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Anna Byrne: Chapter 03 – The Boy, the Beast, and the Kayak

I remember when I was younger, I must have only been five or six–I was sitting next to my father in the auditorium at the local University and I was watching my old moosehide boots as I swung them back and forth, playfully trying to hit the floor with my toes. My father lovingly draped a blanket over my lap, I think he mumbled something about, “in case you get chilly.” I remember the anticipation that I had as I sat there, waiting for people to come on stage–I knew that I was in for a treat. My father regularly took me to the University in town, we had made a sort of tradition out of it, as if he were trying to expose me to as much of the culture of Alaska as he could. I always enjoyed attending those student led performances, I guess it reminded me of when my grandmother would tell me stories when I was a baby. I barely remember the wrinkled smile of my elder now, but even a glimpse of those memories brought me feelings of warmth and safety.

I remember that I hadn’t had to wait for long before a University student came on the stage, she was dressed in traditional Inuit regalia and sat down on a stool in the middle of the stage. I had been mesmerized by the woman’s coat, it was made of caribou skin and trimmed in wolf fur–it looked so soft and warm, and the beading that decorated it was so beautifully colored. I vaguely remember the Inuit student clear her throat several times, it was almost as if she did so self-consciously, then she tapped on the microphone that was set up in front of her. I remember grasping my father’s hand as I sat next to him, jittery and excited; he squeezed my hand back to let me know he was also excited for the show.

Foggy morning in Baffin Bay, Canada
Photography by Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen

“I want to thank you all for coming today,” she adjusted the microphone to better capture her voice, “today I will be telling you a story about the Inuit people from Baffin Bay, this particular tribe had to deal with another tribe of people known as Tornit–here we call them the Alaska Bushmen. I heard this story from my aanaq when I was younger. I know she would be happy to see how many of you are here today to carry on this oral tradition.” The woman on stage cleared her throat once again, adjusted herself one last time in her seat, then began her story.

“It was a quiet summer morning in fish camp on the coast of Nunatsiarmiut (new-naht-saw-me-oot), the repetitious chirps of sandpipers in the distance announced a change in the tide, and the people in the camp moved about in a soft and polite manner,” just as the first words came out of her mouth, several people joined her on stage, all dressed in regalia, faces covered in character masks. The men carried their traditional drums while the women carried their dance fans–my childlike joy gave me away and I gasped in awe, my eyes glossed over as I became entranced with the wondrous spectacle before me.

“Tulugaak (too-loo-gawk) opened his sleep-crusted eyes laboriously, rubbed them clean, then blinked several times to clear the morning’s fog. He realized what day it was, bolted upright in his bedding, and went to scramble out of his seal-skin tent. When Tulugaak stumbled out of his tent while attempting to adjust his seal-skin boots, his distraction nearly caused him to land squarely on top of his best friend. Nukka (newk-ka) who greeted him with an appreciative groan, had been patiently sunning herself, awaiting the time her master would finally arise for the day.

Excitement overtook Tulugaak, who couldn’t believe he had overslept on such an important day, his kayak was ready to take out into the bay and fish with his father and the other men. Nukka’s tongue lolled out in a lazy yawn, her stark white body stretched downward, which readied her for the day. She fell in step behind Tulugaak as they both started off toward the shore. He would never get sick of the brilliant summer greens that revealed themselves on the mossy, overgrown boulders and thickets that were humming with life. The salty air tickled his nose as they got closer to where his mother and sister had breakfast ready; a cacophony of gulls overwhelmed the squeaky chirps of the sandpipers. The sun reached ever higher into the sky, though it wasn’t even half-way to its final destination for the day. Clouds wisped through the sky, a brief reprieve on an otherwise unnaturally warm day.

Nukka was the first to see Anana (ah-nah-nah), Tulugaak’s mother and, having caught the smell of food on the light breeze, perked her ears up and kicked up the sand and rocks behind her as she broke into a run. Tulugaak could see her greet his mother with an audacious, playful bark. Nukka was nearly finished with her food by the time Tulugaak sat down to eat. His sister, Namak (nah-mahk) teased him for his lateness, but his mother simply handed him a bowl of dried fish and seal oil. While he was mid-mouthful, his mother brushed his disheveled black hair to the side with her hand, then made it clear he was to hurry to shore.

Rocky Inlet off of the bay
Photography by Pawel Kadysz

Tulugaak finished his bowl with voracity, grabbed his net and found Nukka at his heels once again; they both dashed down the slope to the inlet where they kept their kayaks. Nukka stopped for a moment to curiously bury her nose in a small hole that had been hiding amongst the stony beach and emerged with a terrified and squirming collared lemming. Nukka unceremoniously bit down on the rodent before she caught up with her master. When Tulugaak arrived at the kayaks, his smiling grandfather presented him with a spear. He couldn’t believe his grandfather was giving him his lucky spear—it was a gift he felt he could never repay.

The men of the village, who were irritated by his lateness, barely acknowledged him as they all began to hop into their kayaks. Tulugaak, determined to not hinder them further, struggled to get his own kayak into the water, his body buzzing in anticipation. Today was the day. Nukka, upset that she was not going with him, sat down next to his grandfather in resignation, as he and all of the other hunters paddled out of the inlet and into the expansive bay.

Seal in the water
Photography by Alex Glebov

Small schools of fish passed under his kayak, which he quickly scooped up with a skillful turn of his net in the water then dumped three fairly large char at his feet. Tulugaak was even more confident in his first trip than he could have imagined, being out on the mild waves of the bay was invigorating and he felt like a true hunter for the first time. He heard his father holler from the front of their formation of kayaks, there were seals lounging in the water closer to the cliffs, feeding on the fish that were running with the tide.

His father was the first to reach them, he saw him let loose his spear, taking advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself—two men joined him in pulling the first successful strike back to his father’s kayak. The hunt progressed quickly, before long there were several strikes, all of which resulted in a nicely weighted down kayak. Tulugaak was as anxious as ever, his knuckles white with tension around his grandfather’s lucky spear—he saw a flash pass near his kayak and before he realized what he was doing, his own spear let loose from his hands. Within an instant, he felt the spear pierce the seal he had so haphazardly aimed for and he let out a triumphant yawp.

The men joined in on his celebratory cries, his uncle who was beaming with pride, was among the two closest men to him that helped him bring his seal aboard. Although this was exactly what Tulugaak had hoped would come of his first hunt in the bay, it wasn’t at all what he was expecting—such luck on his first trip out could only be explained by the spear that his grandfather had so lovingly bestowed upon him. The rest of the trip was a blur, although he would later remember helping another man pull his own catch in, he couldn’t recall paddling home.

The rest of the night passed fairly slowly, he had been drunk on success when they had reached the shore and it only began to wear off when he saw his mother and sister gut his catches and prepare them for storage. Tulugaak’s father and grandfather soon joined them all around the fire for dinner, Namak had brought her story knife to the circle and entertained them all with stories about their neighboring tribe, the Tornit.

Namak told them all about how one of them had recently stolen away with the kayak of one of the other men in the village, her narrative continued to become less and less friendly until their father suddenly scolded her. He did not want any of them to invite a run-in with a Tornit, the reputation for the devious nature of the monsters was well known in their village. Namak stowed her story knife away obediently, her father kissed her forehead, said his goodbyes for the for the evening, and stated he would be gone by early morning on his caribou hunt.

Their impish grandfather leaned in close to the two children, his voice was soft and low—he continued on with Namak’s story and several others before their mother finally caught on to his mischiefs. Anana looked over at them all sternly which caused their grandfather to chuckle and take his leave for the night. The fire in front of Tulugaak cracked loudly, it brought him back into the present, the fire’s embers were still hot and bright, but they were beginning to die out. The smoke, which hung heavily around their heads, made him weary—his sister stifled a yawn and they were both promptly shooed off to bed.

The sun was still hanging well above the horizon, but Tulugaak and his sister gave in, they knew it was late enough; it had been a long, exhausting day, but his mind was still racing with the thought of the Tornit. He had never really seen one of them up close, but he knew that was because they weren’t entirely friendly to his people. Namak disappeared into the tent that she shared with their mother, while Tulugaak and Nukka headed back thoroughly unconcerned with their surroundings. Nukka bounced around in a futile attempt to capture a bug that had caught her eye; they were just passing the thicket when Tulugaak heard it.

Spooky foggy forest in daytime
Photography by Ales Krivec

There was a muffled crunch of brush beyond the trees—it wasn’t bright enough in the thicket for him to see much of anything but a blur. Suddenly, he felt his heartbeat hasten, it felt like it was jumping up his throat—what was that? Feeling unusually brave, with spear in hand, his curiosity got the better of him and he stepped into the thicket to get a closer look at what had made the sound. Pretty soon he found himself hiding, pressed against a tree as he spotted the abnormally large and hairy creature creeping toward the edge of the trees. He watched from a safe distance as he realized the brutish creature was attempting to sneak past their camp.

With everyone except, to his knowledge, himself tucked away in their tents, he figured this Tornit was emboldened to help himself to what he liked. Tulugaak fumed, he couldn’t let this creature steal right from under their noses, could he? He felt like both the hunter and the hunted in that moment as he stalked the creature, his palms clammy with sweat, his heart hammered in his chest. What would the creature do if it stumbled upon a tent? Would it harm those who were sleeping peacefully inside? Tulugaak knew he had to continue to follow, as a man now it was his duty to help protect his people.

He was so focused on following that he didn’t realize where he had been led until his feet landed on the rocky soil of the inlet—just then he felt Nukka’s cold nose on the back of his hand, she had been following her master silently the whole time. They watched from behind a few large boulders as the beast loomed over some of the kayaks, as if intrigued by their construction—it didn’t take long for him to decide which one he wanted. The creature hefted it easily over his bulky shoulder, his elongated arms hugged it in place. That was the moment that Tulugaak recognized that the kayak being taken was his own. His blood boiled, his grip tightened around the spear in his hand, and he crouched down as his father had taught him when hunting polar bears the previous winter.

The boy could feel his companion tense behind him, a soft, low growl escaped her as they saw the beast lumbering back toward them, fully unaware that they were there. Tulugaak’s breath was caught uncomfortably in his chest, his heart once again beat rapidly, the hand that gripped the spear began to go numb, but he remained still—he was still hoping that the rumors of their eyesight being poor were true. The Tornit drew closer to their hiding spot and Tulugaak could see the look of pride on the creature’s face, it was twisted into a grotesque inhuman smile–his yellowed teeth broke through his dingy broad cracked lips, his dark demonic eyes sunk deeply under a large furrowed brow. His own kayak had become the prize in some twisted game this beast was playing, Tulugaak had built that kayak himself and it had taken him so much time and effort to complete.

Lost in the rage that continued to build within him, Tulugaak jumped out from his hiding spot, Nukka right at his heels. In his foolhardiness he charged at the creature, spear angled to strike. He didn’t expect the Tornit to grab him up and toss him aside, he didn’t expect to have the wind knocked hard from his body as he slammed into the boulders surrounding them. The Tornit gave a guttural scream, only then did Tulugaak notice that Nukka had hurled herself at the creature, her teeth bared as they sunk into the arm that had so effortlessly tossed her master aside. In the brief moments that Nukka had distracted the creature, Tulugaak had regained a wobbly stance and flung his grandfather’s lucky spear at the injured beast.

The spear flew true, it penetrated the neck of the creature and brought him to the ground hard. The kayak tumbled off the beast’s shoulder like a toy out of a child’s hand, his large hairy hand grasped weakly at the spear in his neck, the loss of blood brought a quick end to him. Tulugaak collapsed in exhaustion and took a breath in what seemed like ages, his head was foggy, his body was weak—Nukka’s blood red face hovered near his own, her cold, wet nose briefly touched his temple and she sat next to him. That’s when they heard the stirred villagers approaching the shore.”

There was a wave of applause that filled the auditorium, the dancers and the storyteller all stood and took a bow, before taking their leave. I looked up curiously at my father, “Da, do you think there really was a Tornit tribe that lived, I mean for real?”

“Well, my sweet, these legends come from people as a way to explain the world around them–” he told me and then my head tilted to the side, “stories like this one had to have originated from somewhere, otherwise they wouldn’t exist at all. It’s not likely that they just made up a monster that they had problems with in the past, so I have to believe they existed, maybe even still do,” my father explained.

“The way they were described, big and hairy? That sounds a lot like Bigfoot. Do you think they’re the same?”

My father smiled thoughtfully, “I think that’s a very meaningful connection that you have just made, maybe we can look this all up when we get back home.” 

I gathered up my blanket and popped up out of my seat, my grin spread from ear to ear, “Let’s go Da!”

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

Anna Byrne: Chapter 04 – Finding the Bokor

I twitched awake, I felt the unsettling warmth of sweaty palms, and my heart pounded in my chest as I gasped for air. It was the week following the winter Solstice and it was colder than it had been all year; the skies above my cabin were entirely void of cloud cover and had the clearest view of the milky way. Clear skies during the darkest parts of winter would always have a chilling effect on the temperature, this time it caused it to plummet to thirty below. Living in Alaska wasn’t always pleasant, especially times like the present, where I could see my breath rise as a fog above my face, even in the darkness of my cabin.

“The water again?” I groaned silently, then rolled over onto my side and squinted into the backlit screen of my laptop as it booted up. I blinked my eyes a couple of times to help them adjust to the screen, then clicked the only icon on my desktop. I waited as my secure connection bounced between Bruges, San Francisco, and finally Vancouver; Tor, the anonymous browser I used to access the dark web, opened to its usual homepage. I vaguely remembered where I had left off in the Oasis when I signed off at two in the morning, but when my eyes flicked over to the clock in the corner I saw that had only been three hours earlier. My dreams had turned into nightly hauntings, which always ended with me choking for air as I drifted beneath the murky surface of a strange body of water. I shook it off, even thinking about it gave me the chills.

It had been over eight years since the first time I logged into The Oasis, that was the summer before my nineteenth birthday, which now felt like such a long time ago. I entered in a string of seemingly random numbers into the address bar, this sequence had taken me nearly two weeks of typing it in to commit it to memory, despite entering it several times a day. Even with my high status as a long-term member of this particular darknet paranormal community, I still had no idea who ran the whole thing, let alone where it came from, all I knew was that it was legitimate.

I had only received an invitation after trolling the dregs of the paranormal communities for some time—right after I had sought out and documented proof of the Alaska Bushmen, the creatures that had been gnawing at my subconscious since I first heard of them as a child. It had taken me almost six years to find the damn things. A chat request from my anonymous buddy popped up in a panel on the side of my screen, I smiled softly. Even though I had never met him, he was probably the closest thing to a friend I had anymore–ever since my father lost his ability to speak, I had developed a tendency to keep to myself.

BanJack: Please tell me you heard.
Nevermore: Heard what?
BanJack: The Bayou is blowing up with news on the undead.
Nevermore: Back up Jack, are you telling me they might have found it?
BanJack: It’s possible, I mean the readings were off the charts. It’s really similar to the kind of power that we saw back…
Nevermore: Back when my dad had his stroke.
BanJack: Yeah, everything since then has only been a blip on the radar. I wasn’t expecting to see you on here for a few more hours though—had that dream again?
Nevermore: You’re psychic, B.
BanJack: So, you’re going, right?
Nevermore: Booking flights now. I’m not going to miss this opportunity again.
BanJack: Let me know what you find out.
Nevermore: You’ll be the first.

BanJack signed out of the chat and I was left to her own devices. There had been a little-known trend in New Orleans, for a small percentage of fringe Voodoo practitioners to fall in with a cult. Those unfortunate enough to be lured into the embrace of this cult, led by a bokor of ill repute ended up vanishing off of the face of the earth. This usually only happened to newly initiated followers who had no familial ties, nor anyone likely to miss them; these poor souls would end up on the lengthy list of officially missing, usually only after missing work for several consecutive days.

I had been the one to stumble upon this trend several years ago and mocked up a dossier to keep track of the happenings, but it had since only resurfaced twice. The first time was the day before my father experienced a stroke, the second I was already in the midst of an investigation. I was stuck in the Trinity Alps of Northern California in search of the Giant Salamander and only heard about it once I returned to civilization. Now I would finally get my opportunity to investigate this voodoo cult while the news was still fresh; if I could track down people with information before the trail went cold, I might actually have a chance to access this cult where the bokor was said to be resurrecting the dead.

The first flight that I would be able to make out of Fairbanks was set to leave in about five hours, it had an hour-long layover in Seattle before it would be off to New Orleans–it was a pricey flight, but she would be there before this time tomorrow and every moment counted. I sighed, finished booking my flight, then a lump of blankets moved at my feet. Within a few moments, my ragged, angry-looking cat emerged from beneath the blankets that I was still stubbornly buried under.

“Hey Shazu,” a yawn escaped my mouth, “looks like you’re gonna have a babysitter here the next couple of days.” An unexpectedly small and sweet trill escaped the large black and gray mop, which served as a half-hearted feline shrug. My bear of a cat was used to me coming and going at the drop of a hat, but to prove his contempt for my schedule he would surely leave a dead shrew in my slipper for when I came home. I unlocked my phone and sent a quick message to my neighbor, headed to New Orleans on an emergency, I’ll be gone for a couple of days, the standing arrangement between us would ensure that Shazu would be taken care of while I was away. The next few hours passed in the blink of an eye, but I had managed to make breakfast for myself and the cat, then scheduled delivery of heating fuel so that I didn’t come back to a frozen cabin and a catsicle. Through the icy blackness of the early morning outside, I saw the headlights break through my frosted-over windows, the cab I had called twenty minutes prior had just arrived to take me to the airport. “I’ll see you in about a week ‘Zu,” I fluffed my cat’s head before I slipped a cowl over my head and pulled my heavy Carhartt jacket on. Thankfully I always had a bug-out bag ready for days like today, when I would need to leave without much preparation. I grabbed my bug-out bag and the messenger bag that held my laptop and paperwork, then headed out into the blisteringly unsympathetic weather.

What might be a harrowing experience getting through TSA in any other airport in the contiguous United States, was only a brief twenty minutes from check-in to the terminal for my flight. Fairbanks International Airport was always half empty, even this soon after the holidays. I found myself sitting at the bar in the only restaurant in the airport, the thick dossier of her years-long investigation cracked open and resting lightly on the edge of the bartop. Flying usually only made me uneasy when the destination was on the other side of large bodies of water but for reasons, I couldn’t quite articulate, the prospect of this flight was causing my anxiety to flare up. The bartender set a rum and diet cola in front of me, “thanks Gus,” I mumbled over her paperwork. My focus was on the picture of a vèvè that had been spray-painted in black on a dilapidated, moss-covered tomb in the Lafayette Cemetery; I knew it was connected to the activities of the bokor I was seeking.

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I took a sip of the cocktail that sat perspiring on the napkin in front of me, I’m sure my expression twisted, I wasn’t quite expecting it to slap me so hard in the face. “Still pouring them weak Gus?” I’m sure my voice was dripping in sarcasm, but the truth was I didn’t mind–Gus knew me well enough to know I appreciated a heavy pour.

I traced the vèvè with my finger, it consisted of a decorated cross upon a tomb that was flanked by two coffins, the symbol of Baron Samedi. Another hour passed without my notice until I heard them announce the flight to New Orleans was boarding. With the two flights and my layover, I would have plenty of time to review my file and bring myself back up to speed on everything I had found and worked on in connection with this cult. It was all of the relevant news articles that referenced the cult’s activities and missing person reports which dated back over ten years. It was like a morbid scrapbook that pointed me to the place where I would need to start looking.

The ride from the airport reminded me why she still lived in Alaska, buildings were crammed against other buildings and the small streets gave no room to breathe. I could never handle living in a cramped city. The cab pulled up in front of the hostel, it was a lemon-yellow small two-story victorian house with white pillars, decorative black wrought iron guardrails, and a row of colorful flags that fluttered lightly in the heavy air.

It wasn’t until I had checked in, that I felt like I could relax again. I was assigned a bunk, but I wasn’t tired, instead, I pulled out my laptop and logged into Tor so I could surf the Oasis for the new information to which my friend had tipped me off. The French Quarter was known to be the voodoo center of New Orleans, but that’s not where people had been going missing—what I had found was that the disappearances were actually occurring in the Bywater neighborhood—the Desire area in particular.

Most recently, a young man by the name of Stanley Dean Keeling had gone missing, I worked at a corner store and after two consecutive days of not calling or showing up to his job—something which he apparently had never done before—his boss of three years had gone to check on him at his home. His home was in disarray, beyond just poor housekeeping, his boss told the police it looked like there had been a struggle. A week later and it was a nonissue, the police had insisted that Stanley had probably left town–and just like that Stanley was another name on a growing list of missing people who had no one to really miss them.

A brief stop in at Stanley’s home only revealed how quickly the landlord cleared out his abandoned belongings and relisted the home for rent. I didn’t fail to notice the vèvè of Baron Samedi that had been carved into the threshold of the front door. My eyes darkened because I knew it was no longer a question of what happened to Stanley, he had been taken, but where and by whom? I knew what my next step had to be; I was close enough to the French Quarter where I could search the local voodoo market for leads on where to look next. It was going to be tedious work, but I knew I would come up with something before I had to turn in for the night. I had no delusions that tracking down a cult that had stayed hidden this long was going to be easy, but the hunt for the truth was what I lived for.

A short muggy cab ride to the French Quarter gave me access to almost a dozen different voodoo shops on foot. I could see now that jeans were the wrong choice to wear in such a humid environment—even with the temperatures in the mid-fifties, it was difficult for me to breathe. I wandered with purpose from store to store, trying to conversationally ask questions about the local voodoo scene until I got to the last shop on my list. I eyed the old wooden sign that hung from the awning, then took in the scene in the window. It was dreary on the outside, animal skulls adorned the display and there was nothing about the shop that welcomed a stranger. Inside it had a different atmosphere than any of the other shops, it was darker, less kitschy, and there was something else about it—maybe it was just my imagination, or maybe it was the lack of tourists in this particular shop. Either way, I realized I was probably exactly where I needed to be.

Upon walking inside, I was in a completely different world, the old ornate shelves were worn and the paint was distressed. Each of the shelves were full to the brim with ritual ingredients, like powdered eggshells, chicken bones, and feet, then there was a full spectrum of hairs from different animals. Each of these oddities had a brief description on the label, but even upon reading some of them I couldn’t quite understand what might be useful about dirt taken from the grave of a mentally ill convicted murderer. A petite bottle of Florida water caught my eye and in my research I had heard of its usefulness in protection and cleansing rituals, so I took one from the shelf without a second thought. Moments later my eyes fell upon a jar of red brick dust­—for use in thresholds, so none that intend to cause harm may cross—I plucked the jar from the shelf, noting that this and the Florida water may come in handy somewhere down the line.

Caught up in the ambiance of the store, I perused a display of jewelry, where I saw the familiar loa vèvès carved into metal pendants. Among the ones I was most familiar with, I saw Maman Brigitte, Papa Legba, Erzulie Dantor, and Baron Samedi. A copper one for Papa Legba, as well as a silver one for Baron Samedi, seemed to make their own way into my hands. I considered putting them back but thoughtfully considered that a ritual offering to both of them might afford me some protection in my search. All I would need now would be a couple of fine cigars, rum, and freshly baked bread to set out for the two loa I would be petitioning for help. Once I was done looking through each section of the small shop, I approached the counter, set down my selected items, and pulled out the picture of Stanley that I had brought with me. I had the foresight to bring it with me, I might as well see if it got me any reactions, but this cashier looked unamused from the moment I had walked in.

“I was hoping to ask you if you had seen my cousin in here,” I offered before I slid his picture across the counter, while the cashier rang up my purchases.  “No one has seen him in the past two weeks—we’re really worried, he usually doesn’t go this long without contacting his mom.” I was an honest person–I swear–but I considered these kinds of white lies fairly valuable in gaining information—Stanley, as far as I knew, didn’t actually have any living family and even if he did, they obviously weren’t making too much of a fuss about finding him. A brief search on the darknet had told me as much, these days I didn’t have to dive too deep in order to find the information I needed. Because that’s what friends are for…

“No,” the cashier was curt, but upon seeing the look of distress on my face, he continued, “he used to come in here a lot, a ways back at least. It’s been a couple of months since I seen him last.” At this, my face brightened.

“O-oh, he did?” I watched as the cashier bagged up my items. “I’m kind of desperate to find him, the police won’t take this seriously, won’t even officially take him down as a missing person. Told me he had just moved on,” my hand gestured in the air as if Stanley had just wafted away on a light breeze. “Do you know if he ever came in with anyone else? It would be helpful if I could find someone who knew him down here.”

The cashier looked at me as if I had just asked him to cut out his own tongue, his jaw tightened—I knew something wasn’t quite right, but I thought my questions were quite reasonable considering the persona I had taken on to find this guy. After a moment of awkward silence, the cashier took a piece of scrap paper and scribbled something down, then slid Stanley’s picture and the note back across the counter without looking back up at me.

“Listen, this is just a rumor, I don’t know if there is any truth to it, but it might be something—you didn’t get this information from me and I’ve never seen you before.” My brow furrowed softly, I slowly grabbed the picture and note from the counter and nodded my head.

“Thank you—,” I looked down at the note, it was an address, but the whole situation felt wrong, I took my bag, then stuffed the address in my jeans pocket, “I really appreciate the help.” It wasn’t until I had stepped out of the shop that I realized that it felt like there was something heavy sitting on my chest while I had been in the store. The sensation passed and I breathed in the dense but cooling evening air. It was getting fairly late, but one more stop at the closest corner market had me laden with some snacks, a bottle of rum, some nice cigars, and two white pillar candles which I would take with me to Lafayette cemetery where the vèvè of Baron Samedi had been marked on an old tomb. It was going to be a long night, but if everything worked out like I hoped it would, the address I had gotten from the creepy cashier and this offering might give me a better direction to continue in.

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

Anna Byrne: Chapter 05 – Night of Resurrection

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It was a nice walk from the corner store to the cemetery I had marked on my map, it was so alien to see grass that was still green this time of year, and the sun beat down through the thick humid air. I reminded myself to not get used to the length of the days down in the lower forty-eight, it would just make me miss the sun that much more when I got home. Walking through what felt like ancient relics dedicated to days of luxury, I noticed many of the tombs I was passing by were in various states of decay. The lavish stonework had gone through years of disrepair and had been devastated by vandals in some places, but there was still a certain beauty to it. Moss grew heavy on the older monuments to the dead as if the tragically forgotten were being reclaimed by the earth. I found the tomb when I stumbled upon it, quite literally, my foot had caught on a rough edge that stuck out just-so underneath the bedraggled grass that lined the trodden pathway.

The tomb adjacent to the one I had been searching for had enough of an overhang to cast some shade—I settled myself down on the grass and leaned back lazily, sweat beaded down the side of my face. I had just realized how much I had been moving around when I finally let out the breath I had unwittingly been holding. The vèvè graffiti had been covered up since the picture I had, had been taken. The blotchy, mismatched paint stared back at me tauntingly—why had it been covered up when the rest of the cemetery was in such disarray. I pondered the thought for a while, even though I already had my suspicions—I had no authority to jump to conclusions, but I had a gut feeling that there was someone higher up involved with keeping it all under the radar.

The shadows grew longer and longer as the day drew to a close, the rhythmic chirp of the crickets as they began to sing caught my ears, but I still felt the sun left me too exposed to be comfortable with leaving an offering out in the open. My paranoia often worked in my favor, so I couldn’t help but listen to the agonizing anxious conspiracies that often traipsed lackadaisically through my mind. The sun seemed to be taking its sweet time and in my restlessness, I got my notebook out to study and scribbled down the address I had been given at the voodoo shop. Another thirty minutes would go by before I finally opened the bags I had been hauling around.

I set the candles down, on the left and right sides of where the covered vèvè was blaring through the shadows that had been cast by the fading sunlight. I set the sweet snacks and the cigars next to one another and then produced a shot glass from the tchotchkes section of the corner market I had found on my way here. I poured an ample shot of rum into the glass, took a swig and winced at the roughness of the liquor that hit my tongue. I lit the candles and began what some may call a ritual, others may call witchcraft—I knew it best as an offering, in honor of the spirits of the region. My experience had proven, that when in Rome wasn’t just a silly thing that people said when they were feeling uncomfortable with customs that seemed alien to them. I slipped the metal pendants over my neck and verbally petitioned Papa Legba and Baron Samedi to be with me in my investigation. It was just something you paid attention to—customs were to be respected and followed if at all possible.

After two hours of sitting there in silence I noticed the sky darkened until it was eventually pitch black. With just the flickering of the dim golden glow of the candles against the paled, peeling paint of the stones they sat against, I felt my eyes grow heavy as I sat there, in near meditation. I shook my head and mentally made a note to get a grip. The heaviness in the surrounding air still hadn’t given me a break since I had left the airport and I doubted I would find a reprieve from it before I left. I decided that I had sat there long enough and gathered everything but the offering I had left then set a course to walk back to the hostel. It still wasn’t all that late, and the Blues being carried by the wind through the streets on the way back, gave me a bit of bliss after a trying evening. In unfamiliar territory, I was just thankful that the GPS on my phone was working, or else I might be utterly lost.

I noted the course that I would have to take from where I was and slipped my phone into my bag—I couldn’t shake the feeling of eyes on me though and I stopped in my tracks just as I began to pass what looked to be an abandoned shop. My eyes were fixed on the door to the shop, it was white, the glass panes cracked from the corners, paint peeling on the bottom where the sun was brightest and hottest during the day. What really made me stop though, was the slight creak that rose above the fading melancholy of the band playing at the old club around the corner. The ruddy glow of an aging light fixture cast a haunting shadow—did that door just—I instantly dismissed any notion that it had but watched as it creaked open into the darkness beyond.

I walked slowly towards the door and stopped short of the cracked and weathered façade when I felt the force of someone pushing me hard against the door. My head cracked against the threshold, the sound drowned into blackness and conscious thought evaporated from me completely.

Zombified victim of voodoo ritual

My eyes opened to look upon a freshly painted black vèvè that stung the wall of the tomb and it was barely illuminated in the night that surrounded me, but it wasn’t night. I realized that when I looked to either side of me, the shadow was as thick as tar. I looked back at the tomb where the symbol was; it had begun to bleed down the wall in an inky red. Over my shoulder, I could feel someone press their chin gently upon the top of my head as if viewing the blood as it gushed down the face of the wall. Beyond the adulteration of my peripheral and through my own copper hair, I saw the outline of what looked to be a skull, but was it wearing a top hat?

The Cheshire grin that spread across its toothy smile was unsettling, even so I couldn’t help but bring myself to look at it directly. My eyes barely caught the hand reaching for my neck before it grasped me unrelentingly, the ashen skin was streaked with blood as it protruded through a large crack that had appeared in the center of the symbol. There were drums in the distance, a beat that I had not ever heard before, I gasped for air, closed my eyes for a moment, then opened them to find I was back staring up at the surface of the water. I screamed inaudibly and water began to fill my lungs.

My screams were interrupted by an abrupt jerk of my head; my head throbbed. The last thing I remembered was a misty old storefront and an intense curiosity. My confusion was unaltered by the strangeness of my current surroundings. My eyes were crusted over, no doubt from the sensation of choking… was that a dream? By the looks of it, I was in a root cellar somewhere; the only problem was, the infamous swamplands of the south didn’t create a hospitable foundation for root cellars to even exist. I twisted my body and finally noticed that my hands and feet had been bound. Awkwardly, I squirmed into a sitting position and backed up against the wall; I could tell now that I wasn’t actually underground at all, but the room had been insulated with a thick layer of muddy clay.

The darkened corners of this room seemed to house a dark and looming presence, a guttural and graveled groan that arose after a moment of my blurred gaze. It took longer than I would later like to admit, but I finally recognized the figure of a man in the corner, hunched and aggressive. “What have I gotten myself into?” My chest felt like it was going to explode—this adrenaline rush was working me up into fight-or-flight mode, but neither option would really get me anywhere in my current situation. I closed my eyes gently and took in a shallow unsteady breath.

This wasn’t the first time I had been in a tough situation but given the circumstances, I felt that I would much rather be back in front of the polar bear I had the bad luck of running into while traveling in the North Slope as a teen. Luckily for me, not so much for the unfortunate polar bear, I had my rifle with me that day and I survived to tell the tale. Looking back, I still wasn’t sure how I had steadied myself, but my mother’s brothers had developed a fondness for me, their little kassak niece from which we had formed an unlikely bond. I had known how to track and make myself scarce in the wild from the time I was a child—a forte I had never managed to possess while in the city or around too many people.

My face felt hot when I heard chains drag against the concrete floor, the automaton in the corner had grown more agitated; in a grasp for hope, I hugged my legs close to my chest and awkwardly fished through the ankle of my boot for the knife I always kept handy. When I finally fumbled it out of my boot, it loudly clacked upon the floor. The creature that kept me company responded in kind, his chains clanked as a hand reached out from the shadows. The blood-streaked arm reaching for me from my nightmare flashed through my mind, I shuddered and grasped the knife and clipped the zip tie on my ankles, then made quick work of my wrists as well. Before my corner companion could utter another, “eergh!” I was up on my feet with my knife tucked back into my boot.

My investigative and curious nature urged me to look more closely into the figure in the corner—the light was too dim for me to see much of anything, but my internal voice was telling me this was just a man. He lunged at me when I inched too close trying to analyze something which I had never truly believed could exist and he briefly came into the light—this man looked as if he had been drained of all of his color, his lips were cracked, his eyes bloodshot and glazed over.

“Holy fuck, Stanley?” slipped out of my mouth before I even realized I had said it and I stumbled backward. This last sound must have roused the suspicions of whoever was guarding the room because I heard steps echo from the hall just outside the door. In a moment of hesitation, my feet slipped out from underneath me as I scrambled on the concrete to get behind something, anything, that I could hide behind to stall for time. I narrowly ducked behind a bookshelf stacked with dusty boxes when the door opened. Another man walked in, he was large in stature and all of his exposed skin painted in symbols I wasn’t familiar with. My breathing was unsteady as I watched the man through a space between the boxes, he was obviously looking for me and I wasn’t exactly ready to be found.

It wasn’t long before the man found me in my hiding place, I wasn’t exactly a secret agent, skilled in elusive behavior. I feel like I bravely attempted to fight back left me kicking my feet in futility as he ultimately dragged me out of the room and into the hallway. There the strange drumbeats I just barely recognized, could be heard coming from the direction in which we were headed. I was pulled violently through another door which led outside, the drums grew louder and the lights got brighter. I was tossed into a corner of what looked to be a small, closed-off courtyard and my head hit the ground hard. Dazed and likely concussed I tried to regain my senses once again and even with my blurred vision I saw the bonfire in the courtyard. If I had been uncertain of whether or not I was in danger before, it couldn’t be clearer now—this is what I had been searching for all along.

There were several men and women gathered loosely around the fire, one of the women danced around in a trance, a man followed suit chewing on coals, while a couple of others dragged a struggling pig into the mix. I wasn’t versed in French Creole, otherwise, I might have been able to understand words other than the brief recognition of them calling out the names of the loa I was familiar with. I knew I heard, “Baron Samedi!” as well as, “Papa Legba!” being shouted within their chants and hollers, but it wasn’t until a man came into the circle with a machete and slit the screaming pig’s throat that I became nauseous. The pendants that rested against my chest began to burn slightly and another man dragged me closer to the bonfire.

My vision had cleared somewhat and I could see a man standing over me, colorful clothes, beaded jewelry, and white paint adorned this man—he looked like a witch doctor straight out of an anthropology textbook. I knew, without having to be told, that he was the bokor I had come to New Orleans to find. He knows… I need to find out what he knows. Tears involuntarily began to streak down my face, I would never be able to find out how to help my father if I didn’t find out the source of this man’s power. The bokor crouched down, a handful of white powder presented in his palm, and just as he was about to blow it in my face, I kicked my feet out at the man who was holding me on the ground. Apparently, I caught him off guard because he stumbled directly into the powder that burst forth from the bokor’s palm, in a last-ditch effort I rolled off to the side. The man writhed and screamed, the white powder coated his face and the ceremony came to an abrupt end.

Sirens blared just as the participants were ready to converge upon me and police officers burst through the doors, breaking up a party that would have likely ended in my own demise. An intense hour of speaking with the police made me aware that an anonymous caller had alerted them to my location and that I had been kidnapped. Despite not understanding who might have called it in, I was just thankful that the night was over and that these people were going to go away for a long time. I was allowed to recover my bag, which had been taken from me, my laptop and phone were still in my bag as if it had been utterly undisturbed. It was clear these people had no idea who I really was, perhaps they really just didn’t want anyone on their trail, and the act of someone coming to look for one of their zombified victims was enough to catch their attention. I could have just been another statistic, a tourist who slipped through the cracks in a city with a hidden reputation of violence.

I told them about Stanley being locked up in the building and once all of the participants had been cuffed and stuffed into the back of police cruisers, I was told I was free to go. The police officer I had been speaking with turned and walked away and I was left to my own devices. I spotted a large book that had been sitting in proximity to where the pig had been slain, but in the commotion had been knocked into the blood that had been spilled on the ground. Certain that no one was paying attention, I grabbed the book and haphazardly stuffed it into my bag. It was the only thing I knew I could get from the scene without an extensive search of the premises which I knew was not an option now.

Coffee and Beignets at Cafe Du Monde
Photography by Chelsea Audibert

Light broke over the horizon and I finally felt my body start to give in to exhaustion, I had managed to call a taxi and asked to be taken to a place where I could get food and coffee at such an early hour. I was dropped off after a short ride at Café Du Monde, apparently famous for their beignets and chicory coffee. I had spent the past several hours feeling as if I were going to die at any moment and to me, this was a relatively sane response. I heard the relay of orders being shouted to and from the kitchen, the scant crowd of early birds waited for their piping hot beignets and scalding coffee while a lovely, slender black woman tended dutifully and happily to her customers.

The waitress approached me with a coy smile, “what can I get you, hun?” and I knew that the woman had me pegged as a tourist. Who could blame her, after all, I was wearing heavy jeans in New Orleans.

“I was told this place was great for coffee and beignets,” I responded with a weak smile; I must have looked as exhausted and disheveled as I felt because the waitress simply nodded and took down my order.

“I’ll have it right up for ya!” there was an enthusiasm in this woman’s voice and step that I knew I couldn’t hope to match even on my best day, let alone today.

I pulled my laptop out of my bag and was pleasantly surprised to find that my phone still had a decent charge on it when I turned on my hotspot access. I began the long task of documenting what I had encountered during my investigation? Kidnapping? I honestly didn’t know what to call it at this point. I felt as if I was no closer to the answers that I needed than I was before. I would have to wait to take a look at the book when I was back home, a cursory glance at it when I had been in the taxi proved that it was far too much to absorb in a short car ride and much too disturbing to look through in public. I was midway through a new entry into the dossier when a message popped up on my screen.

BanJack: You’re lucky I knew where you were going.

I wasn’t sure whether or not I should be happy that my anonymous friend had been keeping tabs on me; there was part of me that was disconcerted at the idea of him knowing where I was.

Nevermore: I’m guessing you hacked the GPS on my phone?
BanJack: You promised to keep me in the loop, remember?
Nevermore: Fair enough, I’m catching a flight home later today, I’ll send you some of what I found when I get back.
BanJack: Just don’t disappear on me again.
Nevermore: Pinky promise.

My waitress set my coffee and before she set the beignets in front of me, asked if I wanted extra powdered sugar on them. I thanked her and politely declined, then changed my booking to an earlier flight as she walked away from the table. I had never ached to be at home, curled up in my bed next to my goblin of a cat, more in my life.

Categories
Indie Horror NA Short Horror Stories

Anna Byrne: Prologue – Curiosities in the Loft

THUD … What the hell was that noise… My eyes were still heavy with sleep but my heart was pounding from being yanked from my otherwise undisturbed dreams. THUD … there it was again, someone was in my den. I hope it’s not… ahhh shit, I need to get up and check. I gently pulled the sheets back trying not to disturb Clara who was still deeply asleep. Good, I think, as I didn’t want to have to explain what might be in my office that late at night. I needed to take care of the source of the disturbance before her sleep was unduly interrupted. My feet found the ice-cold floor to my dismay, the farmhouse wood flooring did nothing to hold in the heat–it was January in Alaska after all, once the fire in the wood-stove died down the heat sapped out of the cracks of our home quickly; I slid into my woolen slippers and pulled my Remington out from between to my side of the bed and my side-table. It seemed as if the entirety of this old house was composed of creaking floors and dry whining hinges, but after so many late-night trips back to bed after getting sidetracked in my den, I felt as if I were able to expertly navigate through without causing too much of a fuss. Even though I had memorized my path through this dark and groaning structure, I breathed easier knowing that the bedroom door was already open.

When I crossed the kitchen, I saw the flickering light that filtered out from underneath the door to my office door—someone was in there, I was sure now—that wasn’t good. I pumped a round into the chamber as quietly as I was able, took a deep breath and eased open the door. An awful, high pitched cry wailed from the cold metal hinges as they rotated against the door-pin. I heard a small yelp, my heartbeat caught in my throat and I quickly realized that the supposed intruder was my sweet, curious, and precocious eight-year-old daughter, Anna, sitting at the bottom of the stairs that led up to my loft.

“Anna!” I felt her name burst forth in a stern whisper and I dropped the shotgun safely to my side.

“Yeah, Da’?” her reply embodied her youthful timid guilt.

“What are you doing in my den at, what time is it—” my eyes shifted to the antique grandfather clock in the corner of my den, “—3 am?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she looked down at the fraying old tome that weighed down her petite arms, “I wanted to read one of your cool old books.”

“Anna, my lamb, I told you those books are not for children. I believe I have also told you on more than one occasion that some books in particular, need to be cared for and studied before they can be read—and that furthermore, some are simply too dangerous to read at all.” I wanted to be angry that she had gone through my cabinets—my locked cabinets—that lined the walls of my study. I felt my mouth fall slack, “how did ye’ even get the lock open on that cabinet?”

“—but Da’ it’s just a book,” she ignored my question and proceeded to whine, “can’t I just read a bit of this one?” She struggled to hold the worn leather book up to show me until my eyes focused on the faded lettering, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, I had been simply disconcerted—but when I saw the title I promptly snatched the book from her innocent little hands.

“Anna, this is no regular book, this one can be incredibly harmful to you, me, and mum, don’t you understand?” My little red-headed child crumpled into a ball on the floor after she relented the book, “now back to bed ye’ wee scamp,” then I saw her face scrunch into a grimace. I had been calling her that her entire life, but recently it seemed as if she no longer found it amusing. I knew I would have to tell her the truth eventually, her curiosity could lead her to nose into things that would get her into serious danger, but … not tonight. Until I could be certain that I would no longer be able to keep them safe, I would much prefer that they remain blissfully ignorant to the world that lurked behind the cryptic, evil words that the books held hostage—a world where they as of yet, were not experienced.

Anna scurried back to her room, scorned and annoyed; I wished for a moment that I could help her to understand why, but it was for her own good. I stopped at the wood-stove and opened it to find that the last log was near to embers and wave of immense heat escaped, to my delight, in waves over my chilled bones. I tossed a few logs into the iron belly of the stove and poked at the red-hot coals until a flame overtook the dried birch logs then, at last, I returned to bed where Clara was still sound asleep. I sat down, deep in contemplation, where I returned the shotgun to its resting spot next to me; I knew I would need to have a long chat with Anna soon, it was something that I deeply feared, but her future would be precarious if she were not prepared for this ever-expanding supernatural plot that lay before my family.

Categories
Featured Indie Horror

Be Cautious of The Dollmaker (2019)

If you hadn’t noticed by now, we really enjoy what Horror Short Film producers ALTER have been putting out into the horror universe, so much so that some of us dedicate a good amount of time just going through their content every week, just for fun. Even if you haven’t heard of ALTER until now, this is a great one to start with. Who knew such a wealth of horror culture would lay within the confines of the lower-budget, self-produced content of YouTube? Well, we did, but now you do too!

ALTER’s The Dollmaker (2019)

Almost a year to the day ALTER came out with what can only be described as one of the creepiest, blatantly paranormal films yet. We won’t spoil the story for you, so let’s just leave you with this–a mother’s love is eternal.

Mother grieving
Photography by Kat Jayne

The question that this short horror film leaves us with is, to what lengths would a mother go in order to preserve the memory of her lost child? Grieving the death of a child is a long and arduous journey; it ruins marriages and it can ruin lives, with some people never fully recovering from the pain. So to cope with that loss, it’s not incredibly difficult to believe that a grieving mother would turn to the supernatural to bring back some semblance of normality after her child was taken from her. The Dollmaker (2019) shows us the gritty and uncaring attitude that would accompany the kind of person willing to take monetary advantage of someone who is suffering this kind of loss, but it also shows us what can happen when we don’t seek the help we need. Both psychological and supernatural influences are at work in this simple, yet incredibly complex story and hopefully it freaked you out as much as it did us. You can find ALTER’s Youtube channel here, if you’d like to check out what else they’ve produced.

Movies That Capture the Disintegration of a Family After Loss

Pet Sematary (1989)

Based upon the Stephen King’s Pet Semetary (1983) novel, where the regular American family by the name of the Creeds move into their perfect home in the countryside. What they don’t know is that they have moved in right next door to a pet cemetery that was built on an ancient Indian burial ground, which is revealed to them by their mysterious neighbor just after disaster has struck their happy home. What evil have they awakened?

Pet Sematary IMDB Listing

The Ring (2002)

Based on the Japanese movie, Ringu (1998), if you’re not old enough to remember the sensationalism that surrounded this movie when it first came out, you certainly missed some pretty great scares. I’ll never forget after watching that movie, I would randomly get calls from friends telling me in a creepy gravelly voice that I had, “seven days.” The story starts off with a bang, as we see the fate of a teenage girl who has watched the mysterious videotape–those who have the misfortune to watch it will be doomed to die within seven days. We follow a journalist, that we know is the aunt of the teenager we saw die at the beginning of the movie, as she investigates the videotape and races the clock before she suffers the same fate as her niece.

The Ring IMDB Listing

Orphan (2009)

After the heartbreaking experience of losing a child just before it has been born, the Coleman’s decide to adopt a nine-year-old who is the picture of perfect manners and an amiable, talented girl. We start to see the dark nature that plagues this girl as she hides her behavior in front of her adoptive parents.

Orphan IMDB Listing

The Babadook (2014)

If you ever come across a disturbing storybook called, “The Babadook,” that has randomly turned up in your home, it’s probably a sign that something sinister is afoot. The story takes place six years after the violent death of, our protagonist, Amelia’s husband and she is still plagued by his memory. Amelia also happens to be struggling to discipline her six-year-old son, Samuel, who she believes has been hallucinating about a monster who he says has invaded the house. When Samuel tells his mother that the Babadook is coming to kill them both, she ends up getting her son medicated–she could have never imagined what would happen next.

The Babadook IMDB Listing

The Witch (2015)

Not quite in the same line of grief and loss as the rest of the movies in this list, The Witch (2015) still deals with a certain type of grief–the anger that comes when people place blame for the death or loss of a child. This period-piece is as dark and nail-bitingly exquisite as they come, from the perspective of typical New England colonialists we get witchcraft, black magic, and possession. We see a family of farmers who have moved to an unconquered plot of land that sits on the edge of a dark and dreary forest. Is evil looming within its shadowy depths? You bet your ass it does, watch it and see just how messed up Robert Eggers’ debut film that still left me rooting for the Witch of the wood.

The Witch IMDB Listing

Hereditary (2018)

The Graham family has suffered the loss of one of its most beloved members, the grandmother, and matriarch–Ellen. This is when things start to turn creepy for them because it’s only then that the family begins to find out mysterious and dreadfully frightening new things about their family’s ancestry. Once they realize the malevolent destiny that they have inherited, we see the breakdown of each and every character within the movie.

Hereditary IMDB Listing

Pet Sematary (2019)

A remake of the original Pet Sematary (1989), there are a few swap outs when it comes to the characters that we knew from way back when, but this movie actually had a lot more mixed reviews that you might expect. Not everyone was a fan to see this one remade for the big screen, but it was actually still pretty compelling.

Pet Sematary IMDB Listing

Check out a couple of other ALTER shorts we loved!

Check out our other articles about creepy dolls!

Are you a fan of creepy dolls and the roles that they play within supernatural and paranormal horror lore? Well then take a moment to read these articles, we guarantee you’ll learn something new!