Categories
Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

“Rose” – The Ghost of The White Eagle

By Modern Cauldron and Tritone.

White Eagle Hotel Sign

Cameron exhaled a tired sigh as the group made their way into Portland, the paranormal team had been on the road for what feels like years now. The trip started early November and it was now January. The last stop on this trip finally came at 12 am as they turned onto Russell Street, they pulled up to an old brick building with two old single-pane windows looking out from the upstairs hotel. An old fashion wooden sign swung in the air as if to greet them and moved just enough to make the eerie creek all paranormal investigators like to hear.

“White Eagle Saloon!” exclaimed Nicole as she climbed out of the vehicle. Cameron clamored out, looking exhausted and less than impressed at her over-joyed excitement. 

“I can’t believe they call this the most haunted hotel in Oregon” he stated daftly as he rolled his eyes. Nicole cut him a look as if to say chill out, before spinning around to practice her opening segment under the old sign. Their technical intern Jessie gathered the bags and gear while shaking his head wondering what he had gotten himself into on this one.

The team entered the dimly lit saloon, the bar is old but had been beautifully maintained. It felt like a mixture of a speakeasy and an old English pub. Over the arched door to the back, there was a large painting of a crystal ball that read Palmistry. There were a few tables scattered about the floor surrounding a small stage where hundreds of bands must have played over the years. Gas-lantern-looking lights adorned the walls and gave off a mellow soft glow. The bar felt old and sleepy yet oddly comforting. Nicole checked in with the bartender as the boys started to take a closer look around. Jessie made his way to a wall which harbored pictures of the bar’s history, some seemed to date back to the early 1900s. He took the time to study one of a man named Sam Warrick before he moved down to another portrait of a beautiful young lady in a white dress. His eyes drifted down to the plaque on the wall beneath it which simply read, Rose. Cameron slapped him on the back and scared the skin off of him.

“Ready to settle in? Nicole has our room keys.” Jessie laughed nervously back at him and watched his friend leave the bar area.

White Eagle Saloon Inside

The old door to the hotel was outside the bar and led to a steep and narrow staircase. After almost 100 years of service, each step creaked as they walked up, protesting the weight of the gear they had brought with them. The floor that the rooms were on was much cooler than the floor below; it was even more dimly lit than the saloon, but it felt just as cozy and homey as they struggled with their bags down the narrow hallway to their rooms.

They unloaded their gear in the rooms, Nicole was in room 2 which had the window that overlooked the street. Inside of the room, there was a small sitting chair, a standing Chester drawer, a vanity table with a lace cloth across it, and a large painting in the corner across from the bed of a beautiful landscape–it felt like she had stepped into a different time. The boys were sharing room 3 just next door, it didn’t have a window but it was slightly larger. In their room, there were two single beds both with side tables, there was a large oakwood table with chairs and a long dresser drawer. Around the room, Jessie noticed pictures of the man Sam, on a wall was a shelf with a few old-timey items: a shaving kit, a flask, a wooden hairbrush, and a stopwatch. He figured they were probably personal items of Sam or supposed to look as if they were.

After they had settled in, the team returned to the saloon for a few drinks and to gather their plans for the following day of filming. Two more team members would join them to help with reading equipment and examination of the building and its alleged Shanghai tunnels. Nicole always demanded to be a day ahead of the others, the only reason Jessie was with them ahead of schedule was due to the lack of space in the other car as well as the set-up of night vision cameras.

The three of them had a few beers as Nicole and Cameron bickered back and forth about details: lighting, walkthroughs, content about the haunting, and so on it went. Jessie found himself rather bored with the planning stage and decided to return to the room for the night. He left Nicole and Cameron to work things out. Walking up the stairs he noticed the creaking was much louder than earlier in the day, and he had a sudden, strong feeling of being watched, this feeling seemed to intensify as he made his way to the door of his room. Digging the key from his pocket he suddenly felt a firm tug at the back of his shirt, nearly untucking it, which almost caused him to lose balance. He whipped around to find he was alone in the hallway, he shook his head. When he turned back to the door he felt a light wind sweep across his neck, which sent him spinning around again. He tried to shake it off and laughed, clearly the long drive and extra round of beers were playing tricks on him. Once in the room he quickly got settled into the far bed and was fell into a deep sleep. 

“Come on Cameron, one more round” pled Nicole who gave him her best pouty face.

“Fine” he exclaimed and rolled his eyes at her again.

Nicole popped up and all but ran to the bar to order the drinks, before promptly slipping off to the ladies’ room. He sat studying the label he had almost peeled completely from his bottle in one single piece. This seemed to bring a smile to his face just slightly. Nicole returned to the table looking a little pale and upset before he could ask what was going on, she demanded to go see the room. A bit shocked, he picked on her over the light-weight drinker she was, but there was no bubble burst of the typical Nicole response he would have expected from her. He followed her up the stairs and sensed eyes on him as he took a last look down at the bar. All the sounds seemed to die away as he reached the top of the stairs almost bumping into Nicole who had suddenly stopped.

“This is where it happened you know. This spot right here is where she died,” Nicole said barely looking over her shoulder at him. He blinked hard and slow only to find she was gone in the small second it took to gather himself. 

Rose White Eagle Ghost Face

He slowly walked down the hall to room 2 and found the door was cracked open just enough; he saw her sitting in the chair by the window. He pushed the door all the way open and softly called to her. “She sat here night after night, wondering what life she could have,” Nicole said in a flat tone that had him shuttering with each word.

“How do you know that?” he asked slowly as he walked closer to her. He reached out to touch her shoulder, shaking slightly; suddenly she rolled her head around. Her face was ghostly white and haunting to gaze upon, her mouth opened and at first, no sound came out, then suddenly she shrieked a deafening wail that sent him scrambling from the room. The door slammed behind him as he backed into the wall and sank to the floor. He pulled his camera up and tried to explain what just happened to him. His mind raced uncontrollably and caused him to feel like the world was spinning around him. His first thoughts were to capture everything that just happened on film, then he remembered “Nicole…” What had happened to her, was she ok? He needed to muster enough courage to go back into the room to help her. He looked down the hall to the stairs and noticed the shadow of a figure, it was Nicole looking overly concerned.

“What are you doing? I came back from the bathroom and you were gone.” She looked as confused as she sounded. He was without words and stammered a confusing trail of details and she helped him up off the floor. She tried to calm him down and explain she couldn’t have been in the room, as she was downstairs but he wouldn’t listen. He clawed at the doorknob only to find it was locked. She pulled her key out and twisted the knob revealing an empty room. At this point, all of the colors ran out of his face and he was completely speechless. He swore what he saw was real, and that they needed to gather their things and leave RIGHT NOW. Nicole wouldn’t have it, she thought he was just drunk and letting his mind get the best of him. She pushed him out of the room and ordered him to get some rest, she was now tired and feeling the rounds of beers as well. “If you can’t handle night one here Cameron, I’m seriously worried about you,” she laughed him off. “Get to bed and get yourself together before tomorrow, I have too much riding on this.” She further mocked as he slowly dragged himself back to sanity. 

He nervously opened the door to room 3 to find Jessie sleeping hard in the far bed as if nothing has happened. He settled into the bed fully dressed and continued to search his mind for any form of peace. It’s just the exhaustion and too much to drink, he tried to reason with himself, everything will be fine. I just need to sleep. As he spoke to himself his eyes got heavier and heavier and he felt the biting cold gnawing at his body. He wanted to get up but couldn’t find the strength within himself to do so. He resigned himself to roll over and tuck himself into a loose ball. Tomorrow will be better, he repeated to himself over and over again until the dark cloud of sleep took ahold of him and carried him off.

Categories
Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

Anna Byrne: Chapter 01 – The Haunting of Heceta Head

I could hear the waves lapping viciously against the rocky slope as the fog moved in and the seagulls were baying loudly against the incoming tide. I could feel the salt licking my face as I was driving up through the breezy, chilly air of the coastline. A quick glance at my GPS told me I was about an hour south of Newport, Oregon. It had been a beautiful day so far on my drive up from Humboldt County on my way to check out other universities on the West Coast; my mom had always told me to shop around for my education, despite my own desire to continue on with graduate school closer to home. Even though I had been driving since six in the morning, I hadn’t fully appreciated the sun until I saw it begin to disappear behind the dismal cloud cover and bleak front that was coming off the water. I was less attuned to this type of dreary atmosphere than I had realized and for some reason, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

I could feel my grip tighten on the steering wheel and I flashed back to catching black ice on the roads back home during the winter; a spike of adrenaline pumped through my body, something was strange about this stretch of coastline. Then I saw it, even if it was barely visible through the fog that was just now kissing the shore. It was the lighthouse I had heard those rumors about… The Heceta Head Lighthouse–it had been a beacon of maritime safety on the Oregon coast since 1894, but it had a robust morbid history that seemed to fly under the radar. I scooted along highway 101 in my cheap rental car, but the closer I got, the stronger I felt like I was being pulled towards it. It was an eerie trance that was dark and dangerous, but I couldn’t keep from being lost within the tunnel vision–the rest of the drive there was a blur–then I was pulling into the visitor parking for the bed and breakfast that was now set up in the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage.

It’s like I blinked and I was just–there. The normally bright red roof of the bed and breakfast was dull and bluish under the gloom that seemed to linger around the white cottage and I was compelled to see if they had any vacancies. The lady at the front desk was sweet yet homely, but I suspected that there was something dark and secret hiding under the shallow layer of her calm demeanor.

“Hey there, I was hoping that you had a room available?” I barely recognized my own voice, it sounded so dreamy when I heard it out loud. It didn’t register to me that there was another guest in the lobby until he cleared his throat, it made me jump a bit but he simply turned the page of the newspaper he had his nose buried in as if he didn’t notice me either. The desk clerk handed me the key for something called the “Victoria” room and her melodious voice directed me up the stairs to what seemed to have been a master suite in a previous life and according to the desk clerk was where the lighthouse keeper and his wife slept once upon a time…

Heceta Head Lighthouse Keepers Cottage
Photography by Jrozwado

I heard the name Rue come up somewhere in her story, but to be honest I kind of drifted in and out of the whole thing, I’m sure it would have been a captivating tale on any other occasion, or perhaps just in any other location. This place just seemed so hollow and there was a feeling that there were too many secrets lying just beneath its quaint and cozy facade. Maybe it was just that creepy, old and dirty-looking doll that sat on a shelf behind the counter that was giving this place a weird vibe.

Regardless, when I opened the door with that ancient-looking key, I felt my face scrunch up, “Great… it’s pink.” I don’t know who I was talking to, maybe it was just due to my own dismay to find the room was painted from floor to ceiling in that sickly pink pastel color. The bed was decorated with a floral quilt and matching pillowcases, I mean I knew I couldn’t complain about what the room looked like, after all, I only asked if they had any rooms available and this was the only one the desk clerk had to offer me. Come to think of it though, there only seemed to be two room keys missing. Didn’t she tell me that there were no other rooms available? Maybe she just meant that they needed repair or cleaning or… who knows, maybe I was just being paranoid.

The one saving grace that I could see was that the antique vanity near the corner had a complimentary bottle of wine and a glass. I sloughed off my bag onto the corner of the four-poster that was trussed up in such a girlie fashion, then grabbed the bottle and opener from the vanity and walked to the window. It seemed like the fog had lifted for the most part–although maybe it should have seemed strange, I had just arrived less than thirty minutes ago. Not a bad view though, the garden was stunningly manicured except for one small overgrown corner that looked as if it housed a headstone. That wasn’t all too interesting to me, honestly, but at least the darkness would be more forgiving on these walls, I hoped. I gave one final tug to the corkscrew and heard that satisfying pop and hello, vino!

I glanced over at the bedside table next to the window and a small pamphlet caught my eye–I picked it up without any reason, but perhaps it was due to my incessant curiosity, regardless it was in my hands; the title gave it away as a rundown of the history of this adorably macabre bed and breakfast. I took the chair in the corner, switched on the light, and flipped through this crisp little historical piece. I stopped on a page about the woman named Rue. Shit, maybe I should have listened to that desk clerk’s story, this was actually pretty interesting. I mean, I’d heard the rumors of course, but nothing I heard was as juicy and dark as the brief info in the pamphlet I was holding. Namely, because I was staying in Rue’s room, the “Victoria” room–well, at least she didn’t die in here.

I took a swig of the wine straight from the bottle, no reason to unnecessarily dirty a glass, then set the bottle down next to a plant that looked as if it were on death’s door and set the pamphlet down next to it. It was getting close to sunset here, but I wasn’t tired, nor was I going to waste the rest of my day in the room. After all, I was at a B&B that sat on the threshold of crashing waves and was within a short jaunt to a lovely lighthouse that had a creepy history that was begging to be scrutinized. I wasn’t even sure that I believed in ghosts, goblins, or whatever the hell people thought went bump in the night, I just knew that I was intrigued by it.

I was only brought out of my train of thought when one of the pictures hanging behind me crashed to the floor, the pane of glass on it shattered under my feet and the startle that overtook me made me feel as if something was grasping my throat. It escaped me momentarily that I had jumped to my feet when the picture had initially fallen and I felt somewhat silly. Coincidence, that’s what it was. Well, that’s what I thought until the one right next to it was propelled with great force down to the floor as well, I jumped back once again as the shower of broken glass sprayed past my ankles.

“Woah, what the hell!” I barely got the words out before the rest of the pictures in the room came down with the same force in quick succession. My heart rate jumped almost as quickly as I had when I found myself pressed against the foot of the four-poster bed. Everything went silent after that and I let go of an unsteady breath I hadn’t been aware I was holding in. Apparently this was going to be a more interesting stay than I initially believed, but if it wasn’t an excuse to take another swig from that bottle of wine then I wasn’t sure what was. I wouldn’t say I chugged some of it, but it wasn’t exactly a sip either–I replaced the cork in the bottle and set it gently in the bathroom sink, lest there was another exciting incident with glass objects in here while I was gone.

I rummaged through my bag and grabbed my camera, this sunset would definitely be worth capturing. I wasn’t exactly used to seeing the sun as it set over the ocean having grown up in the interior of Alaska and I had to get out of the room to get some fresh air. I swear I nearly high-stepped the entire way down the stairs back to the lobby and stopped abruptly in front of the desk where I had checked in.

“Charlie stepped out for a bit, she said she’d be back in an hour or so,” the mystery man behind the newspaper spoke up. “Did you see Rue already?” I was taken aback, to say the least, how the hell would he know? “Don’t look so speechless, I heard the pictures breaking from here. I’m guessing you weren’t just throwing a fit because of the godawful paint job.” He chuckled to himself.

“I–I, uh…” I blinked and shook my head, “I just need some fresh air.” I’d never been at a loss for words before, but there I was, stumbling as if–as if I had just seen a ghost? No. This was utter crap, I felt my head shake again before I hastily stumbled through the door. Fresh air. Fresh air. Yep, that’s all I needed. Oh wow, the colors in the sky looked as if they were bright paint splashed across a canvas haphazardly–I raised my camera and CLICK–not only had the fog lifted, but the cloud cover had completely dissipated as well. The white picket fence screamed of the “American Dream,” that simply didn’t exist where I was from, but that barely registered on my mind until I passed through the gate. There was a hard gust of wind off of the water, then my senses were assaulted with the chilled salt air and I pulled my light jacket a bit tighter around myself. If I had taken two or three more steps forward, I would have walked straight off the bluff into the tumultuous tides below.

I followed the path that wrapped around the front of the cottage and the adjacent garden and passed the recreation and grilling area when I noticed the path that disappeared beyond the shed near the back. When I approached I noticed the sign that labeled it as the way to the lighthouse and shrugged, it couldn’t hurt to get farther away from spook-central. I glanced over my shoulder at the cottage and shuddered, still unable to acknowledge it as having happened. In an effort to put that disturbing experience behind me, quite literally, I headed down the path that eventually had me shrouded in trees where I finally felt safe and more at home than I had since I left Alaska. The walk was easy and blissfully serene, it opened up to the grand structure of the lighthouse that now stood a short distance past what I could only assume had been the fuel sheds before automation had occurred.

Heceta Head Lighthouse
Heceta Head Lighthouse

I was surprised that on such a beautiful evening, no one else seemed to be around, but there were a lot of things that seemed to be off about today. The gulls were louder near the lighthouse and the wind was sharper, I guess I answered my own question, most people would probably be indoors eating dinner instead of subjecting themselves to the bone chill that came with the violent burst of ocean gales. With no one around though, I figured I could satisfy my long-standing curiosity by doing a little harmless B-and-E. I tried the handle of the watch house and it was locked–of course, it was locked–I rolled my eyes at my own overconfidence and tried one of the windows at the side of the micro-building and it squeaked upwards with a little elbow grease.

I was grateful that I had taken after my petite Yup’ik mother instead of my gangly, bumbling Scottish father, as my hips narrowly avoided getting stuck and I clumsily slipped through and fell into an impossibly contorted mess on the other side. Luckily, I had cradled my camera so it hadn’t hit the floor as hard as my elbow had–that would leave a bruise. A cursory look around the room, while I nursed my elbow, showed me that it no longer served as a watchhouse, but instead as a storage shed for tools and other necessary equipment to maintain the upkeep of the now-automated lighthouse. I smiled to myself, my fascination with lighthouses probably spurred from the fact that it wasn’t a type of building that I was particularly familiar with and I could just smell the history in this place.

A clanking sound echoed down from inside the tower and I had a suspicion that I wasn’t truly alone–but at the same time, I knew there was no one else in the building. There couldn’t be. I moved into the tower and looked up, but the empty space in the middle of the spiral staircase that lined the walls proved to be just that–empty. Well, I wasn’t a cat, so curiosity couldn’t kill me, right? The stairs creaked underneath my feet, the light that filtered in was even dimmer as the sun sunk lower toward the horizon. I’d been curious about the inner workings of a lighthouse for years, ever since I saw my first one in a picture in a history book as a child.

There was no one in the lighthouse, I noticed when I reached the top of the stairs, and the lantern room was just as spectacular as I hoped it would be, but I ached to see what it must have looked like before automation took place in the 1960s. There was something else in the air here though–something was off, it just didn’t feel right. I looked around the cramped space and still saw nothing. I shook my head and settled my eyes on the sun as it began to disappear over the ocean, this is what I really wanted to see. No view could compare to this, my hands rested gently on the glass as I pressed against the window cautiously–CLICK. The satisfaction from getting a good photograph compared to nothing else–I sighed.

Another creak of the floor rose from behind me and my breath caught in my chest, but I was frozen, I couldn’t turn to see what it was before my head was thrashed hard against the glass. The thick glass splintered out like thin ice under a heavy boot and I could see the blood that stained the cracks as my vision blurred and I dropped unwillingly to the floor, blackness seeped into my sight, but I could still feel the pain as my body crumpled under further assault by what I could only describe as a black mass hovering over me. It was impenetrable darkness that had no interest aside from causing me harm and it won.

I awoke to a shout, my eyes were bleary, I felt like I was looking through a red lens–blood had spilled into my eyes. What I could see now was the ground threatening me from afar, I was halfway through the railing of the catwalk and was dangerously close to falling to what I could only assume in my state was certain death. There was another shout and in my delirious state, I could see an obscure figure run full speed toward the lighthouse. Blackness overtook me again.

A strong jerk brought me around once more, my legs were being pulled by someone capable and I somehow knew I was going to be alright–the man behind the paper, from earlier, was that him?

“Are you okay?” my mystery man asked me, the concern on his voice was transparent.

“Ngh–help,” I barely formed the word, “ghost?” I wasn’t sure what had happened, I just knew it wasn’t something I had ever seen before.

“Yeah, little mouse–but you’re alright now.” I could feel him drag me up and back into the lantern room–or somewhere, I wasn’t certain where I even was anymore, but even in my poor condition, I knew that this was a defining moment for me. This was something I was going to need to figure out later on down the line.

“Anna,” I huffed through my laboriously jagged breaths, “my name is Anna Byrne.”


The rest of the night was a pretty much a blur, the mysterious man with the newspaper–he identified himself as Burton Januszczyk–helped me walk back to the cottage and then quite reluctantly to his room when he realized I didn’t feel safe in my own. I fished the key out of my dirty jeans and he went to retrieve my bag from the room while I sat fretfully on the edge of his tub in the bathroom.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” He asked when he came back, with my bag in hand, “are you sure you wouldn’t like me to drive you to the hospital for that gash on your head?”

“No, I mean–yes, I’ll be okay. I just–” there was a pronounced throb in my head once he mentioned it, “–I need to know what is going on here.”

“It’s Rue.” He said in a very matter-of-fact sort of way, “y’know you should really let me take a look at that,” I felt like he was simply trying to change the subject.

“Yeah, fine.” I relented and he reemerged with a first aid kit a few moments later. I winced when he applied the alcohol to the wound on my temple, “why do you think Rue attacked me?” Burton eyed me cautiously, as he cleared the blood from around my eyes, he looked like he was thinking hard about something–what was he hiding?

“I’ve been looking into this place for quite a while now, there’s been a habit of young women going missing in this area and I noticed a trend. I’ve traced most of the disappearances to this lighthouse.” The expression on his face looked haunted. “Not to pat myself on the back, but you’re pretty lucky I was here when you checked in–I was just about to leave.”

“Wait, do the owners know about this?” I furrowed my brow and the immediate shock-wave of pain reminded me of what was there.

“Do they know?” He tried to hold in a laugh under his breath, “they’re the ones that disturbed her spirit and brought her back in the first place–they thought it would make the bed and breakfast more popular! You saw that nasty doll behind the front desk? That belonged to Rue.” His story was wild–I had never heard of anything more ludicrous in my entire life, but here I was with a dent in my skull for my own skepticism. Burton finished tending my wound just as I was getting a call from–ah, shit it was my father.

“Sorry, I’ve got to take this–hey, I’m sorry I forgot to call and tell you I stopped for the night, I–” I was cut off by the sound of his voice rushing into the receiver.

“–are ye’ okay, Anna?” my father’s voice was curiously distraught.

“Yeah da–I’m fine! What’s wrong?”

“I got tha message from ye saying tha’ yer gonna stop ‘fore Newport? Where’d ye’ end up stoppin’?”

“Oh–uh,” I didn’t know if I should tell him about what happened, didn’t want him to worry, I was fine after all. “Uh–Heceta Head Lighthouse, there’s a B&B here, it’s uh–it’s cute. I guess.” I struggled to keep my voice even as I lied to my father.

“Cut the shite, Anna–wha happen’d?” I sighed and recounted the events that had just occurred, my stomach sank when he didn’t speak for a few moments after I finished the story. I could hear a sharp inhalation as if he were about to say something–then he loudly exhaled as if he had thought better of it. “Anna, we’ve got ta lot to talk about when yer home. Get out of that place as soon as ye can, come home. Please.” The urgency in his voice made me realize there was something he hadn’t been telling me for a long time–I needed to get home.

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

Anna Byrne: Chapter 02 – The Burden of a Witch’s Son

Urban Legends: The Curse of Lafayette

I looked up at the loft in my father’s study, my eyes burned from a lack of sleep, but if I was ever going to get broken in to some of the insane notions that my father spoke about the night before this was how I should do it. I felt his hand grasp my shoulder and the kiss he gave me on the back of my head, as he encouraged me to do the deed.

“Oh Anna, it’s not that bad,” he chuckled as he watched me climb the wooden loft steps.

“JESUS CHRI—”

“You watch your mouth young lady!” I heard him snap, as he stood in his office below.

“What is all of this stuff, Da’?” He couldn’t really blame me for my initial reaction, his loft seemed to extend the length of the entire house and not just over his own study. It was also filled with boxes, filing cabinets, and the odd armoire—speaking of which, how the hell did he even get that up there?

“Oh, don’ ye touch the armoire!” I heard him shout as he had read my mind when he settled back in front of his computer, “that’s a story fer another day!”

“You don’t expect me to get through all of this today do you?” the incredulous tone in my voice came out without my permission, but dad already knew the kind of sass that I brought to the table.

“Nah, jus’ find Oregon, seein’ ye already met Rue.” I heard him chuckle to himself, as if he had just remembered a funny joke and I could almost feel my eyes roll into the back of my head.

Oregon, Oregon—my eyes scanned the boxes, he told me he wasn’t going to help me go through anything, but that I had to go through it. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go through a few notes he’d collected on the subject. This, however, was far and away beyond a few notes that he had alluded to. Finally, I found a box against the wall that was labeled Oregon, it was sitting on a stack of boxes—also labeled Oregon—shit, I knew it, I was going to be here all night. I grabbed the top box and wrestled it over to the desk that sat in front of the octagonal loft window, where radiant light filtered through.

“Well, here goes nothing,” a sigh escaped my chest and I threw back the dusty lid of the first box of many that I was charged with reading through and memorizing. I quickly scanned the file names for the Heceta Head Lighthouse, but was disappointed to find there was nothing about it in this particular box. Another file name caught my eye though, LAFAYETTE, OR – WITCH’S CURSE, father’s handwriting neatly headed the label. My curiosity was piqued now, I had to read this one first.


The year was 1885 and the Willamette Queen had just pulled into the dock of Lafayette, Oregon. Despite the early hour, the skies were gloomy, overcast, and the clouds threatened to batter all that which laid below. Locals disembarked with a spring in their step to meet their families who had gathered to welcome them home, while others shuffled off in a daze as they attempted to gather themselves. One such family, a man as well as his wife and mother stepped off to the side; they looked around for a moment and after a brief conversation with a local street vendor, set off down one of the muddy dirt roads that led into downtown.

Sheriff Harris, propped up on his horse, eyed the newcomers into his town and noted all of the people with which he would become acquainted in the days to come. He was a relic of older times and practices; his hat, brown duster coat, and boots proved as much, the splatters of dried mud gave away his hands-on approach to his livelihood.


The Marple family had recently become settled in a home on the outskirts of town, the matron of the family, Anna Marple had already become a name on the lips of the townspeople. As a widow, it was not unusual for her to live with her son and his wife, but she never seemed to act her part. The other women of the town shunned her, gossip telephoned from one ear to the next, and there always seemed to be some small scandal or another lingering around her. This didn’t seem to matter to one David Corker, a lonely widowed shop owner; she had caught his eye nearly the first day she and her family disembarked from the Willamette Queen that dreary fall day in 1885. Anna had gained a reputation of being a very unchristian woman, her traditional black widow’s clothing turned heads, children ran when she came walking into town, and there always seemed to be a raggedy black cat that trailed behind her wherever she went.
Folks in those parts believed the widow Marple to be a witch, but the topic was never broached in proper company.

I am beginning to suspect my husband’s mother is making sinister plans for me; I fear that my mouth has become too much for her to stand to provide food for. I have no money to my name and my only contribution is that I keep a tidy home. I am quite proud of that fact, if I am to be frank, I was raised to be a homemaker after all. That of course seems to be of no consequence to my husband’s mother.

Julie Marple – May, 1886

Seasons had passed in the town of Lafayette, the summer had been a prolific one for the townspeople and consequently the burglaries had been numerous. The widow Marple had effortlessly acquired the company of the widower Corker, who had earlier that year begun the process of courting the target of his affections. This of course spawned more gossip and rumors, of the widow having Mr. Corker under some type of spell. The sheriff of course had more important things to worry about, mostly the burglaries that had been occurring in the middle of the night—and at present he only had a single suspect. It of course didn’t help that the description of the perpetrator had matched quite exactly with the lanky, sallow Mr. Marple with his dark and greasy long hair.

The Marple residence had been frequented by Sheriff Harris on many occasions, mostly due to complaints by other townspeople, but recently it had more to do with the fact that before their arrival the theft of property had been a rarity in his town. There was just nothing else that could be said on the matter, in fact, the only thing Harris could do was charge him with a crime—but the evidence supporting his theory was severely lacking. It would just have to wait.

The fall of 1886 came quickly, like the changing of the leaves, it was there before anyone could realize it was even happening. Sheriff Harris continued to get more reports of burglaries in the area and he knew he would have to do something about it soon, or risk his own unemployment. Luckily for Harris, what happened on November 1, 1886 was exactly what he needed to solidify a case that would take Marple off of his streets for good.

Let me start by saying I did it, of course, I did it. Who else could have? Who else would have? We haven’t been living in Lafayette for very long, but it feels like forever when no one will give you and job and let you keep it. That is to say—me—they won’t give me a job and let me keep it.

Richard Marple – November 1, 1886

The widow Marple had not been seen in town for a few weeks now, but her beau David Corker couldn’t leave his shop unattended. So it was to much of the surprise of his regular customers when, unlike his normal routine, Corker didn’t open the shop exactly at nine on the second morning of November. This was so odd to one of his patrons that they immediately went over to the house of the widower to see why he couldn’t purchase the much needed laudanum for his wife’s debilitating headaches. When the patron found the door to widower Corker’s home ajar, he stepped inside and realized why the store had not been opened on time that morning.

Suffice it to say, Sheriff Harris was called immediately; upon the discovery of a bloody, mutilated, and hacked Mr. Corker alongside a house that looked as if a herd of stampeding cattle had been driven through, he knew exactly who must have done it.


Sheriff Harris pounded heavily on the door of the Marple residence, the haunted silence and blackness of the night otherwise unsettled him. “Richard Marple!” He hollered into the thick wooden door before him, “This is Sheriff Harris, open up!” The plain and mousy Julie Marple opened the door in her pink floral night-coat. She held a chamberstick aloft in her hand and drew up the light to her pale and sunken expression to get a look at the Sheriff. The look on her face was one of bewilderment and exhaustion.

“What can I help you with Sheriff?” Julie’s voice was a small, melodic sound, but her confusion was thorough.

“My apologies Mrs. Marple for the late hour, but I was hoping you could tell me if your husband was in your company two nights ago?”

“I—uh—that is to say, he left early in the evening, he said that he had business to attend to in town, why is it that you ask?”

The Sheriff shook his head then further explained that he wasn’t at liberty to disclose the details of his visit, but that it was an urgent matter that required her husband’s attention. Within a moment she disappeared and the door closed with a solid thud in the sheriff’s face. When Julie’s husband appeared at the door, his expression was as sullen and bleak as could be expected—he knew what the sheriff was now at his doorstep, but his poor acting might have a fool believe that he was surprised.

“How can I help you Sheriff Harris?” Richard Marple feigned a look of foolish innocence, the lines on his pallid face were strikingly deep when the dim light of a half-moon fell upon them.

“Mr. Marple, I’m going to need you to come down to the jail with me, I’ve got several questions for you.”

“Oh, alright—let me just get my coat,” Richard of course could have used that time to establish an alibi with his mother and wife, so Harris couldn’t risk any more time spent allowing Richard the opportunity.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Mr. Marple.” The sheriff reached out and shackled his suspect, “let’s go.”


Julie watched as her mother-in-law deteriorated over the winter—there was no one left to financially support either of them and Julie wished that she had gotten out of that wretched household already. She swore to herself that the only reason she stayed in Lafayette was because she was needed for her testimony of the night in question. Otherwise she would have already hopped back on the Willamette Queen and taken it back to Corvallis to stay with her parents until she could find a way to make her own way in the world.

Her mother-in-law seemed to get smaller and smaller the longer Richard was in jail, but without his overbearing presence, Julie felt like she was thriving. She had taken the opportunity that was presented with his absence to take up a small side-business sewing and darning clothing for people in need; when the sheriff had searched her home and found the blood-soaked shirt, piece of paper, and tools of her husband’s thieving trade, however, she found she no longer had any customers. Her husband’s assumed guilt was apparently her own as well.

I must admit that I never loved David Corker—nor did I ever much enjoy his company. He was a sad older widower and a dullard at that. I sometimes suspect that his late wife passed simply to be rid of his intolerable presence. It soon became clear to me, however, when my son Richard could not find steady means of employment that it would fall to me to secure this family’s financial future. What better way than to lure in a lonely shopkeeper with my feminine gifts? Now you may be thinking that I am some sort of working lady, but I find those sorts of ladies to be utterly deplorable. I was a well-respected woman in my time, especially whilst my dear departed husband was still alive.

Anna Marple – January 7, 1887

From where Richard sat rotting in the cell at the Lafayette jail, he saw winter turn back into spring, the light slowly made its way through his barred window and he got a new cellmate often enough to keep the company fresh. Aside from not having bar-girls, tobacco, and drink, it was almost as if he wasn’t missing much of the outside world at all.

We moved here from Corvallis and you might now be imagining something awful that I must have done to drive us away from such a place. Well, I must confess that sleeping with the local tavern owner’s wife was not exactly an innocent affair, it was surely not as seedy as might be otherwise imagined. I may also, on more than one occasion, have liberated the random shop or home of certain valuables that need not have been immediately noticed. Regardless, nothing that I did in Corvallis was as terrible as what I am now suspected of.

Richard Marple – January 20, 1887

It wasn’t until early spring of 1887 that Sheriff Harris finally had enough to convict Richard Marple of the murder of shop owner David Corker—although with two witness who couldn’t corroborate his whereabouts, evidence stained with Corker’s blood, and the tools with which he broke into the home it would have seemed like an open-and-shut case. Richard, however, maintained his innocence from the time he was arrested; until he unwittingly divulged the facts of his own guilt to a cellmate, who was more than happy to give testimony in return for a reduced sentence of his own.

I wish I could tell you that I married well, that I married for love, and that I could, beyond a shadow of a doubt, trust my husband. There is a reason we moved away from Corvallis in 1885, though, and it was not a good one. My mother and father did not know Richard well enough when they gave me away, however, I trust that if they had understood the character of the man that they would have vehemently objected. My story may not be remembered but I have a strong suspicion that my husband and his mother will live on in history. After all, murderers usually do.

Julie Marple – April 10, 1887

The conviction of Richard Marple was unopposed after that final piece of the puzzle was fit roughly into the picture—a confession, even second-hand was enough to convince the jury of his peers. Even with the general disdain of the town for him and his family, they had otherwise been unwilling to suspect that one of their own was capable of committing such a crime. Corker had been a beloved member of their community though and his absence continued to be felt on a daily basis; the only recompense was someone would hang for the crime. Eventually the realization of the one they should hang became self-evident and he was sentenced to swing by the neck on November of that year.


The Gallows
The Gallows

The burly Sheriff Harris stepped up to Richard at the gallows, papers in his hand as he read off the convictions for which the man was to be executed. “For the robbery and most heinous murder of our own David Corker, Richard Marple shall now be executed by hanging!” This announcement was met by unwavering applause from the thirty or more men, women, and children that made up the crowd that stood before them.

Richard stood hunched next to the confident authority of the Sheriff, his shoulders slumped forward in defeat as the noose hung heavily around his neck. His beetle black eyes scanned the crowd which continued clapped heartily to watch him meet his demise. Several men shouted from the crowd, but Richard could only make out one man in particular, who told shouted to let “the murderer burn in hell!”

“Put the hood over the prisoner’s head,” Sheriff Harris ordered the executioner immediately, he was in no mood to let a murderer have his last words, but before the hood could be shoved over his head, Richard pulled roughly away.

“MURDER!” He shouted desperately into the crowd below him—his dehydrated lips cracked with his efforts, “May God judge you all!” Anything else that Richard may have said was muffled as his head was stuffed forcibly into the hood. The executioner stepped back to the lever of the trapdoor and on the Sheriff’s signal pulled forcefully to release it. “ACK!” The sound that escaped Richard’s throat was inhuman, as his feet fell out from beneath him and the rope snapped taut. His eyes bulged out of his face, the knot lodged directly under his throat, which prevented his neck from breaking and him from meeting a quick end.

Richard’s mother emerged from within the center of the crowd, her hair was wild and unkempt—her eyes were red with a year’s worth of tears. Her dress billowed around her as she fell to her knees, the people that surrounded her moved suddenly to give her a wider berth.

“Murderers! All of you! Murderers!” She bellowed, her grief-stricken voice cracked with a hoarse pain. “You shall all feel the pain of those you have wronged! Your town shall never prosper! I curse you and all of your children’s children to feel the fiery hell of my fury as your town burns around you time and time again!” Her head fell limp into the hands that now rested on her lap, her sobs shook her body viciously as Richard’s body twitched and seized. His wife, Julie, came behind his mother to comfort her, her own face streaked with tears, but Anna pulled away wailing for the loss of her only son.

Witch Burning a Village
Witch Burning a Village

“Hot damn,” I heard the words come out of my mouth after having reviewed the file at length. I folded up the file, but several news clippings fell out into my lap when I went to replace the file into the box. There was a clipping of every single fire that had occurred in Lafayette since the widow Marple had placed her verbal curse upon the town and its people. In fact not a decade had gone by since, that the town had not experienced some type of devastating fire—and there had been, I saw, on two separate occasions, fires so intense that they had leveled the entire town. “That was one pissed-off witch.”

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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!”

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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.