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 The Many Morbid Tales of Spookinite Valley

A Grim Inheritance
Written by Benjamin Fouché

Part I – The Beginning


I. Dr. Joseph White’s Journal – October 3rd, 1897 – Phonograph Recording

Never has a wrongdoing haunted me so remorselessly.  Not one of my own wrongdoings, but one committed by the notorious mortician who once dwelled in my hometown—the God-forsaken town of Hemlock, Vermont.  Pondering upon what could have possibly led him to a state of such profound mental agitation has brought me to the doorsteps of my own mind’s shadowed corners: the precipice of insanity.  Of course, I do not dare to venture into such a place.  But my dreams—God, my dreams—or visions—they worsen each night.  I feel reluctance calling them visions, because if indeed they are, the conceptualization of their true meaning causes me to shudder.  Thus, I shall call them ‘dreams’ for my own wellbeing’s sake.  In these dreams, I am walking through the halls of Winston Manor—the mortuary where one of the most horrific crimes in the region—no, the country—transpired.

I continue along with unease—pacing farther into the abandoned structure.  In these dreams, I observe the parlor, the staircase, and the dark living quarters upstairs.  But one of the most dreaded parts is when I decide to walk back down the stairs.  Every instinct during this moment urges me not to, and yet there lingers a subconscious thought so dark, yet enthralling.  I do not know the most accurate way in which I can articulate this peculiar sentiment.  But regardless, this impulse urges me to walk down each step.  And then, when I enter the downstairs once more, the rooms shift into a bleak forest—a wilderness familiar, yet unfamiliar.  Down a desolate, rural road, I approach an abode that appears similar to the mortuary.  This house is impressive, yet its state of deterioration and abandonment invoke a spiritual terror.  I gaze upon the four lofty, weathered columns, behind which resides a shadow so dark—so opaque.  The nine windows are what infuse the greatest amount of disquiet.  I naturally expect to see the home’s foreboding occupants peer out at me.

But perhaps it is the unpleasant anticipation that is responsible for the fear.  Nothing occurs, and the longer I wait outside the unknown mansion, the more intense my premonition becomes.  When I awake from these dreams, I leap from my bed and open the curtains of my window.  Staring out into the night, I cannot help but believe that the house of which I see in all of my dreams is real—that somewhere, such a daunting dwelling exists.  I ask myself in soliloquy why my mind conjures this vivid house—what architype does it represent?  What deeper meaning is this reoccurring dream trying to convey?  Perhaps soon I shall break free from my ignorance.  The week prolongs, and I am beginning to regret aiding detectives with finding the lost mortician.

My name is Dr. Joseph White and I am a physician at Warwick Asylum.  How this task came to be is a long story.  But once I became involved in the case involving The Winston Manor Mortuary, I felt as though the same shadow that flung the mortician into the abyss had been hanging over my soul.  Indeed, restful evenings are scarce, and even having unpleasant dreams unrelated to the house is, to some degree, comforting.  The letters that were discovered during the investigation are as puzzling as they are intriguing.  I have analyzed each one at least twice: with whom was the mortician corresponding?  The hand writing in the letters is neat and very distinct, yet each word appears like a phantom.  And I shall admit, the correspondent’s letters are very persuasive; there is almost a poetic rhythm that beckons the reader—and although when scrutinized further the subjects become absurd, there lingers a forbidden invitation.  Of course, it should be no surprise to me that this transpired in the town in which I was born.

Indeed, Hemlock has an extraordinarily dark history.  The unexplained disappearance of its citizens in the Autumn of 1851 has left many baffled.  The inhabitants of the surrounding vicinities refuse to speak of—nor acknowledge—the bizarre event.  And only two of the residents outlasted whatever visited the town.  I thought surely the community would become forsaken.  Strangely enough, the relatives of those missing eventually decided to make their home in Hemlock since the inexplicable occurrence.  Of course, this was when the estates were settled.  Nevertheless, the town is not the same—and I am certain that it will never regain the conviviality it once held.  The occupants are dreary individuals.  I do not understand why they bother to live in such a despondent location.  During my boyhood, I dwelled in the township of Hemlock.  But after so many years of living far away, it has only been a dying memory—until now.

The task of which I speak began back in September when I was visited by two detectives from the larger district of Mulberry Grove.  When they explained who they were in full detail, I became alarmed.  At first, I wondered if perhaps an inmate escaped; but the further they discussed why they came to me—a mere physician at a facility on the brink of closing—the greater my understanding became.  It was a case that they had been struggling with since December of the previous year.  I recalled reading in the newspapers about the discovery at the shuddersome mortuary in Hemlock: The Winston Manor Mortuary.  The suspect in their documents was only referred to as ‘Mr. Winston’, as there were no known records of his first name—not even an initial.

The mortician’s whereabouts were still unknown at the time.  Well, even now as I am saying this, his precise location continues to remain a mystery—but at the time, the detectives assumed that I would be able to study the letters uncovered in his place of work.  Perhaps they fancied me intelligent enough (due to my familiarity with madmen) to figure out where it was exactly that the mortician fled to.  Moreover, I shall admit that one of the reasons I accepted helping investigators was because my occupation at Warwick is immensely disheartening; I have already heard several rumors about our facility shutting down and our patients being transferred to a larger and finer institution in Salems Marsh in the southeastern region of the country.  Despite Warwick Asylum having plenty of space for forty more patients, the funding is unbelievably insufficient and our building is deteriorating.  The remaining family who administrates the institution is also ill at this time.

Regardless, the detectives left a box on my desk.  And kept within were the letters written by the mortician’s correspondent.  After examining the first three, I was fascinated—but frightened.  What dark influence could possibly manipulate someone with so little effort?  One might at first read through the letters and presume the man was writing about pure nonsense—but if examined meticulously, his subjects become increasingly more disturbing.

The enigmatic friend tells the mortician that he must discern something that resides within his own heart.  Once I read this, I had an insight: the correspondent was most likely insinuating that the poor mortician needed to discover his inner shadow—his own darkness of the mind, if you will.  And surely, this friend was saying that once these ghastly desires were set free, nothing could cease the transformation.  So far, this is the conclusion that I have come to when interpreting the first several letters.  What I personally find most upsetting is the degree to which the dark correspondent encourages the mortician—praising his hair-raising actions.  What kind of human—if human at all—could descend into such malevolence?

II. A Disturbance In The Night

             Nightfall signaled my arrival at Warwick.  The dark wraith informed me of my assignment; Chester promised to aid me too.  And greater things were to proceed the visit.  It had indeed been quite some time since I stepped foot out of the shadowed valley, which had become my home.  The Dark Sickness guided me there when I was rendered no other choice but to leave my previous home: Winston Manor.  But during the fateful night at Warwick, the twilight died within night’s remorseless clutch—and the oppressors would pay greatly.  Once the moon rose, I marched up to Warwick’s gates.  Imposing, they stood; but my will was immortal and could not bend.  Pushing them open, I passed beyond the penitentiary’s boundaries.

             Farther into the prison’s heart I walked—fearless and without mercy.  The sentinels halted my progress as I neared the entrance of the main hall.  They shouted and demanded that I tell them who I was; why did they ask such a ridiculous question?  I strangled the first one while Chester lunged from the shadows and subdued the life of the second guard.  Their eyes as they choked were wonderful to behold—the way they bulged!  And the way the two guards kicked about their feet and threw around their hands—their bodies were practically begging for life—yet life they would not have!  Seizing the key ring from the first guard’s pocket, I took it, continued forward, and unlocked the central doors, entering uninvited.  From beyond the unpitying walls came the shrieks of joy from the unfortunate prisoners—they were indeed aware of my arrival.  Confused and afraid, a gentleman at the desk questioned my intentions.  I looked into his eyes deeply and delivered a rather clever explanation: I stated that my reasons for coming to Warwick this evening were to discuss urgent matters with the administrator about a potential patient.  He nodded, accepting what I told him and disregarding what his instincts truly said about me.

            Leading me to the entryway of the facility’s northern wing, he occasionally glanced over his shoulder as I followed close behind.  And how my anticipation increased each second.  Inward, we continued past the cells of the misunderstood inmates—all wailing, crying, but mostly laughing—for they knew who I was.  While continuing further, I raised my cane and pounded it against the administrator’s head.  As he collapsed on to the floor, I paused a moment and reveled in the thoughts of what was about to transpire.  Without permission, I took the key ring he was carrying.  And all at once, the delirium of the asylum ignited wonderfully.  Approaching the cell doors, I felt such great worth—for they would certainly appreciate my act of heroism.  After trying six of seven well-worn skeleton keys, I finally discovered the one which matched the cell locks. 

“Your time here is over—and now your sorrow shall be broken—forever,” I said to them.

One by one, I unlocked each cell—and with such glee, they fled from their confining spaces, ready to carry forth their own tasks.  The blaring sound of the inmates increased cell after cell—undoubtedly, I had never done so much good in the entirety of my life.  And as I neared the end of the northern wing, I handed the keys to one of the patients, who would lead the long-overdue liberation.  Up the stairway, I advanced towards the second story—my eagerness constricting my heart.  Pacing through the dimly-lit hall, I told the prisoners that they would be freed shortly—the time was imminent.

            Then, unlocking the doors leading to the administrative quarters, I could not help but leer with mischief—the time was closer.  Hastening through another dead hall, I moved onward with such pride.  As I passed another sentinel, he questioned my authority, eyeing the ring of keys I held.  Turning towards him, I gazed into his eyes.

“My good sir, I am the new administrator—has a problem arisen?”

He did not reply to my simple enquiry, and thus, I continued on.  Upon reaching a turn, I paused a moment and smiled again—oh, how I could not wait to see the look upon Dr. Joseph White’s face!  I would find humor in it—much humor.

            With every step—beyond each door—I became closer to the lowly physician’s office.  Many more cries of agony and joy resounded from below.  Indeed, what a mess I had made.  Farther on into the penitentiary, I was stopped by another guard who seemed dismayed by everything.  He asked me if I heard the uninhibited insanity brewing down below.  But as he sensed my true intentions and looked into my eyes, he became silent and backed away, yielding to the presence of The Dark Sickness.  I then asked him where the good doctor was.  The man whispered to me that Joseph White was in his office, around the corner.  Tipping my hat to him, I hurried along.

            Alas, as I reached his office, Joseph White was nowhere in sight—how could this have been?  Enraged, I threw his chair against the wall and scattered his books across the floor.  And as I was about to disorganize his desk, I noticed several letters scattered upon it—letters which the wraith of the night wrote to me.  Memories from a time that was not so long ago constricted my mind.  How inconsiderate for one to read through the letters.  Without doubt, I had to take them all with me.  After sliding them into one stack, I placed them within a satchel belonging to the good doctor.  Afterwards, I concealed it behind my coat, tipped over Dr. White’s desk, and left his office.  Down the stairwell, I accessed the central hall of the facility.  The wrongfully condemned prisoners roamed while many of the sentinels succumbed to the wondrous times I unlocked.  Gazing through the plaguing madness, I searched for the doctor—where could he be?

Without warning, I was approached by the same guard who told me Joseph White was in his office.  Pointing to me, he exclaimed that I was responsible for the mayhem.

I said to him, “Well sir, I cannot lie—this is of my own doing.  But youyou lied to me.  You see, he was not in his office.  And therefore, I am afraid I cannot forgive you.”  While he beseeched, I only offered an unpleasant mirth. 

“Please!” he begged.

“Chester, bring this one back—his husk will serve as a useful fixture in one of my future crafts—but it must be aged prematurely first,” I said.

Hearing his undying screams as Chester seized him, I could not help but laugh, amused by how fearful he was—for was not his job to be brave?  Returning my attention to finding the doctor, I commenced my search in the southern wing of the penitentiary.  The prisoners in this area had already been freed—there were only shadows amidst the quietude. 

“Doctor White?” I called out. 

Still, nothing. 

“Dear doctor, I am not here to harm you—I only wish to speak to you—to tell you the truth.  I know you have been trying to decipher my friend’s letters, but I can tell you now that they are what they seem—there is no hidden message to find—no secrets—no invisible meaning.  Perhaps, in time, I can bestow upon you the magnificent gift that I hold.”

Regrettably, there was no response after my courteous invitation.  Moving up the stairway to the second floor of the southern wing, I heard gentle footfalls—as if someone were trying to remain as undetectable as possible.

Leering with confidence, I too moved through the halls.  Oh, how surprised the doctor would be!  I approached—near—nearer—nearest.  His footsteps pervaded the silence, and I followed like an ever-stalking nightfear.  Through another corridor, I found myself in the facility’s library.  Gas lamps weakly shone from upon the walls.  Steadying my pace, I walked sluggishly—peering into each shadowed row between bookshelves.  Yet the doctor’s presence only seemed to be dying; perhaps he was not in the library after all.  But to make certain, I called out, inviting Mr. White to come forth. 

“Dear doctor, you have nothing to fear—I would only like a brief word with you.  My time grows short—for I must return to my home before sunrise.  I ask that you make known your presence.”

I received no response.

After leaving the library, I stepped back into the drafty halls to hunt elsewhere.  Staying ever so perceptive, I listened with remarkable attentiveness; where could the doctor have been?  The wind whined outside, breaking the interior’s deadness. 

“Perhaps the good doctor is hiding within the treatment quarters?”

Passing various medical instruments of dubious nature, I felt my impatience intensify.  Then, quite suddenly, I heard loud footsteps resonating from the main hallway.  Making haste, I followed the continuous sounds, spying a dark figure rushing ahead; and indeed, the figure was none other than the doctor himself.  Hurrying after him, down the staircase, I watched as he darted through another doorway—rushing farther into the labyrinth of insanity.  Yes, indeed, I had found him!


III. Fredrick Winston’s Journal

October 7th, 1837

Our new manor house has been purchased.  My dear wife, Mabel, is rather reluctant, but I am certain she will eventually fall in love with the house, in the same way she fell in love with me several years ago.  And our son, Cornelius, shall surely become attached to the home as he grows.  Although only five, he is already an incredibly intelligent and impressionable boy.  Alas, he speaks very little, though when he does, he articulates his thoughts with such focus.  Nevertheless, perhaps bringing him to his new home will help loosen his aloof disposition.  My family is what matters most to me, and I hope that they will settle in over the proceeding months.  I do not want to display our wealth, and thus, purchasing the remote, valley demesne was a choice I had to make.  Indeed, it is a beautiful tract of land, encircled by lush, forested mountains; filled with graceful meadows; and strewed with soothing brooks where the clear water rolls over the boulders.  We shall be far from those who envy our inheritance money and wish my dear family ill.  Sadly, my brother, Jacob, and his family are already being treated differently since they also acquired the other half of the inheritance money.  I do not understand why he remains in Hemlock.

October 9th, 1837

The drays continue to come and unload the furniture.  Everything is happening precisely as I had anticipated.  We are so very fortunate to have bought our new home.  The four, pure-white columns stand fearlessly, the shutters guard both sides of each window, the roof towers above the nearby treetops, and the great gargoyle-like knockers on the two front doors watch the entrance.  Mabel’s uncertainty is already lessening, and Cornelius wanders the house with such curiosity.  I hope they continue to become acquainted with our dwelling.  Last night was our first evening spent in the home.  And I shall admit, there lingers a troubling disquiet during the nocturnal hours.  Mabel and Cornelius do not appear to perceive whatever it is that I sense.  But I will not tell them, lest I wish to worry my wife and cause her clever imagination to become vivid.  I do hope that throughout our time here, I can come to understand Cornelius more.  Although I endeavor to spend time with him, I do not feel the closeness that a father should have with his son.  He is exceedingly independent.  And despite Mabel being closer to him, even she feels the same as I.

October 11th, 1837

I was quite surprised to find a cat prowling behind one of the columns this morning.  His fur is midnight-black and eyes are a radiant golden.  He approached me with caution, but soon became rather friendly.  It is all very odd indeed.  How this kingly feline creature came about is all a mystery.  But I suspect he leapt on to one of the drays that delivered our furniture from Hemlock.  And because he was showing apparent signs of domestication, I decided to bring him into the home.  Cornelius has already become quite fond of the cat.  My wife, who has shown an irrational fear of cats in the past, is even becoming well-acquainted with this ebon beast.  I believe we shall call him Tobias—a fitting name for a delicate animal who thinks highly of himself.  I am very glad to see my son playing with him too—Tobias will surely be a good companion for dear Cornelius.  Watching them wander the manor together brings Mabel and I such joy.  Their growing attachment seems almost preternatural.  As long as my son is content, so am I.  Tomorrow, the last of the furniture will be arriving.  Indeed, our blood already feels deeply bonded with our home, and we have not lived here for a week.

October 12th, 1837

I regret to admit in this journal that the past evening was disconcerting.  While I lay in bed, there lingered an unpleasant stillness which I cannot begin to describe.  There were no drafts of air, no lone crickets chirping, and not even the bawling of a timber wolf.  This unnatural pervasion haunted me all throughout the night, even during my scarce slumber.  Perhaps I shall become used to this silence as our time here prolongs.  Even so, my instincts whisper that something is not right.  But I must not alarm my family.  Our time here has only now begun.  And each day reminds me of the reasons we moved here.  Tobias and Cornelius continue to explore the land and play throughout the many rooms of the manor.  Yet I hope that I will be able to become closer to my son.  Sometimes I wonder what kind of thoughts are spawned from his very unusual mind.  Thankfully, however, Mabel is becoming less anxious.  She told me this morning that she is beginning to like the manor and our remote surroundings.  I can only pray that this evening is more peaceful than the preceding.

October 13th, 1837

Last night was far worse than all of the past evenings.  Not only was the perverse silence far more daunting, but something transpired at around one o’ clock a.m.  I gazed towards the doorway to see Tobias standing there—staring upon me sharply.  I rose from bed to see if he was all right.  Yet as I walked over to him, he scurried off down the hall into the study.  I thus followed him, but found him nowhere.  When I entered Cornelius’s bedroom to see if Tobias had gone in there, I was still unable to find him.  Knowing that it could all be my weary mind, I returned to the study to observe every inch of it one last time.  At length, I did find Tobias, who was perched atop one of the bookshelves—and I swear he was glaring upon me and yowled with anger.  I left the study and returned to our bedroom, wanting the wretched night to end.  It seemed as though one a.m.—that cold, desolate hour—lasted many centuries before I was able to drift fast asleep.  But what occurred continues to pass over me.  Tobias appears quite normal this morning.  Nonetheless, I remember very distinctly what I saw last night—the way he looked at me.  It was not a nightmare—I know this!

 

IV. Dr. Joseph White’s Journal – October 4th, 1897 – Phonograph Recording

I am at a loss for words as to what happened last night—the events were far more horrifying than the nightmares I have mentioned in my previous entry.  I was finishing up my work that evening when a violent commotion was heard from the floor below.  At first, I was not certain what the sounds were, but I soon came to the disturbing realization that they belonged to the patients.  Once I knew this, I went down to see what had caused the inmates to become full of such unrest.  While I descended the staircase to the central hall of Warwick, the cries and screams became increasingly worse.  When I opened the door to the main lobby, I was distressed at the sight: patients were roaming about freely and attacking the guards.  I then understood the terrible wailing not only belonged to the loose inmates, but also the guards imploring for help.  Thankfully I was not seen by any of the lunatics, so I quietly shut the door.  I then returned upstairs only to hear the voice of some strange man asking for the direction of my office.  As I peered from behind a corner, I recognized that the being approaching my office door was the same individual depicted in the illustrations the detectives showed me—the being was the mortician from Hemlock.

I thus made haste in the opposite direction, back to the stairwell leading to the central hall of Warwick.  Once I returned, it appeared as though the inmates seen before had gone somewhere else, but several of the guards were all scattered about on the ground—all unmoving and dead.  I hurried across to the southern wing, trying to find a place in which I could conceal myself.  However, as I ascended the stairway, I started to hear footfalls echoing my very own movements.  I paused and they continued; it was then that I knew they belonged to someone else—possibly the mortician.  At one point when I was near Warwick’s library, a voice thundered: the mortician wanted to speak with me.  Upon hearing this, I hastened in another direction.  Once I hid myself in a closet, I watched from the keyhole as the gaunt figure entered the treatment room.  When he was out of sight, I left the closet and rushed down another stairway.  Even so, it was not long until I heard his footfalls once more.

I knew he was not going to relinquish his desire to say something to me.  Thus, I feared a confrontation was inevitable.  And indeed, my fears came true.  When my hands almost reached the knob of the door leading to one of the hallways, the mortician shoved me out of the way and brought my evasion to a suffocating halt.  He was quite vexed and exclaimed that our ‘little, amusing game’ was over.  The longer I observed his cadaverous face, the sooner my terror intensified: a degree of dread that I would have thought impossible moments prior.  His eye sockets appeared completely sunken and black, except for two, dim yellow rings that shone within; perhaps they were his irises.  The mortician then handed me an envelope, saying that my life depended on reading the letter inside.  I nodded and cautiously took it from his long, bony fingers.  However, before I could open the envelope, he explained that he would have to leave.  Moreover, he apologized for the patient breach he had caused.  I could have sworn his regrets were sincere, especially after listening to the manner in which he spoke.  And yet, I knew that throughout my profession I had met many lunatics who carried themselves with a reserved disposition—but upon further scrutiny, it was more than evident that their minds did not function as normal minds should.  Indeed, this was the case with the mortician.

He then proceeded through the door and down the hallway.  As I followed to watch him, I realized that he had disappeared entirely.  And although all of the events I have mentioned left a distressing impression upon me, there came an even more sickening sensation that coiled around my soul—and I knew this dark sentiment arose from my fear of what was written in the letter.  Why not, at the very least, allow the mail carrier to deliver it?  Why cause a violent pandemonium and hand it to me directly?  Insanity was the only explanation I could come up with.  Was the letter really from the mortician?  Or was it possible that it was from his dark correspondent?  Nothing was certain, and I thus read the letter.  I stood, my hands trembling.  Yet retaining the courage needed to open the envelope, I exhaled deeply before cutting the blood-red, wax seal.

And the letter possessed the same hand writing from the other letters I studied.  I have roughly written down what it said, and will read it aloud:

Dear Dr. White,

It is my most sincere wish that you are lucid when you read this letter, for the details are important, and can only be read once.  Furthermore, I instructed the one whom you seek to bring the letter to you, so that you may know how dire these matters are.  There is a secret regarding your very own life that not even you know.  Nevertheless, in time, its revelation shall pierce your soul, heart, and mind.  And after this, you will know that which most will never know, nor comprehend.  However, before you can obtain this inheritance—your Grim Inheritance—you must choose to make this journey.  Dr. White, I have immense faith in you.  I know you can make this journey, and once you choose to do so, your path to obtaining that which I bequeath you shall commence.  Know this: everything will be worth your time and suffering, in the end.

My humblest regards,

† The Master †

After reading the very last words of this letter, the paper disintegrated before my very eyes.  I felt my heartbeat pound through my entire body—my arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers, toes—the heartbeats throbbed through all of these parts.  And I now wonder what terrible predicament I have stumbled into.  The anxiety is brutalizing.  I remember each word very clearly.  My life has undoubtedly changed—forever.  I fear what will happen if I choose todecline this ‘Grim Inheritance’—yet I also fear what will happen if I choose to accept it.  Oh, surely there must be some way out of this?  I have spent the entire day gathering my thoughts, wanting to understand the meaning behind the words in the letter.  What is it that could possibly be awaiting me?  Perhaps the answer shall come to me in my sleep—whether in the form of a dream or nightmare—or worse, a prophetic vision.  For now, I have to answer questions the police have, yet I cannot bring up the letter, for it is gone and they would never believe me.  The detectives I’m working with would also likely presume me mad if I brought it up in a conversation.  I wish there were some way to let them know about the letter, but all evidence is gone.  I can, however, tell them it was the mortician who encroached upon Warwick.

 

V. Gathered Articles

Hemlock’s Townsfolk Vanish: October 29th, 1851 – Mulberry Grove Press

It was around five a.m. on October 24th when Mr. Wickham set out on horseback to visit Hemlock.  He states clearly that during the time, there was no wind—nor even a weak draft—disturbing the leaves along the pathway.  And upon his arrival at Hemlock, he felt that the entire town was dead.  All was lightless and unmoving.  There were no carriages, nor horses.  Every street lamp was unlit, and every shop and establishment closed.  This made very little sense to Mr. Wickham, who claims he rode down every street, even knocking on the doors of several homes.  Yet there were no answers, and Hemlock remained utterly lifeless.  It was shortly after this that Mr. Wickham knew something very peculiar had happened.

“I searched the main thoroughfare, every street, and every alleyway,” says Mr. Wickham to Mulberry Grove Press.  “I searched everywhere again, yet I remained the only soul standing in the dark, vacant town.  I certainly did not want to find out what had happened, for I feared I too would disappear as did they (the townsfolk).”

Mr. Wickham has no further comments.  Presently, the sheriffs’ departments of Dogwood and Ironhurst counties are searching for possible signs as to where Hemlock’s population went.  No bodies have been uncovered, and any record as to what transpired is yet to be discovered.  Denizens of the entire vicinity are gone, including those who lived in the rural outskirts.

Hemlock Residents Found Alive: October 31st, 1851 - Mulberry Grove Press

            A starving widow and her daughter from Hemlock were found aimlessly wandering the neighboring woodlands on Thursday by officers of the police.  Both exhibited signs of delirium and confusion, repeatedly claiming ‘the main show has ended, they’re all gone—my God—they’re all gone!’  After the widow and her young daughter were calmed, the police enquired further about what they meant.  The daughter explains incoherently the following details,

            “I was unaware in the beginning—but soon it was all quite odd.  I went about, doing what I always do—going to the places I always go—continuing my life.  But the townspeople went to the festival grounds, and something happened.  Now they’re all gone, he took them away as his playthings!”

            Officers were disturbed by these remarks.  Her mother refused to comment further, then lunged out at one of the policemen with all her strength, but was quickly subdued.  Both the mother and her daughter have since been taken to the Warwick Lunatic Asylum in Ironhurst County for treatment.  Mulberry Grove Press was unsuccessful in obtaining any further comment or speculation from authorities.

Families Settle Estates Left Behind by Relatives in Hemlock: November 7th, 1851 – Dogwood Times

After the perplexing disappearance of the citizens of Hemlock, the relatives of the missing residents are now sorting out legal predicaments regarding personal and private property.  These matters are presently being settled at the Ironhurst County Courthouse, due to the Rodrick County Courthouse in Hemlock being temporarily closed by authorities.  Nevertheless, the extended families of the missing relatives hold on to some hope that one day they will find, at the very least, some closure as to what happened.  Indeed, this is something most of the inhabitants of the surrounding region pray for every night.

Strange Noises Heard Near Former Festival Grounds: December 27th, 1852 – The Hemlock Post

It was Christmas Eve when residents heard mysterious sounds emanating from the former Festival Grounds of Hemlock.  Now overgrown with brush, weeds, and brambles, the once beautiful gathering place of Hemlock has been the location for many anomalous occurrences since the re-establishment of the township.

“They were like cries for mercy—or wails of many people agonizing and mourning,” describes resident Nathaniel Watkins, the brother of missing resident Jeremiah Watkins. “Hemlock, I fear, is haunted by whatever happened,” Mr. Watkins states.  “But I refuse to leave my brother’s home.  I won’t give up the home that has been in my family for three generations.  Even if the past and its phantoms continue to linger in this town, I will unwaveringly remain.”

Many other new residents share similar sentiments with Mr. Watkins.  [NAME EXPUNGED], age twenty, returned to rightfully claim the home of his missing uncle, aunt, and cousins.  He has since established an undertaker shop on the first floor.

“My uncle’s father, my grandfather, began construction of the home in 1802,” says [NAME EXPUNGED].  “I moved in to live with my uncle’s family after my parents died in 1837.  It was here that I lived for several years before being sent away to school.  It is the only remaining property in my family’s name, and certainly far grander than the last house I occupied—no doubt whatsoever.  I hope to serve this revived community of Hemlock—and I am thankful that I, the last of the [NAME EXPUNGED] bloodline, will be the one to dwell in this house.  And the ghosts of the past will not frighten me away—nor whatever darkness came upon this poor township.”

 

VI. Fredrick Winston’s Journal

November 3rd, 1837

            Cornelius appears to have become happier.  Indeed, he converses more frequently and enjoys his time with Tobias.  But something is not quite right with our cat.  One night I awoke to the sight of him resting on my sleeping wife.  In the moonlight filtering in from the windows, Tobias scowled at me.  It was uttermost diabolical.  After turning away for a brief second, I saw that he had vanished like a specter.  Perhaps I am mad, but there hangs a dark impression around the black feline creature.  I wish I would have never brought him into our house.  Yet he acts as a normal cat should when around my son.  Why do these thoughts pervade my mind?  I only want what is best.  Perhaps I should take a stroll and ponder this further.  Even now as I pen this, I watch out my window as Cornelius and Tobias roam about the yard like two inseparable companions.  I fear that if I were to rid ourselves of Tobias in some way, Cornelius would become the despondent soul he once was.  Oh, why is this burden mine?

November 11th, 1837

            Oh! my poor wife Mable is exceedingly ill.  She rests now in our bed.  Yet there are no symptoms of diseases with which I am familiar.  I do not wish to trouble Cornelius, so he is kept occupied with Tobias and his toys in the parlor.  I have written a letter to one of the finest physicians in the region, Dr. Davidson, and am anxiously awaiting his reply.  I swear, my mind is becoming rather illogical at times: for when I gazed upon Tobias, grief-stricken, I thought for a moment that he was leering upon my emotional anguish.  Before I could strike him with great violence, Cornelius came into the room.  It was then I realized I needed to calm myself.  However, the anger remains.  I know it is during times such as this that I must be patient, but how can I be when my wife’s life is possibly threatened?  I detest Tobias greatly, yet is he not the reason Cornelius is happy?

November 20th, 1837

            Woe is my family.  Over the past several days my poor wife has grown paler.  Dr. Davidson came on November 17th and examined poor Mable.  He told me that even he is baffled by her malady, for he cannot find what is wrong.  I am thankful that Dr. Davidson gave me remedies he believes should help with some of her symptoms.  Yet he pulled me aside and said to me that I should prepare for the worst.  I cannot believe this is all happening now as I pen this.  And again, I saw Tobias grin maliciously at me.  I can no longer believe this is merely an illusion conjured by my own mind; Tobias is something else—and he now frightens me.  I no longer want Cornelius playing with him, but I fear what will happen to my dear son if I rid ourselves of the cat.  Surly I will not be a terrible father, for I only wish to protect dear Cornelius?  The uncertainty of everything is unbearable.  God have mercy on my soul.

November 29th, 1837

            I struggle immensely to write this entry in my journal.  To begin with, my wife’s condition is only worsening and I too am beginning to share her symptoms.  Moreover, Cornelius has been acting strangely.  He said to me last night that there was a jester outside by the name of ‘Morley’.  My son then explained that I needed to peer out the window to see him.  And to my confounding horror, standing in the moonlight was a large, thickset figure with ghastly white paint upon his face, hands, and bare feet.  His eyes were ruby and catlike.  His smirk was exaggerated with an ink-like paint too.  His curly hair was dark green!  And most ridiculous of all was his violet, silly outfit.  I shut the curtains after I broke my stare.  But when I looked out one final time, he was gone.  Surely I didn’t see this peculiar man?  Oh, but it does not end with that story!  As the past evening drew on, I was awoken by Tobias, who was standing upon my chest.  But I could not move an inch!  And he gazed upon me, grinning—that fiendish cat!  He knows what he has done to us—he has made us ill!

December 9th, 1837

            Mable passed away on the 3rd of December.  Oh! my poor wife!  Woe!  And I am too weak to slay Tobias, who roams about the house, proud of what he has done—the menace!  Cornelius is devastated by his mother’s death and is presently in his room weeping.  Alas, I can offer him no comfort.  He did come to me last night, terrified, claiming that a man with green skin, a tall head, and deep red eyes walked out of his wardrobe and stood over his bedside, watching him.  I would dismiss this as a nightmare, but when I put into consideration all that I have witnessed, I cannot help but believe whatever he saw was actually there.  And alas, my illness increasingly worsens as I pen this.  I fear that I too may die as my wife.  I am forsaking this loathsome house and taking Cornelius with me to Hemlock.  There he will remain with my brother and his family.  As for myself, I will be admitted to the infirmary.  Indeed, this is my final entry.  Farewell, and perhaps you, Cornelius Winston, will read this one day.  I love you, my son.

 

VII. Doctor Joseph White’s Journal – October 6th, 1897 – Phonograph Recording

I believe I have made my decision: once I am told where to go, if I receive another letter, I will seek this ‘Grim Inheritance’ and make whatever journey I am destined to make.  The letter that the mortician delivered continues to worry me, but as of now, what more can I do?  What other choices am I rendered?  I must accept the invitation.  Indeed, the events of the past few days proved to be devastating to Warwick Asylum, which, as you know, was already well on its way to being shut down by the state.  But after the incident that recently occurred, there is no longer any doubt that the facility will close permanently.  The patients that were recovered from the breach are already scheduled to be transferred to the institution in Salems Marsh on October 9th.  In the meantime, I need to take my belongings from my office and any other possession I wouldn’t want to accidentally leave in the halls of Warwick.  I confess that I am partially sad about its doors closing forever, for it was my place of work for many years, but another part of me is rather thankful.

—Later, same day

Earlier I gathered the rest of my belongings from my office at Warwick.  Police are still keeping watch over the grounds and questioning everyone.  Where I will find new work, I do not know.  Perhaps I will have to move to another town faraway.  But for now, I am unemployed and will have to rely on the money I have saved over the past several years.

October 7th, 1897

            Today I talked to the owner of the local publishing house, Mr. Henrys.  It was peculiar how he brought up something that, at the very least, coincidentally relates to the case with which I am aiding detectives.  He said to me that a few months ago, he received a manuscript of a short-story by an odd individual who, in his letter, was rather insistent on having the fictitious narrative published in the newspaper.  The story was narrated by a man with an acute mental morbidity who unearthed corpses and referred to them as ‘fiends’, as if this word were his own nauseating distortion of ‘friends’.  Of course, Mr. Henrys was repulsed by the manuscript and rejected it instantly.  He said to me that he recently received a threat from the story’s anonymous author.  And when Mr. Henrys explained to me the details of the threat, my heart stopped: the author threatened to hold Mr. Henrys captive in a coffin if he did not publish the story.  He has discussed these terrible matters with police, and now the detectives wish to speak to Mr. Henrys.  Perhaps this was a story written by the mortician of Hemlock.  And if so, I ponder what he will do.

October 8th, 1897

            I can only tremble—for police believe that the mortician is indeed the one who threatened Mr. Henrys.  Presently, they are checking in on him every few hours.  Oddly enough, sometimes during my sleep, I find myself awakening to the words ‘Grim Inheritance’.  They repeat several more times before my mind returns to a coherent state.  It seems as if the words I read in the letter continue to resound throughout my mind.  There lingers a significance.  I now realize that my journey has commenced.  And indeed, it is only a matter of time before I understand the meaning of this inheritance.  Whatever lingers in wait, I must confront it.  And never will I give in as did the mortician—I must retain my sanity to slay whatever casts its shadow upon my soul.  I do believe this will be my last recording, until whatever is transpiring is finally over.  And now, I rest—and the dream tides shall pull me in the sea of midnight-reveries.

 

Part 2 – Revelations

VIII. The Grave Journey

Dr. Joseph White lay in his bed, sleeping—yet a forbidding anticipation caused his heart to beat fast—now increasing with each inhale and exhale.  The still autumn night contrasted with his breathing—and the thoughts that swelled in his skull.  Oh, but the night would persist—and very shortly, Dr. White would walk and see that which The Dark Sickness bequeathed him.  Meanwhile, a tall figure walked the streets, spying in many different directions throughout the town.  He was a stranger—yet indeed, he was the one whom the authorities sought.  And while the figure paced down the alleyways, the owner of the local publishing house, Mr. Henrys, endeavored to remain awake in his office.  For the threats he received previously prevented even momentary rest.  Thus, the night furthered its cruel reign.  The clocks ticked in the houses, and the mice remained within the walls, fearing the presence that had come to the town of Ironhurst.  And now, the dark figure walked to the edge of town, signaling forth the hearse.  Surreptitiously, he eyed his surroundings while the coal-black, phantom horses pulled the death carriage.  The iron tires of the wheels rolled upon the road, the horses whickering and exhaling.  As the mortician watched the hearse, he smiled.

And the restlessness of the night finally disrupted Dr. White’s sleep.  He exhaled, stepping over to his window to peer outside.  Something is not quite right, he thought to himself.  Surely, he isn’t here, he pondered further.  But the disquietude answered his reluctant question: yes, the mortician and his companions were walking the streets of Ironhurst.  Without taking another moment to reflect, the doctor dressed himself and stepped outside on to the shadowed streets.  Ahead, he saw the light of Mr. Henrys’ office—and in the light, a morose object stood—a hearse.  Making haste, Joseph White advanced towards the building.  But as he approached, the publishing house door opened, and an abnormally tall man exited, carrying a helpless and gagged Mr. Henrys over his shoulder.  The uncanny being’s skin was a dark emerald—his head, elongated—his eyes, a deep ruby.  And after Mr. Henrys was thrown into the back of the hearse, the doctor yelled aghast, hardly believing what was happening.  But the peculiar, green man stood for a moment, and looked upon Joseph White as if vexed.  Another person exited the publishing house: the mortician.

“Well, it really is too terrible that Mr. Henrys refused to recognize the truly wonderful story I penned,” he said to Dr. White.  “Perhaps if he sees the wondrous things from which I reap my own inspiration, he will understand the significance of my story.  But you, good, dear, oh! wonderful doctor.  You already know it—don’t you?  Well, of course you do!  But I really cannot stay here and talk, as there is an urgent business matter I must settle.  However, I will see you again, whenever you choose to claim that which belongs to you!  Now, have a pleasant evening and farewell!”

Without speaking further, the mortician climbed atop his seat and cracked the riding crop.  In an instant, the team of horses galloped away.  The weary doctor pursued by foot, shouting through the town for help, but the hearse vanished into the darkness—disappearing ahead further and further beneath the night’s shadows.  Panicking, Dr. White mounted a steed and untied the rope from a post.  Afterwards, he slapped the horse, causing him to dash forward.  Now Dr. White chased something he feared, yet the promise of the ‘Grim Inheritance’ lured him forward.  Even so, he assured himself that he was only pursuing the hearse to save the life of Mr. Henrys.  Surely this was the reason?  But his incoherent mind dazed him, and he attempted to remain wakeful.  While the steed on which he rode advanced upon the hearse, a mist descended.  In the heavens, violet-hued lightning ignited the purplish-black shroud of clouds.  Dr. White’s surroundings shifted—and waves of darkness warped the trees and path.  Soon, a vortex in the thunderclouds swirled above the fearful doctor.  “My God, what is happening?” he gasped.  But after the foreboding uncertainty subsided, Dr. White understood he had entered a different reality.  “Yes, of course—this is where the Mortician fled to,” he said to himself.

The hearse was in sight—now closer—closer—closer—and closest.  But before Dr. White rode his horse next to the carriage of grief, a large mass emerged from the forest and knocked him from the horse.  Crying out, the doctor tumbled down into a steep ravine, rolling through the leaves from innumerable autumns ago.  Howls and wails called over the gloomy landscape as he tumbled farther into the hollow, hitting stones and trees.  When his body came to a halt at the bottom, his spirit departed.  The doctor, now a ghost, stared upon his own cadaver in confoundment.  Indeed, everything transpired too quickly for him to have foreseen this outcome.  And now, his senses were sharpened—for the pleas and moans of other spirits were louder.  As the specter of Dr. White gazed upon the sky, the silver moon grimaced upon him. “In what such place of desolate torment have I stumbled?” the doctor questioned.  He thereafter attempted to rejoin his body, but all efforts were fruitless.  “No!  How is this possible?  Shouldn’t I be on my way to the gates of heaven?  Or at least purgatory?  Wait, purgatory—the unworldly purgatory—that is where I am, surely?”  But his question remained unanswered.  Now leaving his corpse, Dr. White moved through the mountainous woodlands.

Hours pass as he wandered the joy-withering landscape in circles.  Feeling forever despondent, Dr. White entered a cave, dreaming he could one day rest in peace.  Although the cavern was lightless, the doctor’s poor spirit could still see quite well.  And through the darkness, he felt another sorrowful presence somewhere farther ahead.  Then, it grew stronger—a sense of pity, regret, and mourning—an anguish of the heart—an anguish of unrelieved despair.  The Doctor wished to know more, and thus his ghost searched deeper into the earth.  Upon reaching the lowest chamber of the cavern, he saw an eight-legged monstrosity sleeping, curled up against the wall.  The creature awakened and rose to her feet, peering at the soul that stood before her.  After stretching her legs, she spoke.

 

IX. Midnight Secrets

“I am The Spidress,” declared the giant arachnid.

“Well, now everything is beyond my understanding.  Perhaps I should leave you at peace?” asked Dr. White.

The enormous spider chuckled.  “Well, you may leave if you wish, although I’m no fool—I know you did not come to this place by mistake.”

“Your cavern?”

“No, this valley: Spookinite Valley.”

“I received a letter from—from someone.  Now I suppose this was the journey he wanted me to take so I could acquire my inheritance—or something such as that,” spoke Dr. White.

“I know of whom you speak,” replied The Spidress.

“The mortician?”

“No, the one who has delivered me to my deplorable state.”

“Forgive me, but I don’t understand what you mean.”

“The correspondent of the one you call ‘mortician’,” she answered.

“So, he is real—those letters were real?” questioned Dr. White.

“I fear so,” replied The Spidress grimly.

“Well, if I may ask, what and who are you?  And what happened to you?”

“I am The Spidress.”

“Well yes, you already said that—”

“No, ‘The Spidress’ is—rather, was—my title thousands of years ago.”

“‘Thousands of years ago’?”

“Yes, I was an Empress—a Queen.  And I ruled the Empire of the mighty Spider Race.  For centuries I waited and dreamed for the precise night during which I would extend my rule over the world and subjugate all of mankind.  But ultimately, I failed to make this dream a reality.  You see, my kind was weakened by the light of day, and if sunlight were to touch us, we would shrink and become normal spiders.  In my quest to find the one who would end this, I made a dreadful mistake.  You see, it was he, The Dark Sickness—or Morbus Tenebris—whom I brought forth into this world.  He promised to forever rid the world of day if we built a tower.  But of course, it was all a lie.  The tower’s construction was finished, but by then nothing could be done; The Dark Sickness is a law that cannot be rewritten.  And as a consequence, he destroyed my Empire and plagued my mind with his shadowy disease.  I am the last of the Great Spider Race, and only the eroding ruins of my former Empire can be occasionally seen in the forests and foothills of this region, for my destroyer placed them here to further my shame.  Once every year, on this very night, The Dark Sickness allows my sanity to return briefly so that I may reflect on the deadly mistake I made.  My arrogance and pride permitted this to happen.  But each year when I am granted my one evening of lucidity, I can see that the earth is closer to the forbidding horizon—the Eternal Night.”

The ghost of Dr. White remained silent for a moment before replying.

“What is the Eternal Night?  What do you mean?”

“My time wanes, for midnight is forthcoming and soon I will no longer be able to speak, nor reason with you.  Know this: you were brought here for a reason, and there is more for you to see.  For what purpose, I know not.  But perhaps you will understand the reason before your own life becomes a forgotten fable, as has mine.  Farewell,” concludes The Spidress, before curling into a ball and resuming her deep reflecting.

Dr. White left The Spidress’s cave, pondering upon her words and story.  As his ghost passed his corpse, he shuddered with fear and revulsion.  Gazing around listlessly, the spirit of Joseph White recollected the words written to him in the letter, as well as the words spoken to him by the mortician.  The Spidress was also right: entering the vale of Spookinite was no accident.  “Perhaps it is actually safer, now that I am an apparition,” Dr. White speculated.  After studying his own body for another moment, he left, and moved up the wooded hillside, back towards the path.  Sometimes, here and there throughout the wilderness, a structure made from stone crookedly stood, covered in vines.  Indeed, these ruins confirmed The Spidress’s tale.  Dr. White hurried along, nearly floating down the main path leading into the heart of Spookinite Valley.  “If only I could find the hearse,” Dr. White mumbled to himself.  Hastening, he soon saw a clearing farther ahead.  Once several yards down the narrow road, he beheld a dilapidated manor home standing in the moonlight—the same one from his reoccurring nightmare.  Unable to believe it, he listened to his own rapid heartbeat.

“This place is real,” the apparition of Dr. White whispered.  Sluggishly, the doctor trod over the grounds of the dwelling.  He then read the home title above the wrought iron archway: Spookinite House.  While he approached the two, tall front doors, the wind ceased and an unending silence claimed the land.  He stood beneath the shadows of the four marble columns, hesitating to enter.  But at length, after floating through the doors, he stood within the interior; it smelled of dried funeral flowers, as well as must and mildew.  “And this is how the dreaded inside smells and appears,” the doctor’s ghost whispered.  Now hovering into the darkness, he ascended through the ceiling and up to the second story.  A light flickered at the end of the towering hallway.  “Now what could that be?” he asked himself, advancing towards the glow.  Upon reaching the doorway from which gleamed the light, he discovered a study.  Books lay dusty all throughout the room.  And a lonely candle waned on a desk next to an open book, several local articles, and pages ripped from a journal.  “What is this?” asked Dr. White, stepping over to the curious desk.  He began reading the papers, which were articles regarding the disappearance of Hemlock’s townsfolk. He also read the disturbing journal entries of a man named Fedrick Winston: father of Cornelius Winston, who was none other than the mortician of course!  The doctor then picked up an open book of dark tales and thus read aloud,

“I remember reading this story years ago, ‘True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?’”

A deep, forbidding voice read the rest from somewhere unseen, “‘The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them,’ would you like me to recite the rest?”

“So, you too read Edgar Allan Poe?” asked Dr. White, turning to face the direction whence the voice came.  The voice responded with a low chuckle.

“The poor soul could not have ever foreseen my arrival during the last few miserable days of his unfortunate life.  But his literature certainly pleased me—and still does.”

“You are The Dark Sickness, are you not?”

“I am called by many names: The Master, Wraith of the Night, Dark Sickness, Morbus Tenebris, it is all quite the same.”

“The Spidress told me about you.”

“And now you know everything there is to know?”

“Well, that’s why I came to this house.  I also want to find Mr. Henrys; your ‘Coffin Keeper’ brought him to this valley.”

“Ah, yes, your inheritance.  That is what you truly desire, isn’t it?  You don’t really care about Mr. Henrys—your curiosity for what I offer is far greater.”

“Yes, that too.  However, I do have a question: why the name ‘Spookinite’?”

“It’s actually rather simple: ‘spook’ means apparition.  And quite often you humans use the suffix ‘ite’ at the end of a word to describe a group or tribe of individuals bound to a region.  It is for these two reasons I use the word ‘Spookinite’—all who embrace me and the inheritance I offer are Spookinites.  And this is their valley.”

“Well, I appreciate your explanation.  But what do you offer?”

“Dr. White, this is not the first time we’ve met—I believe we are already quite well-acquainted.”

“Are we?”

“Warwick, your patients, your profession, your life.”

“Then you are madness?”

“Now, why would you suspect that?  Please do educate me.”

“Every soul you have ever touched—The Spidress—and the mortician from Hemlock—you corrupted their minds irredeemably, didn’t you?  You needed Cornelius Winston, and that’s why you sent Tobias to the home we now stand in—to bring upon Cornelius’s parents an illness so their son’s journey into your hands could commence—so he could become your ‘Coffin Keeper’?”

An ebon cat leapt into The Master’s arms; and the midnight phantom softly scratched the cat’s head with his long, sharp finger.  “I made Cornelius and his companions as wise and insightful as the narrator in Poe’s rather charming story.”

“What is the ‘Eternal Night’?”

“Now you are beginning to understand what your inheritance is.”

“Answer my question.”

“It was no mistake that you died and found your way into The Spidress’s pathetic cave.  I’m certain she told you her pitiful tale of woe.”

“Yes, you destroyed her Empire and made her own kind go extinct. But you continue to avoid answering my question.”

 “Oh, but I am answering.  Do you not see?  Once I manifest, I cannot leave.  And the Eternal Night is inevitable—as was The Spidress’s Fall.”

“This isn’t the first time you’ve done this, isn’t it?”

“Each realm and reality I have touched has tasted pure and perfect insanity, but all in different ways.  And I assure you, the effects on this world will be unique.”

“But what is the ‘Eternal Night’?  I still do not understand.”

“Follow me, and you shall see.”

Dr. White followed The Master outside, behind the manor.

“Behold,” said the dark wraith, pointing towards a coffin resting beside a freshly excavated burial place.  But before Joseph White’s ghost could move towards it, he became paralyzed.  And inside the coffin, a man shrieked for clemency: Mr. Henrys.

“Please—don’t!” yelled Dr. White.

“So, you do still possess an ounce of compassion?  Watch!” yelled The Dark Sickness.

From behind the shadows of the trees, the mortician emerged, smiling.

“Now then, today you will witness this man in the coffin receive his punishment for an unforgivable crime.  He refused to see the wondrousness of the story I wrote: ‘My Very Own Fiends’.  Therefore, I shall make him see what he denied,” declared the Coffin Keeper.

Dr. White attempted to shriek again, but his voice was voiceless.

“Do not speak again, until you are permitted,” commanded The Master.

The mortician pushed the coffin into the hole and shoveled the earth back into it.  Mr. Henrys’ screaming endured over the disquietude.  Again, the earth was shoveled back into the cavity of premature death.  And all Dr. White could do was witness the unhallowed rites.

“Soon, Mr. Henrys shall die of uttermost fright!” exclaimed the now-gleeful mortician.  Over the cold, remorseless air, a heartbeat echoed—pounding over the horrid night—now becoming irregular—now rapid again—now stopped.  Indeed, Mr. Henrys died.  And the Coffin Keeper looked upon what he had done with much pride.  The dark wraith only laughed as the spirit of Mr. Henrys rose from the fresh grave.  His ghost appeared confused, and still fearful.  The Master extended his arm towards the heavens and said,

“Now witness merely a taste of what is to come to your temporal dominion.”  And after speaking, he chanted something, flinging a seed on to the ground.  “Entirely conjured from thy grim pumpkins and thy darkest burnings;

“I have summoned thee from my very own grisly desires and horrid yearnings;

“Churning violently, and shaping fearsomely, I willingly share my enduring gloom;

So thus thy terror cast from thy shadows can malevolently loom.”

Mr. Henrys’ soul was pulled in by an invisible tide—and consumed by the sprouting seed.  Vines spread over the ground and the orange fruit grew monstrously.  A jagged mouth tore open and grimacing eyes ignited.  The pumpkin-daemon stretched its hands and released a cry.

“On the Eternal Night, I shall fulfill my purpose.  And chaos will reign unendingly while my kind flourishes forever in a world submerged into a nocturnal realm.  This hopeless knowledge is your inheritance.  And now that you know the future, Dr. White, can you live in perfect sanity, or will you succumb to my rule?”

The Master unshackled Joseph White from his paralyses.  Aghast, the doctor floated away—wanting to find an escape from the God-forsaken Spookinite Valley.  Hurrying away from the house, and back down the road, his tortured soul howled.  It seemed as if the night would not relent—for the moon’s position changed not.  Undoubtedly, this was the foretaste of the Eternal Night.  Upon reaching the ravine where his body lay, Joseph White paused in horror: his now-hollowed corpse hung from a tree.  And the jester known as Morley stood below it, manipulating it with a rope—causing it to dangle around.

“My God, what have you done!” Dr. White screamed.

The Dark Sickness’s voice thundered, “Morley, I told you to leave his body alone.  Please, relinquish it—now.”

Silently, Morley walked away.

“Here, I will fix your body and send you back,” said the dark wraith, waving his hands over the corpse-puppet.  “Please, though, I hope you are able to impress me by retaining your rational mind.  Farewell.”

Before Dr. White could say anything, a blinding radiance overwhelmed his vision.

 

Epilogue

X. Dr. Joseph White’s Journal – October 10th, 1897 – Phonograph Recording

I am convinced whatever happened last night was indeed real.  But I dare not confess to detectives what I saw.  No sane person would believe my tales of a valley inhabited by loathsome ghouls, an enormous spider that can speak human tongue, a lost Empire, or the spirit of insanity incarnate.  But I swear that I will not give up my sanity.  I will persevere through whatever is to come.  With Warwick permanently closed and a case I know will remain a mystery to detectives, I sometimes feel as though I would be best dead.  But I know the house is real, and the connection it has to The Winston Manor Mortuary.  Perhaps the worst part is knowing I could tell detectives where Cornelius Winston resides, or what happened to him and his parents.  But they would deem me an irrational lunatic.  Mr. Henrys is still gone, and I fear he won’t be the last to disappear from my town.  If—if only this all were a dream.  But this reality has indeed been touched by the one whom the valley’s inhabitants call ‘The Dark Sickness’ or ‘The Master’.

For certain, my understanding of the world has changed—and my outlook on the mind has also changed—forever.  I find it rather interesting that earlier today, when I took a brief nap, I dreamt that I was sitting on a bench outside a tavern.  An odd man sat down next to me.  Although there seemed to be something unnatural about him, I could sense he did not mean harm.  He then spoke to me, and I swear that I saw fangs as he said, “We wait, don’t we?”

I replied, “Yes, but I’m afraid.  I don’t want to face it.”

He then said to me, “I once was afraid to face my three fears.  But after struggling against their powers, my spirit became stronger, and now I am prepared to face them again.”

I then asked, “Then what shall I do to gain the courage you possess?  What I have seen—what I know—it is all too much to carry upon my shoulders.  No matter how hard I push forward, I feel as though I will sink into the abyss of certain destruction.”

He then said to me before standing up and walking away, “Wait, as we are both waiting right now in our separate worlds.  And when whatever you fear most comes, do not give in to what it wants.”

Oh! if only this man from my dream knew!  But perhaps there is an ounce of merit to what he said.  I will only know by the ticking of my clock.  And when the ticking ceases, I will know that the Eternal Night has come.

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