A Gothic, Cosmic, and Psychological Lifetime of Horror: The 16 Greatest Short Stories from Robert Bloch

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

Robert Bloch wrote literature that ranged from the psychologically terrifying to the downright “weird” horror; his inspiration stemmed both from watching his first scary film on his own as a child—and his subsequent nightmares—and his admiration for the stylistic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. His stories, however, are and always will be uniquely Robert Bloch, a genius in psychological horror with a splash of the supernatural. His deep interest in serial killers brought back anti-heroes like Norman Bates and Jack the Ripper.

“The Shambler From The Stars” (1935)

This particular short story first appeared in the September issue of Weird Tales, in 1935—later on, it was included as a part of his first published book, The Opener of the Way (1945). It was one of the many works that bore the influence of H.P. Lovecraft and can be considered part of the genre of cosmic horror. More than just another author following the footsteps of Lovecraft, Bloch still included elements of Lovecraftian influence, such as the inclusion of The Necronomicon, and The Book of Eibon. Deliciously self-indulgent, Bloch’s story is about a writer of weird fiction obsessed with learning all things occult when he looks to find the aforementioned esoteric tomes of forbidden knowledge. As we all know when it comes to Eldritch cosmic horror, this writer inevitably summons something disastrous.

“The Secret in the Tomb” (1935)

Another instance of cosmic horror in the early days of Bloch’s writing career, it has been compared directly to the stylistic literature of the father of cosmic horror himself—to the point that, if the author of this had been unknown, it would have been assumed to have been a product of Lovecraft. This dark, dank tale of eldritch horror and dread is lurking, just beyond sight, and awaiting the arrival of the last descendant of a long line of sorcerers.

“The Mannikin” (1937)

Another Weird Tales original, published in the April edition in 1937, we get a tale of a strange reclusive and a disfigured, hunchbacked man named Simon, whom the locals all despise. As a short story, of course, it doesn’t take long to find that this cosmic horror is based all around the diabolical hump on Simon’s back—just wait until you find out what the hump really is.

“The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (1939)

This is a story that Bloch originally published under the pen name Tarleton Fiske in Strange Stories Magazine, in 1939; in this story we see a similarity to “A Shambler in the Stars” when we follow a photographer who takes incredibly bizarre photos as his life’s passion. While he doesn’t believe in the occult, his assistant happens to be a devotee of a peculiar occult practice and everything changes when the photographer is brought an ancient jewel.

“Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” (1943)

Over the years, Robert Bloch’s short story “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” has been adapted to various mediums following its publication—the story is about a man from Chicago who is approached by a gentleman from England who tells him that he’s looking for Jack the Ripper. This, of course, is strange on its own as the infamous serial killer should have died years before. The Englishman believes that Jack the Ripper has become immortal through occult means and that his serial murders are actually ritual sacrifices that restore his youth. The man from Chicago is enlisted to help to bring the Ripper to light.

“Satan’s Phonograph” (1946)

A slow burn for a short story, this haunting tale follows the narrator down memory lane as he tells the reader about the ingenious, but wildly mad piano teacher that helped him to reach Carnegie Hall—but when the pupil returns from his tours across Europe with his new wife in tow, he finds that his old teacher had been institutionalized—when his insane old teacher shows up in his house with a seemingly innocent phonograph and his wild theories, the narrator believes his teacher is simply delusional.

“Sweets To The Sweet” (1947)

Bloch spins the thread of a sinister six-year-old girl, following the narrative of the housekeeper as she speaks to her former boss’s brother, who happens to be a lawyer. The housekeeper encourages the lawyer to look into what she believes to be a brutally abusive situation between father and daughter. She tells the brother about all of the signs of alcoholism and beatings, while the child is accused of witchcraft. When the lawyer finally goes to investigate what is happening in his brother’s home, he finds out that the truth may be more disturbing than he expects.

“Floral Tribute” (1949)

An eerie tale of a young boy being raised by his grandmother brings her fresh flowers home every day—it’s not until the inhabitants of the local cemetery come to speak with the grandmother that she finds out that he has been taking them from the graves of the nearby graveyard, where he plays among the tombstones.

“The Shadow From The Steeple” (1950)

Yet another story based in the Lovecraft universe, Bloch starts the story off with the friend of a character Lovecraft had killed in his short story “The Haunter in the Dark” whom Lovecraft had modeled after Bloch himself. A convoluted and dark fictional tale based on Lovecraft and his circle of writers, we get to see the authors appearing as characters of their own making. As another story within the Cthulhu Mythos, we see how involved Bloch was still within the Lovefcraft style even at this point in his career.

“Head Man” (1950)

An interesting spin on Nazi Germany’s obsession with the occult and paranormal, a SS executioner puts everything on the line to keep possession of the heads of a man and woman who had been charged with witchcraft and executed as a result.

“The Hungry House” (1951)

A tale that will once again make you fear your own reflection in a mirror; “The Hungry House” takes place after a couple moves into their new home. As they try to get comfortable in their new house they begin to see spooky inexplicable reflections around the house and dismiss it as being an overactive imagination. It’s not until the husband finds the locked closet in the attic that they realize something is incredibly wrong with their house—in it are all of the mirrors that the previous owners had removed from the walls of the house.

“Notebook Found in an Abandoned House” (1951)

This story is told from a notebook found in an abandoned house, which was written by a twelve-year-old boy by the name of Willy Osborne who is trapped within the house by the sinister beasts, or “them ones,” that stalk him from within the woods and swamps that surround the house. “Them ones,” that Willy is scared might come and get him are monstrous, Lovecraftian elder creatures who used to be take sacrifices to be appeased.

“The Light-House” (1953)

This particular short story took special influence from a story that Edgar Allan Poe began before his death in 1849, but was never able to finish; in 1953 Bloch took this unfinished short story, finished it, polished it up, and then had it published. As such, it is considered a posthumous collaboration. It follows the pursuits of a nobleman who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper, so he may write in solitude. His loneliness gets the better of him in this weird and satisfyingly dark tale, when he tries to psychically summon a companion.

“House of the Hatchet” (1955)

A couple with a relationship on the rocks decides to take their a second honeymoon on the road—on their trip they end up stopping at a haunted tourist attraction, where the story goes that a husband had killed his wife with a hatchet in one of the rooms. When they decided to take a tour of this haunted house, the husband begins to feel a heavy dark presence in the room where the murder was said to have occurred…

“Terror In Cut Throat Cove” (1958)

Considered a horror adventure tale, “Terror In Cut Throat Cove” follows the tale of an American writer who is approached by a treasure-hunting duo; they end up recruiting him to help them locate this long-lost legendary ship that sunk with a massive fortune aboard because the writer has an undeniable fondness for the girlfriend of the treasure hunter. A crazy adventure ensues until they find the ship and one of the divers returns from the ship’s wreckage without his head.

“The Animal Fair” (1971)

This story of a drifter who ends up in the small town of Medley, Oklahoma while the carnival is in town—where he enters the a tent that houses a gorilla who happens to be the main attraction—not to mention seriously abused by his trainer. This horrifying weird tale ends in a shocking twist and is well worth the read.

Works Cited:

Cowan, Matt. “FIFTEEN HORROR TALES BY ROBERT BLOCH.” Horror Delve, 4 Apr. 2016, horrordelve.com/2016/04/04/robert-bloch/.

HorrorBabble. “The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 12 Mar. 2018, youtu.be/0Q6xA0f9SNk.

HorrorBabble. “The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 20 Aug. 2018, youtu.be/vodqchPxgCoyoutu.be/vodqchPxgCo.

Thomas, G. W. “The Early Robert Bloch.” Dark Worlds Quarterly, 6 Aug. 2020, darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org/the-early-robert-bloch/.

Anna Byrne: Chapter 01 – The Haunting of Heceta Head

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

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.

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

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Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

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.”

Duology of the Damned: Part 01 – When the Sickness Reached Alaska

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories
Snowed in Cabin
Photography by Laurent Perren

I woke up to the unsettling caw of a raven sitting in a tree near my window. I could feel the sweat that had built up on my forehead overnight and I was feeling greasy, but the prospect of what I had to do this morning grated on my nerves. I rolled over on my other side, having decided to give myself a few more hours to improve my mood. The moment I closed my eyes I fell back into the dreary embrace of blackness.

I was already pulling my boots on when I realized that it had snowed overnight. Again. A glance out of the back window of my cabin revealed the heavily snow-laden trees, they bowed in submission to the densely packed wet slush that persisted despite the climbing temperatures. The quiet stillness that came with a fresh blanket of snow provided an unflappable peace. There was a certain appeal to the idea that Mother Nature cared just as much about the affairs of men as I did. I wrapped the rough brown-dyed moose leather ties around my second mukluk and secured it, right before my annoyingly devoted husky pushed her face underneath into my armpit and flung my arm upward to tell me what time it was.

I set her kibble in front of her, she plopped down, wrapped her front paws around the silver bowl, and began to eat it daintily; it had taken me almost two years to teach her how to be a lady at chow time. Hash-browns and eggs hit the hot skillet with a loud sizzle, I was counting on those extra carbs to give me a bit of a boost of energy today, it was still frigid outdoors and I had a lot to do. A shovel full of the wet snow felt as heavy as lead and the next hour proved to exacerbate my sciatica, but it was the combination of painfully numb fingertips and the sweat running down my back that was the most unpleasant aspect of it all. Nevertheless, if I wanted to get out of my driveway, I needed to clear enough space to give myself a running start out onto the unplowed road.

My stark white pup, Scottie, had begun to run circles around me, her joyful frolic in the fresh snow had not quite come to an end. This was her favorite time of year, she was built for this weather, and then she disappeared into a large pile of snow and reemerged with a goofy, tongue-lolled-out smile.  I stuck the shovel upright into one of the snow berms I had built up and started up my Jeep to warm the engine—that was Scottie’s cue and she knew we were going to town before I could even make it back to the house for my wallet and coat. She was already sittin’ purdy in front of the door.

I stopped on the top step, kicked my mukluks together, and snow fell off in wet clumps. A chickadee caught my eye, as it flew past my head and landed on a nearby branch, then my line of sight was drawn to my neighbors’ cabins. They had been oddly quiet today, each of their cabins had their respective car or truck parked in front when they would normally have been gone by that point. I hadn’t seen them going in or out of their cabin all day either, and I couldn’t see tracks in the fresh snow around their houses and that was strange, to say the least. Then again, I guess it wasn’t any of my business.

I knew the drive out to the main road wasn’t going to be a picnic, but I just needed to get out of that cabin. So today, Scottie and I were going to indulge in our favorite pastime of watching The Price is Right whenever we could make it to the bar by the time they opened their doors in the morning—I had been told that today would be the last day it would be open for at least two months while the rest of the city slept in quarantine. I didn’t understand why they were closing all sit-in establishments, why couldn’t people just wash their damn hands and stay home if they were sick? One bad apple… or something like that. So, this was officially the last chance I would have where I could get out of the house for more than just some colas and toilet paper for a while. I was going to take full advantage of it if I could. 

Cabin fever was a bitch and sitting at home with nowhere to go would be fine for a while, but it was only tolerable if there were brief punctuations of exposure to the outside world. It was barely 10 in the morning, the bar had just opened its doors and somehow the same five regulars were already there for coffee and our morning ritual of the boob tube. Delicate white flakes of snow drifted down from the grey sky when I pulled into the parking lot of the dull red riverboat-turned-bar.

Scottie slipped through my legs into our favorite dive bar as soon as I opened the door and then she made her rounds to greet her favorite people. Her favorite people being the ones who offered her the dog biscuits that were kept behind the bar. When Scottie finally came back around, I had my coffee in front of me and the sound of Johnny Olson’s trademarked, “come on down!” was coming in clear over the cacophony of applause and theme song. Gary, to my left, passed me the local paper once he was done with it and there it was. The headline struck me abruptly; my heart inched further and further up my throat.

MANHATTAN OVERRUN

I swallowed down the lump in my throat and I set the paper aside, because ignorance is bliss, at least for now. A bubbly older woman on the television was bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet as she leaned in to spin the huge wheel for the Showcase Showdown; I threw back the rest of my now cold coffee and fended off the bartender’s attempt to refill my cup.

“I’ll be back later with Trudy,” I mentioned in passing before I pulled my Carhartt jacket on over my sweater, the bartender smiled and waved as Scottie and I opened the door to leave. I had a date with an old lady and a shopping cart, so I knew I would get an earful of the latest news on what was happening in the world from Trudy soon enough. Worrying too much about the headlines right now would just make my mood worse—no need to ruminate.

 I loaded Scottie into the back of my Jeep and in no time at all, we were cautiously pulling into Trudy’s driveway. I popped my head in through her front door to let her know I was there, then came the inevitable shoveling of snow to clear her driveway enough for her to get through to my Jeep without too much difficulty. Tiny Trudy appeared at her front door just as I finished creating a path for her and I held out a hand to her, so I could help her down the rickety stairs. Her frail form moved agonizingly slow over the slick black ice near her door. Her cleated boots made no difference in consideration of her near weightless state. The drive was quiet, except for her unceasing country music and her tar-coated lungs wheezing with each breath. The store was startlingly barren, the panic still hadn’t subsided it seemed—Trudy’s normal complaints had gone into overdrive.

“There’s no toilet paper, honey!” She wheezed indignantly, her creaky voice announced both her dissatisfaction and her disbelief. Once she saw the headlines of the scandal sheets, she broke into a brief political tangent. I could tell that she didn’t quite get the panic that had overtaken people—but then again, did any of us understand it? Trudy wasn’t incredibly worried about the pandemic, she was eighty-seven years old, a life-long smoker, and had lived through the pipeline days. If she hadn’t croaked yet, then she wasn’t going to start worrying about it now—she didn’t see the reason for being concerned about “a little fever and breathing problems,” she had told me, “—I’ve already gotten my flu shot!” I had to be careful not to let my eyeballs roll straight out of my head. Her logic always seemed to take me by surprise, but I wasn’t going to complain, after all, I was all she had during the winter.

By the time I sat down at the bar for the second time that day all of the regulars except for Gary had gone. Frail and wispy Trudy, surprisingly, could still get up into the tall squishy blue barstools that towered over her and she settled in. She ordered herself a Carolans and coffee, then paid for another coffee for me—the bartender was always happy to see Trudy, but the gloom over the patrons of the bar was palpably different than when I had been there earlier. I didn’t honestly think much of it until Eeyore incarnate began speaking to me. 

“The end is fucking nigh,” Gary muttered and leaned awkwardly to one side, he hadn’t moved seats from this morning, but it was clear he was already three sheets to the wind. I figured that he must have been mulling over that headline for the past few hours; I watched him sink into his third beer since Trudy and I had arrived. Gary was always a glass-half-empty kind of person so it was pointless to try to cheer him up, but considering I was already dealing with cranky little Trudy, it wasn’t high on my priority list, to begin with.

I must have been letting the alarm of the general population of this small city get to me—or was that sweat gathering on his greying brow? It was too chilly to be sweating. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Gary wasn’t being the normal whiny drunk he was known to be. My thoughts were disturbed by a violent outburst of coughing from Gary who was looking paler by the minute, I was sincerely glad Trudy and I had decided to sit on the opposite end of the bar from him. The last thing I needed was for 87-year-old Trudy to catch the virus that had just been announced on a national level.

“Gary, you might want to think about heading home,” I projected over the low buzz of the conversations of the other patrons. I cast a look at the bartender and then gestured to Trudy, at my side, with my eyes. The bartender nodded, you could see her anxiety even behind her practiced smile—the bartender walked off to use the phone to call a cab for Gary. There was no way anyone in this bar would want to drive Gary home; it’s not that they didn’t want him to get home safely they just didn’t want to do it themselves. Why was he even here in the first place? Was he trying to get people sick, or was he unaware of just how ill he was? 

It was probably too late by that time, Gary had probably already exposed us all to the virus—there were rumors that it was airborne, but the first cases only popped up within the last couple of days and so far all we knew is that some of them were already in the ICU. No one had recovered from it yet, but if it was anything like any other new virus, surely it would take at least a couple of weeks to see what recovery looked like. Regardless, I was worried about Trudy being exposed to whatever Gary was coughing up, so when his cab finally came and he bumbled drunkenly out of the bar the rest of us were able to breathe a little easier.

It took an hour, but I was finally able to convince Trudy to let me take her home. I must emphasize how relieving that was, mostly because I wanted to go home and Scottie was still waiting in the car. She made it down the slick, ice-patched stairs with a little help—but, something was wrong. I just realized that Scottie was barking at something on the other side of the car and that wasn’t like her at all. Scottie noticed us and her barks immediately turned to whines, but I couldn’t see through the dark tint of the back windows. I loaded Trudy into the car, she was so neatly tucked into her fluffy down winter coat. She reminded me of that scene with Ralphie’s little brother from A Christmas Story, where the mom wraps Randy up in so many layers that he’s incapable of moving his body.

I rounded the back of the car, keys in hand; that’s when I realized Gary was slumped against the back driver’s side door of my Jeep, “Gary—what in the hell are you doing?” Gary sounded like his words were garbled—and he groaned, he looked even more pale and green than he had before if that was even possible. Gary lurched forward, swiped his arms as if reaching for me, and upon sidestepping out of his way, he landed firmly on the ground. Gary didn’t waste any time though, he crawled back toward me and tried to grab my ankles this time. That raspy growl would stay with me forever, turned into a half scream as Gary began to rise to his feet and come at me once again. I opened the driver’s side door, jumped in, and slammed it just in time to put a barrier between Gary and us. With a closer look, I could see that his eyes were red and completely vacant.

“What is it, honey?” Trudy was exasperated, her eyesight was fading, her hearing wasn’t what it used to be. I weighed the decision if I should tell her what just happened—better not for right now. 

Walking in a blizzard
Photography by Zac Durant

“Nothing Trudy, we’re just going to get you home.” I tried to sound nonchalant but what had just happened truly freaked me out, Trudy didn’t need to know. She didn’t leave the house without me anyway, so what good would it do her to worry? The news hadn’t reported on this though, it only talked about major panics in smaller towns. When we finally pulled into her driveway we had passed at least a half dozen wrecks on the side of the road and I could tell that they weren’t just due to slick and slushy roads.

Her neighborhood was quiet, I helped her to her front door and proceeded to unload the groceries for her. Once I joined her inside I saw that she was already sitting in her favorite rocking chair smoking a cigarette in the garage. I resigned to put the groceries away, took out her trash, and then said my goodbyes. I didn’t feel right leaving her there on her own, but she never opened the door for anyone else and I needed to find out what was going on. Scottie had hopped into the front seat and was waiting for me when I slid back into the driver’s seat and we were on our way back home. Maybe the local news would give me an idea of what was going on, the paper had been vague at best, what I had seen with Gary had to be newsworthy, but Manhattan was over four thousand miles away, how could whatever that was be happening here?

The road that led to my driveway was still unplowed when I drove back through and my brakes made an audible creak as I slowed to a stop in my driveway. There was a heaviness in my chest that couldn’t be alleviated by coming home, it didn’t feel like my usual home-coming, no relief from being in public, no, indeed the stress lingered. I turned my car off, gave my pup a gentle pat on her back, then began to climb out onto my hard-packed driveway. That’s when I heard the strange sirens coming down my dead-end road and a few strange military-looking vehicles stopped directly in front of my neighbor’s cabin. Soldiers with guns quickly made a perimeter and two people in Hazmat suits stood behind their line. I stood there, awestruck—Scottie, took me by surprise when she jumped down in front of me, her hackles were up.

“Miss, get inside now!” One of the soldiers shouted at me, that’s when my neighbor Rachel emerged from her cabin across the way, against my better judgment I took a step toward the soldiers and Rachel’s cabin—I couldn’t tell if her eyes looked like Gary’s but, her movements sure mimicked what I had seen in the parking lot at the bar. “MISS, I SAID GET INSIDE!” The soldier barked at me again, I hesitantly took a couple of steps back, then signaled for Scottie to go to the cabin. Except… I couldn’t look away, I needed to know what was going on.

Rachel had begun to scream and growl before she lunged at the closest soldier and took a chunk out of his neck—holy shit.

If you liked this installment of Duology of the Damned, then check out Part 02 — The Monster Inside of Me

Duology of the Damned: Part 02 – The Monster Inside of Me

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

To catch up on this two-part horror short fiction, read Duology of the Damned: Part 01 — When the Sickness Reached Alaska

Part 02 — The Monster Inside of Me

Such is the unnatural body of this god, which has no kinship with the dust of our world; indeed, it is not flesh as we know flesh, but as crystal or glass, and soft so that during his dreaming death it often breaks apart, but when it breaks it at once reforms itself, held in its pattern by the will of the great one. Such is the unnatural nature of this sleep, which has no kinship with those who were left standing…

It took an effort to open my eyes and when I finally did, I couldn’t see much of anything but a blur—someone was moving in the room I was in. I was feeling groggy and that unbearably painful hangover ache—except, I stopped drinking a long time ago. Didn’t I? Why did I feel so different? What’s wrong with me? My eyes blinked rapidly of their own volition, in an attempt to clear the blur, but my vision barely improved. It wasn’t until I tried to move that I realized I was strapped down and a panicked groan—I suppose that’s when the person realized I was awake.

“Do you know your name?” The pale white blur asked me with a muffled voice, what an odd question, I thought to myself.

“Of course, my name is—,” what the fuck is my name?

“Don’t worry, the memory loss is normal, it’ll come back to you soon,” a flash of white hit each of my eyes, it must have been a flashlight because the pain hit the back of my head. There were more questions, I had fewer answers—the more he probed me for information, the more I realized I didn’t know who I was, let alone where I was. He was talking about my vision and memory coming back as my brain regenerated.

“Wait, what do you mean? What happened to me? Where am I?”

“Easy answers first, I suppose. We’re in Whittier—,” how the hell did I get to Whittier? According to Dr. Blur, it was very nearly the end of the world. The next few weeks were a little more revealing; I slowly began remembering things from before it all happened. I remembered where I had grown up, a small almost-no-name town in the interior of Alaska. I was never used to an abundance of people being around during the early parts of my life. All the same, I would still wake up in a cell and not know where I was for a time. It was all incredibly jarring.

The medical staff weren’t very talkative, which was understandable. The few details I was able to pry out of them painted the picture clearly enough. The contagion had nearly converted all of the human population into mindless, soulless killers—small pockets of humanity were able to somehow hold on to hope long enough to stay alive throughout the last surge of the dead before the cure came. It’s not like they weren’t well prepared, Alaska is an open-carry state after all. A lot of people died. 

My first thought was Trudy, she was the closest thing I had to family, but I was hundreds of miles away from home; there was no way I would know. The beginning of the pandemic was all rumor, but then the major news stations started going off the air, permanently. I eventually remembered the day that our communications systems went down and that’s when I truly felt alone for the first time in my life. Now I remember that day like it was yesterday—the process of infection from the time it hit the United States until it reached Alaska took a week at most.

Cities and other largely populated areas were run through in a matter of a day or two; after the shit hit the fan, doctors and scientists became incredibly scarce throughout the world, not to mention in Alaska. Within the last year in no less than a miracle, they had somehow developed a serum, but I suppose since it wasn’t a matter of money, test subjects were widely available—albeit a touch aggressive—and there were no federal regulations anymore it was just a brassy and ballsy group of nerds who saw a problem and figured out how to tackle it. Without knowing any organized cure was being sought after, the last pockets of uninfected people had all but given up, or at least that was what I had been told. I missed a great deal of it while stuck in a dark cloud of calamitous hunger, the melodious satisfaction of hot copper—it felt like a lifetime ago, but they told me my treatment had started a month ago. I only remember the last week of scientists observing me in their dirty spacesuits, the look of fear in their eyes, and perspiration looming on their temples as they gave me my daily injections.

Although I hadn’t been told much about where I was being kept, I had to deduce based on the limited information I came across. As an example, the armed guards weren’t opposed to taking book requests—since there had been at least a few individuals who had hoarded books for fear of losing humanity completely. That meant that there had to be room for a library. There were obviously cells already present since I was in one. There were dedicated medical rooms and on my escorted journey from my cell to the hospital wing we passed what looked to be a dilapidated and rotting movie theatre. There was also evidence of covered graffiti on the walls, covered in white paint.

I had only been to Whittier a handful of times before, but it was the thick concrete that made up the walls, floors, and ceilings that ultimately gave it away. I was being kept in the Buckner Building. It was created to be a city under one roof, but the last time I remember seeing it, there had been a lot more degradation than this. They must have finally gotten the financing to refurbish the property before everything went to shit and it seemed as if the first steps they took to reclaim the property from the elements was to install all new windows and doors. Or maybe they just painted over the doors, but the ones I was shuttled in and out of looked new to me. I was curious, though, why it seemed as if the jail cells had been refurbished as well—but it was a pretty historic monument to the Cold War, so maybe they had been planning to turn part of this creepy fortress into a museum. Who knows, I just had a lot of time alone in my cell to think and still missing chunks of my memory, even the most boring topics were enough to keep me entertained during those long sleepless nights.

The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska
The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska
Photography by Mary Farnstrom

After one such night, a metal hatch opened in the door of my cement cell, and I sat up in my cot. A smell wafted in, it was an odor that fell rancid upon my tongue and it caused my stomach to twist. I wasn’t used to this kind of hunger anymore, but being met with the smell of what I used to know as food was enough to make me nauseous. The tray was sparse, just powdered eggs, tomato soup, and no appetite for any of this; I could only assume they were still working with the supplies they could scavenge, but I wasn’t privy to the way things worked just yet. 

“When am I going to be let out of here?” I asked the man wearing protective gear on the other side of the cell door, but I got no response. “Please,” my voice was hoarse, my throat was still raw from the guttural language of ravenous growls and screams that had abused my vocal cords over the last year. Standing up was still a chore, but I blamed that largely on the black and purple swollen mass that used to look like my right foot.

The doctor had told me that it was healing, but it was still immensely painful so I would have to take their word on that. I was one of the lucky ones who hadn’t sustained many injuries. Other than the initial bite that turned me, I was intact, but through the course of traveling with a roaming horde of other revenants, I must have had a bad fall. I hobbled over to the tray of what my brain recognized as food, while my body’s reaction to it argued that it was anything but. “Is there anything else to eat, this smells rotten…” 

“I assure you it’s fresh,” the mousy whisper of the male voice inside the suit infuriated me, “but I heard them say your trial group will be out next week.” I found myself wondering how a meek young man had made it through an apocalypse unscathed when I hadn’t. Maybe he had been here all along. Whittier itself was a port town that was only accessible by boat or through a single-track train tunnel. If they had been desperate enough they could have collapsed the tunnel, but it had been much more effective to simply barricade the entrance and brave the outside world to hunt and scavenge during the summer months. To be honest they probably went the entire time with hardly a run-in or a disturbance until they began the medical trials here.

I took the tray and he snapped the hatch back up so quickly that it startled me; I ended up splashing the red soup down my white jumpsuit. I watched it trail down my front, the lurid clash as it stained the fresh white fabric brought me back to the present; then, a pang of hunger electrified my body. It reminded me of blood, one of the only pleasurable things I could remember in that vast nothingness and aggression that I had been lost in, but then I knew that my hunger being aroused by the thought of blood wasn’t exactly a normal thing. Their cure had restored my logical brain, the one that reminded me I was human, that gave me control over my body, and allowed me to make more than just knee-jerk choices. It had begun the process of healing that was much needed after what the last year of rot and walking death had brought upon my body. Surely if I had been found any later, I would have been amongst those who could not be brought back.

I hear a scream from down the way, it was followed by the sound of footsteps running down the hall and more yelling. I pressed my face against the bars to try to get a glimpse of what was happening. There was a blood curdling, inhuman screech and the commotion just became louder. I heard someone yell, “just shoot her!” and that’s when the gunshots rang through the jail. After that, I heard the head doctor curse loudly, something about what a waste of fucking time. Ten minutes later, they were dragging a body bag past my cell—another incident happened a couple of days later.  It was worrisome, to say the least, they had been here longer than I had. If they were reverting, what did that mean for me?

I only knew as much as I could pull from my brief interactions with the people bringing my meals and the medical staff that came with my daily injection; some of them had hardened severe expressions, but most seemed nervous or frightened that at any moment I might be another failed experiment. The constant feeling of being observed was unsettling, like being stalked on a dark street with predatory anticipation. We were experiments, now—lab rats that could communicate—living only to satisfy their need to control an uncontrollable pandemic that had reduced the world population to just an eighth of what it had been.

The diseased walked freely in more than doubled the numbers of the uninfected. It was easy to see why they approached with such trepidation, but feeling as if I were a rabid dog that would no doubt bite their hand was at best dehumanizing. Falling asleep was getting progressively more difficult as I got closer to having my condition “contained.” That night was no exception, the only difference was that the nightmares started sooner, but I was starting to believe they were memories.


Another week went by of feeling the cool indifference of those who were treating me—it was the day before I was going to be released into a controlled population where I would be observed for my interactions with the uninfected. The discharge process was a five-hour lecture on how I needed to complete my daily outpatient treatments for the following month. The clock on the wall ticked each second by languidly with each new presenter. Considering it had been almost two years since I had last had a joy, I didn’t expect it would be too difficult for me to adhere to their demands to keep the uninfected safe.

Then again, with the whole state of the world still being without much of the former technological triumphs, finding people was more of a chore than finding a cure for the rising dead. In the end, I resolved to keep up my end of the bargain and walk back to the clinic from the rehab facility to get my daily treatments. I was finally allowed to go outside into the fenced yard where I was able to see the other people in the trial treatment with me; according to their limited research, it was not possible to get reinfected, so they weren’t exactly worried about us. I sat in the yard in the shade of a large birch tree that day when a girl a bit younger than myself sat down next to me.

“Did they find your family?” Her voice sounded as ragged as my own, I shook my head and examined the dandelion fluff that I had plucked out of the grass at my side. There was a moment of clarity as I stared at the dandelion, I remembered sitting in an overgrown field during the summer as a child, making wishes and blowing the fluff into the wind. “I’m Elle.” The woman offered her hand to me and I didn’t recognize the urge to shake it, it felt like an alien tradition that was lost to me now.

“Um—Molly,” it didn’t feel like my name either. “Why didn’t they let us out here until today? Aren’t we getting released tomorrow?”

“Yeah, but only because they have to make room for the next batch of… well,” Elle gestured broadly to everyone in the gated yard, “what we used to be. What we still could be…”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’m not sure, I’ve heard other patients talking about something they call ‘the reversion’ but as far as I know, it’s just a rumor.” Her shoulders rose to her ears and the uncertainty in her voice was clear, “apparently some of the others they thought they cured, the treatments just… didn’t stick.

Oh is that all? No big deal, I guess.


The next day we were woken up early and there was such strange anxiety when they handed me clean street clothes and directions to the rehab house I would be staying in. The sunlight was exceptionally warm on my cold skin and burned my eyes as I stepped out of the lobby of the old fortress. The fresh air was a nice reprieve from the stale, sterile air they had managed to maintain within the makeshift labs. I shielded my eyes and glanced either way down the street; the pavement was devastated, broken, and overgrown. There seemed to be people living across from the Buckner Building when I finally walked out of the front. I turned and saw that the Buckner Building was similarly crumbled—so it was just the inside that they had improved. There were only a few signs of life on the streets outside it was an eerie sort of isolation that left me feeling as if the world were ending all over again.

Photography by Specna Arms
Photography by Specna Arms

I found myself wondering if Elle was going to be at the same facility as I was, it had been so long since I had seen a friendly face and she was the first person to talk to me like a human being since… I don’t know, I didn’t have any sense of time anymore. There were several people outside tending to a community garden as I turned a corner. They all stopped working when they saw me limping by them, I’m sure I was a sight to see—a pale, hobbling former dead girl, walking among them, reborn back into this shit show. I just kept my eyes on the ground in front of me, before I knew it was I standing in front of the house where I was going to be staying.

That’s when the screaming started. It instantly made my blood run cold. Glass shattered in the alley just around the side of the house which caused me to take a couple of steps back. Then suddenly my face met the pavement as I was knocked violently to the ground by the people who had been tending the garden. They had their guns raised and ready as they dashed toward the sounds of struggle, I rolled, dazed, and watched as this large man tore a woman apart in the alleyway—her screams were enough to draw a small crowd of people on the street behind me. Where the hell did they all come from?

One—Two—Three—and a head-shot for good measure. The people behind me were murmuring amongst themselves, “I thought they were cured!” I pushed myself up from the pavement onto my knees and watched the rest of the scene play out, “what if they all change back?”

There were no second chances here.