Though I cannot be sure of the events that shall transpire after I complete this account, I believe it is prudent to detail the happenings experienced firsthand in the last few days. It shall no doubt appear to be a fantastic tale, but should the horror pervading this small, sleepy town of Bridgeway continue, I believe this explanation shall be useful at least to those who may discover it. Should it not, it will serve as a bizarre testament to the terrible reality of my experience.
A private detective in Bridgeway, I worked within the greater New Hampshire area to assist those who felt the police had been incapable of exploring their case, or simply unwilling to accept it at all. The work was, by no means, glamorous, for I had generally been contracted to discover individuals who had escaped debt or the wives of men who believed they had been cheating. Very rarely was the nature of it grisly or strange, at least until the disappearance of several young men directly within Bridgeway, which the police had believed to be a drowning due to the sudden nature of the spree and connection between the men, as well as the fact that their bodies had never been discovered.
However, the elderly mother of one of the men believed the label of drowning to be “bogus,” saying that the young man and his friends had been acting peculiar, as if overtaken by a sort of numbness, and that they had all wandered off into the nearby trees, showing no indication of venturing near any body of water. The police, she insisted, were scared to explore the reality of the situation, and so they closed the case with haste. It seemed an unlikely story, but the pay was generous and direct, and so I accepted the request of the pleading woman, an intense sadness palpable within the inky pools of her darkened eyes.
It is no simple business, investigating the disappearance of men, and I had little made evident to me regarding the event. The police, in particular, somewhat despised me for my nonstandard method of investigation, as well as circumventing their authority in local matters, so attempting to work alongside them was out of the question. I took interest in the words of the elderly woman, who said the young men in question had entered the trees, referring to an obvious patch of woodland near my own home. It was generally unpopulated, though flanked by my neighbor, Russell Langland’s home, a modest dwelling, though built in the sort of gothic style common to the town that might send a small child running. This was not of particular concern, though I focused my mind specifically on Mr. Langland because of his strange, squirrely demeanor and tendency to stay locked within his home, always startled when I came by attempting to speak with him. The following encounters were so awkward, staring into his beady rodent eyes, that I ceased the visits altogether.
I thought of this as I nursed a full glass of brandy, the rain assaulting the outside of my home. I could see the man’s house from the window, his looming dwelling dimly lit, flickering ominously. It seemed the foreboding energy cast from the place had not been made fully clear to me until I had tentatively connected his presence with the disappearance. I was not quite sure it would even make sense, for there did not seem to be a pattern of disappearances, and such a man striking suddenly seemed improbable. It was the only information I had, however, and if I were proven wrong and could not find the bodies in the forest, then I would have to submit to the ruling of the police and go on another day without pay. I decided I would consult public records the following morning, for the relentless storm emerging from the gloom waged its battle against my roof, and I was not positive I would even be allowed into the local records office at such an hour.
As I left to my sleeping quarters, a bit inebriated from the brandy, I saw a flickering of subtly orange light from the house of Russell Langland, sudden, so much so that I could not be sure I had truly seen it as I made my way up the rickety stairs. It was not pressing enough for me to knock on his door at the moment, but I got a biting feeling in my gut that something was very wrong, beyond the mere disappearance of the men. I sat awake in bed wondering what could be the root of it, or if it were merely an aberration in my psyche as I attempted to piece together feelings and events in a way that could shine some light upon the issue at hand. Agreeing to be less sudden in my conclusion-making, I passed out on the tattered, dull pillow beneath my weary head.
When I awoke, I consumed a hearty breakfast of sausage and eggs cooked above a low flame and proceeded to leave my home in an attempt to gain some insight into either Langland or the general situation through the local records made generously available to common folk through the city’s permission. Such information had been useful to me in the past, especially in attempting to locate runaway targets, and I had no better place to look regardless. I pulled a cigarette from my pocket and lit it up, allowing the billowing gray smoke to impart itself upon the gloomy darkness of an autumn morning.
Before I could leave, I noticed a headline in the daily paper, which lay at my feet like the corpse of a housecat’s prey. I peered closer, startled by what had been imprinted in bold, black letters of ink. Two more people had gone missing, a married couple that had lived quite close to my region of the town. No one had seen them leave, but a neighbor had claimed there was “a clamor deep in the night” and that the following morning their door was left ajar, no couple to be found. The police claimed an investigation would be underway, but it simply furthered my resolve to discover the genuine nature of these disappearances. I was suddenly certain those men had not merely drowned in the harbor. A grander, colder presence was at play. If only I had known what it was.
The walk to the public records office was brief, but not terribly pleasant, for although the snow had yet to appear, the biting cold of the air cut like the blade of a frozen knife. The office was in the opposite area of town, but still a short walk by general comparison. I was making my way down the empty streets, most other citizens carefully content within their homes or sheltered in the heated workplace. I was one of few on foot at such an early hour, but there was a burning desire within me to solve the first case that had inspired genuine drive. The soles of my winter boots squeaked quietly against the frigid stone beneath my feet, and so I transferred briefly to a frost-coated front yard along the way.
Even as I discarded my cigarette, it still seemed as though smoke was emitting from my trembling lips as my breath froze before me. I cursed my improper attire, but it had been a particularly vicious morning in terms of the cold. Although the sun was out, it was almost entirely obscured by a thick, permeating fog that consumed the sky and cast only grayness upon the town. I hurried, hoping to make it within the walls of the records office before I entirely froze. I could not solve the great mystery if I were lying dead upon the ground, eyes frozen over in a sudden fit of hypothermia. It was a dark image, but I chuckled, amused by my dramatics. Soon enough, I had arrived.
The office appeared just as one may imagine, a dimly-lit building with rows of alphabetically organized documents regarding the past of the town. It was massive, spanning multiple rooms, and I cursed the size for its reflected difficulty of finding the proper information. Though I had conducted research there prior, the mere span of the document collections had always impeded my otherwise efficient work. There was a musty smell, and the flickering bulbs added to an air of antiquity, which felt surprisingly appropriate given the subtle darkness the possibilities regarding the task at hand would inspire. I could feel my feet enter the spongy carpet tastelessly tacked to underlying hardwood floors as I walked forwards, seeking the area for keywords starting with “L” for Langland. It was desperate, but it was a beginning.
I moved between the various rooms, each experiencing a unique state of decay that comes only with the unfettered flow of time and the poor maintenance expected of the ceaselessly incompetent city staff. I could see the mildew creeping up the wall, consuming the spongy wood, rifts forming as its rancid smell permeated the stagnant air. The shelves, sturdy and decrepit, reached up towards the ceiling in a forest of artificial compartments. The crackling of the lights amplified the harsh shadows cast around, and I wondered if I was simply walking into the records, or into something greater, which was known only in my soul but reflected by the ominous atmosphere sensed in every inch of the public records office. Eventually, I found the great stacks of documents I had been searching for.
I shuffled through pages for what seemed like hours, bounties of useless documents scattered as I combed the files, thumbing through weathered parchment. It was all useless, I thought. Even if there were some hints of information at Langland, they would not have been the center of the article, and so I almost stopped my searching, though something deeper compelled me to continue as the scent of moisture-clinging mold made its way further through my nostrils beneath the inconsistent lighting, tacked to the cracking paint upon the ceiling, which would be liable to collapse within the coming couple years should it remain untended to. Then, at last, I found the article I had been searching for.
I looked over the withering paper, barely legible, fairly horrified at what I saw. I could have set the article, the dated newspaper, down upon the decaying floor and left, content to avoid further entanglement in the issue, but the resolve inside of me was far too great. The lights seemed to flicker in unison as I read beyond the headline, careful to explore each word as it occurred, the sinking in my stomach growing lower and lower.
The article headline read “Concord Surgeon Expelled For Stealing Corpses.” It discussed the acts of “Dr. Russell Langland,” my neighbor. Though I could not have been sure of the motives regarding even the headline, the potential implications of the act alone were grisly. The further I read, however, the more disturbed I became. It seemed the man, then a surgeon at the capital, though living in Bridgeway, had been investigated following the disappearance of several cadavers from the hospital in which he worked. It had taken some time to prove the suspicions of the staff, but the article reported that he had been discovered deep in the night, dragging a bag containing a human cadaver, stomach distended, dead for several days. The investigation of his home yielded no evidence of further thievery, and so he was suspended and disgraced, eternally rejected by the community governing the sacred science of medicine.
I could probably have slipped the document beneath my overcoat and wandered out of the office with it, despite the requirement for “official permission” to release the documents to visitors of the office. I, however, had obtained all I needed from the single document and replaced it, straightening out the many papers and preparing to go on my way, bidding farewell to the depressive atmosphere of the room, moving between the others, their brackish lighting overtaking me, exaggerating the shadows all around and upon my face. There was a darkness present even then, even as I swung open the oak door and crept silently into the cold, both eager and apprehensive to return to my investigation.
Though the day had come, the light only peaked through the glum veil of grayness that overtook the once azure sky. The houses were arranged neatly, trees erecting from the soil in periodic lines as was the customary landscape design. It would have been a lovely sight, that walk, had the numbing cold and overshadowing haze not sucked the brightness away, leaving only a skeleton of gloom. The frost crinkled beneath my feet, brought down intensely in accordance with the sudden bloom of anxiety that emerged through my system like the flowering of a hundred needlepoints beneath the flesh.
My earliest instinct was to investigate the nearby woods, for that is where the elderly woman who contracted me had claimed the individuals went. A densely packed stretch of trees, splitting the neat borders of houses stretched in compliance with the desires of some unknown community organizer early in the town’s history. I considered as I walked, the implications of wandering into a potential crime scene unarmed, having been too foolish to pry the revolver from my father’s old gun stand, though I doubted there would be much danger. It seemed simply a footnote of a substantially greater conspiracy. I chewed anxiously on the cigarette between my lips, attempting to understand the situation. I believed there to be a connection between disappearing corpses and disappearing townsfolk, but could not explain what reason such a man would have for a steady supply of breathless bodies.
As I reached my home, I veered towards the house of Langland, hoping to avoid his gaze as I crept behind the abode of my neighbor. It was not so late, perhaps early evening by that time, and despite the general gloominess, the sun had pierced through just enough so that I could easily navigate through the cluster of birches and pines as I searched for information among the botanical shroud. With a sharp inhalation and a shaky hand extended, I walked forwards, and into the cover of the ghostlike birches, swaying in a mock invitation among the evening breeze.
Once inside, I was able to breathe, for I saw no massacre among the trees, but rather the usual interior of the woods, a leaf-laden carpet of detritus beneath my feet, a small frog, the color of the New England marshes croaking calmly as it sat perched upon a spindle of a branch. Perhaps the woman had been wrong, and the men had either drowned or been abducted elsewhere, but I owed it to myself to investigate further, tapping the silver bark of surrounding trees as the cigarette burned away at my lips. I could hear a bird call out ominously in the distance, its sporadic vocations cast echoing into the evening sky. I kept walking, dipping below overhanging branches, squeezing through trees whose extensions of bark and wood had become entwined within each other.
It was only as I reached the central area of the minute woodland that I discovered useful information, though it caused my skin to crawl and my questions to expand in number. A large ax, the kind used for logging, was embedded in the vertically-split trunk of a particularly girthy birch tree, the silver skin of bark splattered with flecks of dark brown blood, oxidized but otherwise unmistakable. Should that not have been enough, the area itself showed an indication of a bloody struggle, the victim and perpetrator gone for some time. A murder had been committed, I surmised, but beyond that I could not identify any useful information by simply looking at the standard axe and splattered blood. I was not in forensics, and so I balked, but decided to speak with that enigmatic Langlands about what he may have seen.
The idea of attending the home of a potential murderer did indeed strike some fear in me, but I had caught the parasitic entity that is the detective bug, the desire to obtain answers to a particularly engaging question. I would linger near the doorway should I need to make a sudden escape, but it seemed appropriate to speak with the chief suspect in the matter, rather than avoiding potential altercation all for a desire to rest safely, yet hunger for more. I knew my calling and so I began to turn back, leaving the blood-soaked clearing behind me as I approached the suddenly loathsome place. I teetered, dithering, at once unsure if I should proceed with the investigation, but I ultimately saw only my gut to follow.
When I arrived at the door of Langland’s house, I gulped, feeling more chilled by the frigid breeze than before. The bright lights at the edges of the door caused the house itself to cast an enormous, dark shadow upon me, as if glaring at my presence. Though dwarfed by this phenomenon, I brought my knuckles to the wood, knocking firmly. No response. I knocked once more, nearly bruising myself as I attempted to make a sound loud enough even for a hearing-impaired individual to discern. I was met only with the chattering of crickets and the soft song of the breeze.
I tentatively tested the door to see if it would open, hoping for it to be locked but owing it to myself to see for certain. Sure enough, the unlocked door swung open to reveal an unlit entrance, descending into a seemingly standard world of shadow-shrouded, aphotic blackness. I stepped in, my heel making a subtle tap against the hardwood floor, reaching for a light source to illuminate the area. I eventually ignited a nearby lamp and investigated the area, attempting to locate the mysterious Langland.
I was immediately, before my eyes could adjust, struck by the rancid scent that permeated all of the atmosphere, a disgusting rot that forced nausea within. I could not discern the source of the scent, its intensity so severe that I feared I would need to thoroughly plug my nose in order to be able to navigate the home. It also, however, hinted further to the presence of rotting corpses, though I could not jump to such conclusions. For all I knew, Langland was simply a unique individual who had practiced his medicine in the dead of night. As a “detective” I attempted to hold myself to some ethics code of plausible deniability.
The area at the entrance seemed to be a living area, which connected to a dark corridor of rooms directly in front of where I stood. It was arranged with typical furniture, none of which looked particularly abandoned, and I could not imagine where the smell had been wafting forwards from. I moved past a couch and several seats, faded leather crackling against my touch as I searched for any indication of Langland’s presence, or any further information regarding the case. It seemed far too sinister to end with an empty living room, nothing displaced, no splattered blood. I could tell it was time to keep moving, to proceed down the shaded corridor I so greatly feared.
I walked forwards, summoning light as I went, illuminating the dark and unknowable. The stench had intensified, brutally assaulting my nostrils as if a barrage of putrid particles had been directed toward me. It seemed to be emerging from the nearby room, which was connected to both the common room and the corridor. Indeed, it was a kitchen, rather well-kept, if not for the horrid scents that spewed from the room itself. I entered, treading carefully, hoping not to find suddenly a corpse decomposing on the tile as I lit another cigarette, allowing it to lie limply on my lower lip.
The source of the stench appeared to be a refrigerator, dripping with some sort of dark fluid, the falling droplets making a nearly imperceptible tapping sound as they collided with the sterile floor. At that point, crouching before the ominous appliance, I felt as if I had truly entered a world of the dead, the repulsive scent so strong I wondered how I had not managed to detect it beyond the walls of Langland’s home. Once more directed by an unquenchable desire for answers and a fear of turning away, I gingerly reached out towards the handle on the refrigerator door, bristling at the thought of what might lie within.
Sure enough, the refrigerator was filled with a putrid profusion of blood, dark and sticky, dripping from various cuts of flesh, as well as whole, refrigerated animals, such as rats and birds, whose fluids created a profoundly adhesive mess upon the interior of the appliance. I had seen several corpses in my lifetime, some in my line of work and others at funerals and hospitals, but nothing could prepare me for the repulsive remnants of such butchery that lay on those shelves, rotting languidly, their decline slowed by artificial preservation. I was not sure if any of it was human, but it was enough of a warning that I should have stopped there, I should have reopened the matter with the police. Yet, in some blazing of my stubborn nature, I did the opposite, and continued down that corridor, towards a door whose border was illuminated by a faint orange presence, from which a quiet churning seemed to emerge.
Once outside the door, the sound intense and a similar, more charred smell emerging from within, I turned the knob and pried it open. I was greeted by a sight too confusing to initially comprehend, and still surreally inexplicable in such a way that makes any attempts to describe it ultimately futile compared to the sheer horror and intrigue I experienced upon prying open the flaking door, entering the laboratory of Langland, understanding his work extended beyond mere conventional medicine, proving myself correct.
To depart from such rambling, what I saw there was first a series of dark, profusely oxidized trails of blood, accented by light splatters across the room, glistening slightly in the ambient lighting sourced from the flickering oil lamps. Upon the floor was a great scattering of papers and texts, several in languages entirely unintelligible to me. Upon the walls were sketches, some so abstract I cannot imagine what they may have represented, others clear depictions of unknown horrors. The largest of all, some schematic, however, ended in an illustration of the entity before me.
The thing was hovering a good several inches above the floor, beneath it the withered bodies of numerous creatures and humans, some of which I assumed to be the missing men, and one of which I recognized concretely as a husk of Langland. It seemed even he could not control the horror he brought upon the world, though the collection of rotting meat decaying in his refrigerator was testament to his efforts. It looked as if the corpses were sucked dry of spirit, their mortal fire relinquished beyond even that of a standard cadaver, in which glints and glimpses still remain.
The creature itself is increasingly difficult to describe, for it had less of a concrete form than it was a collection of pulsing protrusions, long, slithering appendages and throbbing shapes of lightly luminescent orange flesh that defy description in English geometrical terms. Its method of extinguishing the life force of its victims was not clear, for it lacked any visible mouth or other facial features known to our limited anatomical lexicon. Ultimately, it was revolting in a profoundly unknowable way, the consequences of its existence more directly horrifying than its mere abstract appearance, which was certainly terrifying enough. From its body emerged a progressive cloud of orange spores, floating freely through the air and dancing as though dust upon shadows, scintillating in the flickering light.
I was unsure as to what I should do, moving away a bit in fear of becoming consumed by the otherworldly horror floating aimlessly among the room. I wondered how Langland had brought it into our world, though it seems the secrets regarding his work largely died with the deranged doctor himself. I eyed the oil lamp and clutched the lighter in my pocket as I spit the spent cigarette from my lips. I had an idea as to how I may have been able to delay the presence of the horror within our mortal realm.
I broke the oil lamp quickly after quenching the flame, smashing the glass and staining my skin with a patchwork of sanguine lines, crisscrossing progressively. I kicked the remnants of the lamp across the floor, scattering the oil enough for it to bring the flame of my lighter far across the laboratory, perhaps interacting with the vials of ambiguous fluid on the table to my left, any of which may have been flammable in nature. I then tossed the lighter, igniting the oil almost instantly and sending a flurry of flames across the floor, towards the entity, which continued to hover unscathed, even as the flames consumed the room.
I ran across the corridor, speeding past the open doors and into the icy nocturnal air. The sun had fallen beneath the crepuscular sky, and so the cold was vicious, but a fire of my own burned deep within. Part anxiety and part catharsis, I hoped I had destroyed the very source of the macabre events that had transpired within the town of Bridgeway. I wondered how many others had been lost to the world of Langland and simply gone unreported, content to shrivel away in darkness or rot in the refrigeration of a mad butcher’s kitchen.. I hoped the police would find no evidence of foul play, for I did not want to be convicted in response to my necessary actions.
The days continued, and though I was initially restless, I began to calm as the fire within the house was quenched by the authorities and ultimately ruled an accident, the pile of what then must have been charred corpses never reported, though I assure the reader they could not have gone undiscovered. I ultimately told the woman who had contracted me that I could find no evidence of the men’s disappearance and that I surmised that they had, indeed, fallen into the harbor or simply run off in the night. I do not believe it was particularly convincing, and I cannot blame the woman, but she seemed grateful for my determination and decided to pay me the amount she had promised.
It all seemed well and good, for people had stopped disappearing and the weird had been finally driven from that home adjacent to my own. Now, however, I fear that a more subtle evil is emerging. Within my stomach, bulging, I can see the outlines of those otherworldly forms, the writhing of elongated appendages of flesh deep within. There are numerous sores, opening periodically, which display a subtle orange illumination, pulsing just as the creature which hovered before me had. I should never have inhaled in the presence of the horror, though it seems obvious in retrospect and the reader of this manuscript may find me to be an imprecise madman devoid of logical thoroughness. Now, however, it seems already too late.
— Dylan Joaquin is a horror author from Northern California. He can be found on Twitter @insectbrah