Have you ever noticed those old cellars that dot the New England landscape? Forest bound, they gradually fill with leaves, clogging the gaping hole left when the house collapsed into them. Time passes them by, leaving them forgotten in the deep woods, in shady clearings where few tred. They quickly pass from the minds of men, for what is a house with only a cellar? Yet they still hold memories . . . I met one such, many years ago when traveling, recording and sightseeing at the various old homes of antiquity which abound in such profusion in rural areas. I had traveled thus far on trains and buses with only my old tattered white valise to keep me company. The natives kept to themselves and were quite reticent about it, and thus I spent my time reading up on the local locales of interest. On this particular leg of the journey I was heading from Wolverton to an outlying area where a certain exclusive race of farming folk made their homes. The train shuddered to a halt as it reached the station. I quickly gathered my valise and the book, and hastened to the platform.
"Good day, sir," said a man in a blue suit as he pushed in front of me. There was a bustle and then silence. The people who had been crowding the platform slunk off into shaded doorways and suddenly important tasks.
I was so taken aback by the immediate change that I was at a loss for words, and could only respond with a much delayed, "Yes?"
"I couldn't help but notice the trivial details that would mark you as a man from the city, if I did not know any better," he said with a questioningly intent look on his face, which seemed to set him apart from his blankly-staring townsmen.
"Why, yes, I do happen to be from the city, but who are you?" I responded, somewhat confused.
"John Simington. Some would call me the local 'intellectual,' but being in such a town as this, I would be called one nowhere else," he remarked, his dark eyes strange voids contrasting eerily with his pale blonde hair.
"You might think it strange that I waylaid you so quickly, but you must understand that I have been waiting for a person like you to come along for some time now," he continued. "Only a man of your upbringing and intelligence could help me with my problem," he said, his eyes no
longer boring into my head.
"And what problem might this be?" I queried, still mystified and confused by the sudden appearance and seriousness of the man.
Suddenly he looked over his shoulder. It had been quiet for the whole time we talked, and the train had already departed, but one particular man, leaning out of a doorway, seemed to be paying an abnormal amount of attention to us. Almost upon being seen, he disappeared into the shadowy darkness of the house. So brief had his appearance been, in fact, that I was left to wonder if I had seen him or just a trick of the light. A mere second later I felt what I had not noticed while talking to this man. The now awakened feeling of being watched. Millions of tiny threads pulled at my senses, tugging. A thousands pinpricks pierced my skin, delicately tingling. Slowly I turned, surveying all within sight. But there was naught to see. Only the ominously silent houses, station and blank death's-skull shapes of the empty beshadowed doorways.
"You must not let them know!" came a furious whisper from behind.
I turned. The man stood behind me. "Follow me," gesturing toward a battered car, he loped off, looking not left nor right, but only forward toward his ultimate destination.
At that moment I knew I had to follow, or else be left with the shadows and silence of this strange town. And so I set off and walking straight, with no falter or glances here or there, I reached the car and we quietly drove away. That afternoon I learned much about the settlement and its people, as Mr. Simington was a very knowledgeable man. His house, lying unobtrusively off the side of the road, contained row upon row of bookcases filled to bursting with a huge literary collection that utterly left me in a land of wonder that only the connoisseur of rare books can find.
Skimming the dusty shelves I picked a book out at random, a cloud of particles filled the air and I choked. I had not gagged because of the dust, however, for in my hands I held a well worn, but sturdy copy of The Witch Questioning Guide by Guiseppo Giovanni! At the time of its making there had been only two-hundred and fifty copies or so, and of those only thirteen were known to be in existence today. Further search of the collection revealed a wild sprinkling of rare and infamous tomes, such as all the translations of the Necronomicon, Greek, German, British and Latin; and copies of the local town records. However, it was getting late, as the next time I looked outside shadows had grown long, and the sky had grown dark. I asked my host where I could find a room in which I could stay until done. He replied that the only marginally safe place was the Shady Grove Inn, but I must needs lock my door securely before falling asleep and avoid contact with the townsmen, because I had been seen with him. Apparently the townspeople had quite an unfavorable opinion of this man. But having no choice but to stay in town (the train not coming until tomorrow) I got a ride to the inn from him and booked a room. On the way over I had agreed to see him in the morning one last time, because he seemed to need to tell me something.
Early the next morning the old black car awaited me; inside was John Simington.
"Top of the morning to you!" he said, smiling.
"Why are you in such a cheerful mood today?" I asked.
"Why because today is the day I clear my mind, and tell you about what you must know," he responded as we took off.
Then he was quiet for a long time. Without warning he turned. His eyes bored into me. "They took my daughter, you know . . . Came at night and took her, right out of the house while I was asleep . . ." his eyes looked wet.
"Who?" I asked, puzzled.
"The townsmen. They have this thing they worship out in the woods. Right over there where the Old Tobias' House used to be," he said in a tremulous voice, his hand shaking as it pointed at a patch of woods in the distance. "Old Tobias' was a weird man, and so was his family, and when they burned it and him together it just seemed right to everybody. But that was one hundred years ago, when things like that happened. I swear, when they burned his grandson not four days ago, I felt like it was all going to happen again . . ." he uttered in a choked whisper, his eyes wild and staring. "I have to show you, you need to see, somebody else has to know . . .!"
The car began to pick up speed as we neared the distant wood. At first sight it appeared simply as a black mass on the horizon, but as we got closer I could make out the individual trees clumped thickly together that comprised the forest. We turned off the road at an old beaten carriage path that led to the edge of the tangled stand. I glanced at his hands, they were white, clenching the steering wheel in a death grip. He was staring straight ahead, with his back straight, looking only forward, just forward to that black wood. I couldn't think of anything to say. My thoughts were filled with the strange appearance of this place, and the shaded track and legend that dwelt therein. It was quiet. The bumpy track we drove on the only man-made thing in sight. The stillness was close, the tree branches pushed in, their ends hitting the car as it went by. To my left a bird called in a strangely hushed voice, echoing through the dark. Overhead branches crossed to form a sort of arch, cutting all but a few scattered beams of sunlight from view. I had the feeling of being in a one-way passage to who knows where.
Suddenly we stopped. The road had ended. John jumped out of the car, heading down a little worn path, only visible due to the lack of trees in its wake. I left the car and followed down the trail, tall grass occasionally whipping my face, leaving drops of dew, as if of tears on my face. "I suppose you're going to show me the 'Old Tobias' House?" I asked.
His back was turned. He didn't speak. Abruptly he stopped. "Here it is . . ." he said.
I came up behind him, struggling through the choking grass, and stopped. Before me lay a clearing, leaves littered the ground, and near the pit lay a pile of ashes with bits of charcoal and wood mixed in. "That's where they burned him, young William Tobias they did," he said, looking towards me as if to gauge the impact.
"Why for all I know that could just be the remains of a campfire," I remarked, surprised at the lack of meritable evidence.
He had stood near the campfire and now stooped low, sifting through the ashes as if for some lost object. "Ah, here we are . . .!" he exclaimed and, turning, deposited a lump in my hand.
"Why this is just a piece of wood," I said turning it over.
"Blow on it."
So I did and there in my hand lay the unmistakable top of a human leg bone. "My God!" said I, quickly tossing it onto the ground. "What freak event could bring this to happen!" I exclaimed.
"They're out of control. Only if someone like you can get away and convince others will it ever end."
"So this is why you brought me here. Then if they know, how can I escape?"
"Enough of this. First you must see the main reason I brought you here," he interjected, moving towards the edge of the pit. "You must see this to strengthen your resolve," he grunted as he edged over the side of the pit and jumped. There was a rustle and silence.
"Come down. Just be careful when you jump, there are some sharp rocks on the other side."
I looked down into the gaping maw. It was dark and still. I jumped. With a rustle I landed on a yielding surface. It smelled of must and earth, and another smell I could not place. A crackling and scraping sound came to my senses from the left.
"Here it is. The entrance the Things came from that made people shun Old Tobias, and then burn the damned house as well. That family was always weird, but after the fire all the rest of the family seemed normal. They didn't have those eyes that Tobias had near when he died," I heard off to the left.
Wanting to see this hole that I was being shown suddenly brought to mind the fact that I had a book of matches in my pocket with a few unused ones in it.
There was more rustling. "I'm clearing it out some so when the sun reaches the right angle you can see it."
Fumbling with the matches, I felt around until I found a stone, and after a few tries lit one. Wavering light engulfed my hand, casting dancing shadows across the space I was in. I noticed it was square, but that was not what caught my attention and froze me where I was. Before me crouched John, but it was not him. His eyes were bulging black holes and he cringed from the light. And those shadows that flickered and wavered, casting strange shapes, were not alone in their movement. In fact some of those shadows were not just tricks of the light, but creatures.
How I escaped that dark prison I do not know, perhaps the sheer horror pushed any memory I had of the event far back into the depths of my conscious mind, where things best left unremembered dwell. All I know is that I found myself standing on the road from that dark wood, scratched, bruised and beaten, with no memory of what had transpired. Behind me came echoing through the growing darkness of evening (I had apparently blacked out for many hours), a noise akin to none I have known, and of which I wish to never hear again. I ran, ran for my
precious life, far as I could go from that black pit and its denizens.
Many hours later, with the full falling of darkness having come, I reached The Shady Grove Inn where I spent a nervous, sleepless night in order to be able to catch the train the next day. And the night having passed I gladly left that town, with its shadowed silences and underground nightmares. On the train ride back to Wolverton I discovered that somehow I, perhaps in the time I had blacked out, had picked up that shard of bone, charred and so unmistakably human. With this evidence I formed the resolution to present the local sheriff my experience (minus the creatures).
When back in Wolverton I was surprisingly greeted with some enthusiasm by this official, as apparently this was not the first time he had heard such complaints. Yet my case was truly unique, as no person before had any evidence, and I had the bone. With promises of a prompt investigation, I left the town for home.
Now you may think that there was a lot of publicity when the truth was discovered and the investigation conducted, but for a year I bought the local Wolverton Weekly and did not see even one mention of the affair. Thus, by the end of a year, I felt compelled to return to that town, on the excuse of further historical study.
Upon reaching Wolverton I disembarked from the train to the platform, and as I put my bags down a set of footsteps hastened in my direction and then stopped directly in front of me. Instantaneously, as if blown by a subtle wind from the gods, footsteps sounded as people silently scattered into doorways and homes, leaving what they carried on the ground or hastening with it to some important destination. Something was wrong. I had a feeling that this had happened before. And then I remembered that first day in the cursed town of shadows, and how similar this was. Slowly, so very slowly, as if with reluctance, unconsciously knowing what I would see, I stood up and turned my head toward the direction those footfalls came from. It was the sheriff, his dark, void eyes staring, staring, as his pale blonde hair rustled in the wind.
Created: July 1, 1998; Updated: August 9, 2004