn’t look at me. “Please, I need your help.”

I grabbed the back of my chair, lifted it, then slammed it down and scooched it toward the table. “Fine.” I sat down.

“Tell him why you are here, babe.” James set his cup down on the table.

Alice adjusted in her seat. “Someone very close to me—well who used to be very close to me—gave me something when we were young. Two white stones.”

“Who gave them to you?” I asked.

“My younger sister, Rachel. I was eight and she was five when she gave them to me. I carried them everywhere. They were special because she used her own money to buy them then gave them to me as a birthday present.” Alice teared up. “She died fifteen years ago in a car accident. Since then I have been looking for those stones and can’t find them.” Alice wiped her eyes. “So, Mr. Kincaid, I need to find them. They are all I have to remember her by.”

I gave a slow nod. My heart was moved with compassion and I all the sudden wasn’t annoyed by her anymore. I stretched out my hands across the table. “Let me see your hands, Alice.”

Alice was hesitant. She looked to James for assurance and his expression told her it was all right. Alice placed her hands in mine.

“First, I am going to prove I am not a fake.” I closed my eyes. “I am searching your memories.”

Alice gave a slight twitch when I started.

“I see—your childhood.” My countenance fell. “So much pain and sadness.”

Alice let out a soft whimper.

“Someone. They threw things at you. A red thermos.”

Alice went to speak but I cut her off.

“No. I’m confusion two things. I see a red ball, two black eyes, and a thermos—”

“Lock.” Alice said.

“Yes.” I nodded.

We opened are eyes and gazed at one another.

“I was bullied bad. From elementary through high school.” Alice began to cry. “The bullies—”

“Shayna, Julie, and Amanda,” I said.

Alice pulled her hand away from mine and placed it over her lip. Her fingers trembled. “How did you—”

“Tell me what happened.” I held her other hand tight.

“One day at P.E.,” she swallowed. “They cornered me with those red rubber balls you use for dodge ball. Then they pelted me with them. Shayna hit me right in the nose and blackened both my eyes.”

“What about the locks?” I asked

Alice closed her eyes and bit her lips. “When I would run up or down the stairs in the hall. The kids would throw locks at me. The brand was thermos.”

“Dear Lord,” I said and shook my head. I stared at her with mixed emotions. Part of me felt sorry for her and the other part of me wanted to track those people down and shove the locks into every open cavity of their body. “Give me your other hand. I need to keep searching.”

Alice reached so I took hold of her hand. Her fingers and palms had grown clammy.

I searched her memories again. “You’re one constant was your teddy bear, Clark.”

Alice teared up again. “Yes.’

Then I was in deep. Her memories were flashing before me. “Alice. I see you as a child. You are in the woods. You are burying your toys.” Then my voice changed. It was that of Alice when she was a little girl. “It’s okay, no one will find you here. You are safe.” My voice returned to normal. “Alice, what is this?” I opened my eyes.

Alice’s body shook as she sobbed. “How did you know I buried my toys? I have never told anyone that. Not my mother. Not my sister. Not even James. I had forgotten.” The look on Alice’s face was one of amazement and sorrow. “I am so sorry I doubted you.”

I held out my hand to stop her. “Why did you bury your toys?” I asked.

“Because the kids. The bullies. They would steal my toys or destroy them. So, I started to bury them.” Alice said.

I closed my eyes again. “I saw young Alice again in the woods next to her buried toys. “I see you holding two white stones. You buried them with your toys.”

Alice jerked her hands from mine and placed them over her mouth. “My God. I did! I remember! I buried them there because Shayna tried to steal them from me at school one day.”

“There still there.” I told her. “Do you remember where the place is?”

Alice nodded. “I do. My mother still lives in the same house I grew up in. I remember the stop between the two trees.”

I looked at Alice then at James. “Take her there. She will find the stones.” I stood up from the table.

James reached across to shake my hand. “Thank you,’ he said. His eyes were wide, and his face beamed with thankfulness.

I clasped his hand. “Glad I could help.”

Alice ran and gave me a hug. “Please forgive me for doubting. Thank you so much.”

I pulled her away and smiled. “Don’t thank me yet. You haven’t been to see if they really are there.”

“Oh, they are.” She gave me a half smile. “I remember it clearly now.”

I saw the couple to the door and gave James my number. “Call me if she finds it.”

“Will do,” He took the slip of paper with my cell number.

We said our goodbyes and I returned to my computer to work on Johnny Walker Ranger: Demon Slayer, Vol. 2.

Four hours later my phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Kincaid, it’s James.”

“Yeah, hey James.”

“Alice found the stones right where you said they would be.”

“Good,” I smiled. “Glad she found them.”

“Thank you again.”

“You’re welcome.”

I hung up the phone and kept writing.

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

The Pocong, Indonesia’s Response to Modern Pandemic

So you don’t want to stay inside?
Neither did the residents of the village of Kepuh on Java Island.

Horror culture in Indonesia seems to be sparking interest around the world these days–with nothing but news about the global pandemic, they gave us an interesting view into a culturally relevant practice that they’ve started. The village of Kepuh on Java Island in Indonesia has been using a figure in their horror culture to scare people into adhering to social distancing guidelines. The pocong have been appearing randomly, as volunteers have been taking to the streets dressed in a burial shroud in an effort to encourage people to go home after evening prayers.

First of all, we want to be different. Secondly, to create a deterrent effect because ‘pocong’ is spooky and scary.”

Anjar Pacaningtyas, Head of the Youth Volunteer Group

Since Indonesia has been experiencing a rise in the number of confirmed cases and virus-related deaths, they began to try something new; due to the fear that the true scale of infection country-wide is much worse than statistics show, the started talking through fear. So we were fascinated when we found out that the locals were forming volunteer groups dressed as the trapped souls of the dead. The head of Kepuh village decided, with the hope that it would help to keep people indoors, safe, and healthy.

Residents still lack awareness about how to curb the spread of Covid-19 disease. They want to live like normal so it is very difficult for them to follow the instruction to stay at home.

Priyadi, Kepuh Village Head

Unexpectedly, it initially had the opposite effect, saying that people would venture out in search of the pocong, but by deploying these troops at more random times that things have improved–parents and children have been staying at home. There has been success not just due to the horror factor, but because it has reminded residents of the potentially deadly outcome of contracting the disease.

Using Horror to Flatten the Curve

Pocong refers to a fabric shroud that is used to wrap a corpse before it’s ready to be buried; in Muslim burials, the body is tied just above its head, around the neck, and under its feet. According to local legends, the soul of the deceased would continue on in the realm of the living for forty days and that at the end of this forty-day period, the body must be untied so that the soul could be set free. If the body is not untied and the soul does not get released, the corpse would become a pocong, taking on the form of a ghost. Since the pocong is tied at its feet, it can’t walk or run in a typical fashion, so instead, it rolls or hops along the roads looking for someone to set it free. While this may seem like a silly way to move around, it’s said to be able to leap fifty meters (approximately 164 feet) at a time.

So is the pocong the answer to a lack of social distancing? Perhaps–but there is folklore to suggest that if you’re brave enough to hug a pocong and then untie its shroud you can release the soul of the pocong, causing a really grateful spirit to kindly grant you with wealth.