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 The Many Morbid Tales of Spookinite Valley

Morley
Written by Benjamin Fouché

"Nocturnal Wandering" by Morbus Tenebris

I.

The outlandish and baleful occurrences commenced during the Autumnal season of the year. It was during the unforgettable month of October; the veil was extraordinarily thin, and all peculiarities were indeed feasible. It was––perhaps––the most anticipated of all four seasons. A time in which the profoundest of dark fancies are romanticized––a time in which the most sensational stories of grim nature are invoked. During this splendid month, the pleasantly scented wind compels the shadows of one’s imagination to become vivacious in the hearts possessed by the dreamers and lovers of melancholy. October bestows a gift upon the more insightful and observant individuals of life––this cherished gift irradiates the overlooked or disremembered aspects of darkness.

In this mortal realm, there are undomesticated dreams that are given life only during the blackest hour of night. But perhaps, it would be rather foolish to use a vague word, such as “dream”, to describe these uninhibited terrors. Mayhap, there is not a single word of any tongue which can illustrate this inexplicable fear. Rarely are these malign reveries liberated from the clutch of one’s slumber––they only reside within the lapses from centuries long passed––the ancient times where figures of nightmare were borne unto the present times everlastingly. And passed down from our forefathers is the curious admonishment of The Darkness. The mere enquiry of where The Darkness comes from is unfathomable. Nevertheless, one may effortlessly discover that the question of why it simply exists is twice as incomprehensible. But, perhaps, it is solely due to the truth of this earnest matter; madness has no meaning.

There is no doubt whatsoever that insanity is meaningless––but could that statement purely mean that lunacy does not exist? Would it be rational to suppose that madness is only an unusual outlook developed by a particular individual? And yet, that very question could easily contradict the declaration that insanity is nothing more than utter nonsense, as thus deemed by the common individual. Indeed, there astonishingly appears to linger a doubt; this doubt shall ultimately leave one questioning their very own sanity. What could it possibly be that the insane see? What remarkable realities do they joyfully dwell in? Why do such morbid and grotesque acts conjure abundant mirth and merriment? Why do they revel ever so gleefully in the dread and anguish of the sane? Could sanity conceivably be a concept of our overly-opinionated minds?

These bemusing queries render us with one final and rather disturbing question; would we too be willing to join the insane, and feast with them, consuming the flavorsome meal of dismay and demise? Many of the townsfolks in the desolate Vermont community of Hemlock were confronted with this very enquiry in the midst of one singularly obscured October. To begin with, this particular fear came from Spookinite Valley––a yearning for terror and torment bade Him forth from the hanging bleakness, which transfigured the lonesome vale into a haven for the demented souls that seek sanctuary from the piercing light of day.  And therefore, this fear arose, while the ominous dreams of the dark romanticizers beckoned Him further––agitating His thirst for wickedness, and hunger for gloom.

Leaves of orange, gold, and ruby dwindled from the various trees which overlooked Hemlock.  These trees were strewn atop the surrounding mountainsides and foothills. The leaves soared gracefully into the cobblestone streets, whispering the hymn of autumn, and stirring the dreams of the restless. Pumpkins rested upon the stoops and doorsteps of the single-gabled houses. The wind brushed against the slate shingles, and seized the dusky smoke, whence drifted from the numerous chimneys. Horses clucked, carriages trundled, pies were baked, children hurried about, to and fro––it was indeed an exceedingly majestic season.  Alas, little did the townsfolks know of the advent of this wretched fear––the fear that was borne from the proceeding, silent nightfall––the phantasmal fear that was borne from the quiet evening of October Fifth, 1851.

This menacing stalker imperceptibly arrived in the farmlands outside of Hemlock during the lull of the nocturnal hours. Crisp drafts twirled the shriveled leaves down the pathways, causing them to dance in a rather ghostly profusion. The well-aged trees whistled while the fall winds rushed through the nightly heavens.  Dark clouds streaked across the wan moon, and cast mist-like shadows through the pallor of its descending rays. One may have considered this night to be dismally beautiful.  Indeed, the night of October Fifth would have been a quite potent inspiration for the aspiring poets and writers of Gothic Romanticism.  The mysteriousness of the environment was notably ideal for the wonderers of the shadows.  But perhaps this forbidding preciseness was the direct cause of the imminent fear.  And this fear’s given name, was Morley.

He roamed about as a lone jester in his antique puppeteer wagon. The cat-like pupils of Morley’s crimson-hued eyes gazed upon the vast, country landscape, remaining inert with every focus. Staring further upon the helplessness of the temporal world, a half-leer grew from his black, ink-like, stained lips, causing his pallid face to become markedly horrid. His ashen hands were steering his dray of amusement, while he thought threatening thoughts. Developing within his sullied heart was the intolerable longing for madness; the screams and implorations of the living were wondrous carols to his moon-white ears. It had already been long enough, and thus now, the dreams beyond dreams called him forth. Hitherto October Fifth, all slept restfully, but during the unusually insufferable evening of the Fifth, all rested quite uneasily.

The swift gusts, emanating from the hollows and hillsides around, brushed the melancholic-emerald, silken, curled hair of Morley, while he dismounted his carriage, contemplating innumerable vicious plots. His wicked desires incessantly enthralled him. He glanced north. He glanced south. He glanced east. He glanced west. Every soul yonder all sight would be his. All that Morley merely needed now was for the inquisitive to become imprisoned within their very own instinctive curiosity, evermore. How amusing these looming times would be. And yet, it is unfortunate to acknowledge how horrific the forthcoming events would be for the townspeople and farmers of Hemlock. Nonetheless, there would be much hilarity to be found in the terror. Of course, only by Morley.

The abnormal, dull-violet clothing of Morley rippled in the pine-scented breezes. He meticulously adjusted his four, oversized buttons upon his grayed gown. His pasty, bare feet protruded from underneath the wavy cuffs of his outfit, which felt the desiccated grass below. Breathing deeply, Morley hurled out his arms in an embracing manner, knowing unerringly that his demesne of forever madness was to claim Hemlock. Morley paced along the lonely road, when suddenly, a farmhouse abruptly seized his attention with great vigor. Upon a hillock stood the simple dwelling––a rooved stoop humbly guarded the entrance, and two limestone chimneys towered on both ends of the home. Slightly smiling, Morley advanced towards the house, through the smoky air, and entered uninvited. There were several agonizing shrieks, until all had deadened. A cauldron was lit in the scythed field, and its liquids thus began to boil furiously. Whatever truly transpired that night at the poor farmer’s abode was indeed ghastly.

Morley’s reign of unremitting fear was ignited, and his existence was unendingly conjured from the depths of the unknown. Such perpetual darkness was spilled into the soil, and therefore poisoned the earth with a sprouting sickness; a Dark Sickness. Very shortly, all would see––all eyes would open, and remain fixed upon the subjects of insanity. An unmerited phantasm had enshrouded Hemlock. Morley’s craving for this quaint illness was vast and insatiable. The unwary were to succumb to his impenetrable cloak of bemusement and horror. Spirits would be garnered and Hemlock would become destitute of joy and orderliness. The Darkness would encourage and provoke Morley to carry forth his unhallowed deeds.

II.

Shortly after the morrow proceeded into the Sixth of October, dawn scarcely offered the convivial sunlight, of which would customarily beam through the windowpanes and greet those awakening. A rather unendurable murk masked the heavens, and rendered woe and sorrow upon the townsfolks of Hemlock; all of whom were pervaded with a sensation of intrigue and uneasiness. The inconspicuous source for their admixed sentiments was not yet ascertained until the bleak, soundless afternoon came upon the isolated town. It was near four o’ clock when the peculiar stranger was first discerned among them. A rather singular wagon stood before the fork of two pathways. The carriage possessed vague and dull embellishments. Over the countless years of its venturous travels, the weather had discolored its once-beautiful hued symbols, and imbued the wood with a doleful shade of melancholy.

The severely-worn shutters of the carriage’s oblong, show window were open. And behind the thin, wavy glass were draperies that hung spectrally, concealing the many arcane marvels that were to momentarily be exhibited. And thus the wagon stood in such a lonesome and solitary manner. Soon, trotting towards the fork on horseback, was an old gentlewoman coming into town to fetch a few wonted goods. She progressively halted her steed while methodically studying the odd carriage with her old, vulture-like eyes. There was a rather cryptic aspect about the antique wagon––an enchanting force allured her forward. What was this profoundness that she so passionately fancied?

Why was this wagon here to begin with? And to whom could it conceivably belong? The wind was not stirring––all was still––stiller––and stillest. It was as if the only importance of this captivating moment was to simply understand the purpose of the ethereal wagon. Thus it stood, alone, imposingly, with an elusiveness about it. The curtains behind the shadowed window cloaked something––something dark––something bewildering––something of which she had never seen in all of her lifetime. Why now? So suddenly? After nearly seven decades? An occurrence beyond the lifeless, ordinary days, lingering about her for innumerable years.

While she stared upon the ghostlike carriage that had so singularly entered her usual, autumn day, the carriage door sluggishly, and rather sullenly, came open. With prolonged and careful gaits, the lone jester gazed upon the aged gentlewoman. Bowing courteously, Morley held out his pale hand, beckoning down the old woman from her horse. With instantaneous thoughts of balefulness, the gentlewoman strode backwards upon her steed, countering Morley’s poor attempt at friendliness. And yet, there still lingered about a sensation of magnetism regarding the stranger. The old woman eyed the wagon, and then Morley once more. But still, without the slightest utterance of comprehensible articulation, Morley seized an item from a pocket on his ridiculous outfit; a silver, yet tarnished pocket watch. Warily opening the item of acute antiquity, Morley presented it to the elderly woman, with his wan index finger placed precisely upon five.

The old gentlewoman unwaveringly understood what the odd stranger meant by his simple gesture––the show was to begin at five o’ clock. Nodding politely, the elderly woman kindly replied, “I shall return then.” Morley, too, nodded, with the blood-red glare in his eyes. He thereafter crept back into the darkened interior of his carriage. Though quite aberrant, there still hung a curiousness about the being (For what such word could be more fitting for Morley?). The old woman hurried off into Hemlock to retrieve her items at a small shop on the corner of a street. While riding into town, the gentlewoman peered over her shoulders on several occasions, as if expecting to see the stranger behind her. The feeling of which came upon the old woman caused her to shiver irrepressibly.

Upon opening the shop’s meager door, she was greeted by the keeper with a cheerfulness that appeared to frighten away her stalking fear.

“Greetings, madam. How may I possibly assist you on this exceptionally dreary afternoon?”

“I am in need of a pound of flour, a jar of molasses, half a pound of butter, and two sacks of coffee beans,” said she, with the usual gloomy expression illustrated upon her face.

“Will that be all?” asked the shopkeeper.

“Yes,” simply replied the old woman.

“This day has been rather odd. Many could not agree more with I,” spoke the shopkeeper, attempting to commence an informal conversation.

And possessing a concurring opinion, the aged woman immediately spoke. “Yes, indeed it has. While I was heading into town, I came upon something.”

“What was it?” questioned the shopkeeper inquisitively.

“I found myself within view of a peculiar show wagon. It merely stood at the fork. And shortly after I slowed my horse to observe it further, someone came out of the wagon––the owner, I suppose––but he did not speak––not even a murmur. However, he did take out a pocket watch and pointed to five.”

“Five o’ clock?” queried the shopkeeper.

“Yes. I can only assume that he was indicating the time of his show,” answered the weary woman, as if lost in thought.

“Very odd indeed. And how could one describe this fellow?” enquired the shopkeeper.

“He is dressed as a jester, yet there is no hilarity in him. He brought upon me a sensation of apprehension,” explained the old woman.

“Do you presume he is malicious?” asked the shopkeeper earnestly.

“I am not certain. Perhaps that is purely the reason for my uneasiness,” answered the elderly gentlewoman.

“Why has he come here to Hemlock?” thought aloud the shopkeeper. “A hidden town. I thought it would be rare––or nonexistent––for visitors to find this small community.” Pausing for a brief moment, the shopkeeper continued, “What kind of amusing acts does this clown perform?”

“I have not the slightest impression. All that I saw behind the window were curtains,” spoke the well-aged woman.

“Well then, I shall have to come along with you and see whatever it is that this jester will exhibit. The store will consequently close thirty minutes early today,” spoke the shopkeeper.

“I must accompany you, then,” stated the old woman.

The shop was closed hurriedly at four-thirty, after the elderly gentlewoman purchased her items. She thus set off with the shopkeeper to see what wonders the inexplicable clown would offer to those who made apparent their interest. Two other residents of Hemlock––the owner and assistant of the town theatre––had overheard the curious conversation in the shop, and thereupon chose to follow the shopkeeper and old gentlewoman. All agreed to take precaution when approaching the lone jester’s wagon. Through the vastly decreasing twilight, the four advanced towards the fork outside of Hemlock. The fallen leaves of the Silver Maples and Red Oaks swept away from the pathway, while the horses’ hooves stirred the whirlwinds of the evening further. Smoke wafted here and there in the unrestful air, originating from the stone chimneys which belonged to the warm and comforting homes of Hemlock. Ghosts and ebony cats lingered hauntingly about the small, century-old cemeteries while the furry-winged, nocturnal creatures chirped in the skies above; how beautifully illustrated this particular October evening was.

But at length, beyond the precipitous knolls, the old woman, shopkeeper, as well as the two others who had followed, found themselves upon the mysteriously uncanny carriage. A dim, wavering light could be distinguished through the curtains, and many dark, crimson candles had been placed atop the wagon, directly above the display window. The faint, flickering glow from within the wagon irradiated the seeping, ruby-hued candlewax. The image of which the carriage evoked was pure disquiet, for once the four townsfolks dismounted their steeds, the chirping of crickets, and other nightly sounds, had altogether deadened. The townsfolks nervously––and hesitantly––waited for the stranger to make his acquaintance with them. At five o’ clock, the stranger still had not yet made an appearance outside his wagon, and shortly after, the shopkeeper and other two inhabitants of Hemlock began to doubt the old woman. 

Nonetheless, before the three respectable residents of Hemlock chose to abandon the elderly woman (whom they were to shortly deem mad), the carriage door came ajar. A ray of feeble light shone upon the four figures that stood within the cold darkness. And while the ray became broader, the stranger humbly descended the four steps of his wagon. Bowing before the dwellers of the town that he had ever so abruptly traveled to, Morley thereafter approached each inhabitant and stared into their eyes deeply with a wickedness spreading through his irises. All feared to make the slightest of any movement. Morley did not speak, and perhaps this was the very essence of the reason for why he suffused such fear within the four occupants of Hemlock.

Once the eccentric initiation had ceased, Morley slowly strode back into his carriage. The anticipation was simply of the unknown. The stranger did not explain the acts that he would be performing, and therefore, a sensation of indistinctness was only bestowed upon the evening guests. Morley’s harrowing shadow could be seen from behind the draperies. He appeared to be drawing something unseen from the side, into the view of the show window; discernibly, the object hung loosely from the wagon’s ceiling. Morley’s shadow then faced the window, as if ready to heave the curtains aside, and proudly present whatever it was that he secretively kept hidden from his awaiting attendants. But all at once, there in the shadowy light, a rather ghastly presentation was delivered to the four guests keenly watching.

Morley proudly stood beside a horrid fixture that was torturously too disturbing for the four townsfolks eyes to behold. Suspended from the ceiling, inside the carriage, was what appeared to be the body of an old man. The head crookedly leaned over the arched shoulders, facing the floor with its widened mouth and hollowed eye sockets. Thin ropes had been violently thrusted and tied through holes in the thing’s wrist and ankle bones. Two less visible threads had been sewn through the grisly creation’s jawbones; it was a puppet. A dull pipe organ stood behind the grotesquely displayed figure, with various pedals underneath it. The four residents of Hemlock were dismayed and overwhelmed by the horrific being that hung before them. Morley peered at them through the glass, and thereupon stepped towards the stained organ. Seating himself contentedly, he began to emanate distorted melodies from the windpipes and manipulate the dangling figure, causing it to make rather unnatural movements. The perturbing puppet began to disperse otherworldly noises; lengthy, whispery, unbearable––and deathly––inhales––as if suffocating.

Perhaps what chilled the very marrow within the bones of the four guests was the person they saw within the puppet. It was dear, old, Farmer Butler––a neighboring inhabitant of the rural regions, beyond the outer streets of Hemlock. For countless years he had sustained his venerable reputation among the other prosperous residents. Mr. Butler contributed many of his crops to the few shops that breathed vivaciousness within the heart of Hemlock, keeping the sleepy town alive. But thus now, to see this sinister and odious representation of Mr. Butler––it was sickening––horrifying––woeful––anguishing! This abominable thing could not have possibly been Mr. Butler? Oh, but it was indeed! How could this have happened to the poor, old soul? It was not what the elderly woman––nor the others––wished to see. None of them desired––nor expected to witness this grim display of torture. And Morley merely began to smile even more––listening to his attendants’ distraught, beating hearts. How delightful their fear was to him.

They all endeavored to disperse what they assumed were to be their very own shrieks and implorations––yet no sound could escape their tightening lungs. A numbness thereafter began to slither through their nerves while they all made futile attempts to mount their horses. One by one, they fearfully collapsed upon the merciless, cold earth. They were only rendered their vision and consciousness––how pernicious this event was. Morley expeditiously leapt from his carriage and neared the unmoving inhabitants of Hemlock. How greatly they longed to cry out in perpetual fear. And yet, they could not. Contrary to their own sentiments of the current circumstance, it was humorous––to Morley, of course. One by one, they were each seized and hurled over Morley’s broad shoulders. When the final victim was carried into the wagon, Morley forcefully shut its door. The draperies were drawn over the window, and the shadowed figures of each miserable soul could be scarcely seen, hanging from the carriage’s ceiling. The candlelight faded, and all went silent.

III.

Distinctly distinguishable from the preceding day, the Seventh of October was quite merry. The morning sun began to beam over Hemlock in a welcoming manner, and the air was gratifyingly loose and pine-scented. The crows cawed scornfully upon the farmers’ ineffective scarecrows while the leaves crackled freely over the comforting streets of the humble town. October Seventh was perhaps the finest day during the autumn of 1851––there was an impression that all burdens of life had miraculously ceased. Every single townsfolk awakened with a cordial sensation of the commencing day––it was indeed a moment in their life where they so richly valued being alive––they possessed great appreciation towards the simple and overlooked joys of living. The Seventh was a day where one would happily visit the graves of their deceased ones and recollect the wondrous memories that could never be disremembered. It appeared as if God Himself was visibly manifesting in everywhere and everything.

And undoubtedly, the inhabitants of Hemlock would forever cherish this day in their hearts, souls, and minds. The shops and markets opened at eight o’ clock, and thus the townsfolks went about their day. While the children hurriedly rushed together to the old schoolhouse at the end of Hemlock’s main street, one of the boys slowly paused, and curiously glanced towards one of the small stores. This particular shop was the one of which the elderly woman had gone into, during the past evening. With precaution, the young boy approached the store and slyly peered through the shadowed window. The interior was dark, quiet, and dead.

It was not customary for this shop to still be closed by eight o’ clock. Where had the shopkeeper gone? But rather abruptly, a voiced thundered from behind the inquisitive boy, “Step away from the window, lad.” The child sharply turned to face the direction of the voice; he realized that it was the shopkeeper. “Now hurry off to school, where you belong.” The young boy perceived something extraordinarily peculiar about the shopkeeper––perhaps it was merely his voice––or perhaps it was something else. Regardless, the boy scurried off (comparable to a frightened mouse) and made haste to get far from the unwelcoming shopkeeper. He stared coldly upon the boy, thereupon opening his shop.

As noon shifted into afternoon, the elderly woman began riding into town on the southeastern street of Hemlock. Her eyes––more venomous––her scowl––grimmer than before––and her nose––seemingly sharper. The aged woman’s steed even shared parallel features. While two young girls, who would habitually greet the old gentlewoman, played on the side of the street, they sensed a darkness about the elderly woman; it hung over them rather oppressively. The glee of the two children was instantaneously submerged in an unforgiving leadenness, which began to envelope them while they timidly gazed upon the old woman. In their observant minds, it was as if the aged gentlewoman had become a witch. This brooding mistress glared upon the two, small girls. There was indeed something odd about the elderly woman, who would always speak to them with such gentleness and affection. What had become of her?

Meanwhile, shrouded by the cloaking shades of the forest, Morley was exceedingly occupied––for a second show was to begin that night. Peering into the empty, emotionless eyes of his puppets, Morley began to leer quite portentously––how amusing they were to him––each one held a uniqueness that could compare to no other puppet or dummy of existence––they were exquisite, charming, and morose––qualities that Morley always sought in his disconcerting creations. Indeed, Hemlock was to see the wondrousness that dwelled within Morley’s caring heart––and if they chose otherwise, then Morley would simply make them see his inspiring merits. All five of Morley’s puppets were hung from the lower branches of an ancient maple that stood singularly among the other trees of the timberland. Their coarse strings all met at the unburnished pipe organ which Morley would shortly play; for Morley would have to rigorously practice, if he was to bemuse and confound his credulous attendants.
Our scenes thus now shift back to the meager shop in Hemlock, as the old woman began to approach it. She watchfully stared in many directions, curious to see if another fellow patron was nearing the small shop. As the old woman entered, the equally sullen shopkeeper shared a dark glance. Both despondent souls waited, until a young gentleman quickly moved through the doors.

“Good afternoon, sir,” spoke the old woman to the shopkeeper, while she purchased a few scant goods. She thus continued, with very distinct language, so that the other gentleman might notice, “You could not begin to invest faith into what it was that I saw prior, while traveling to your store.”

“What was it that you saw, madam?” the shopkeeper queried quite insinuatingly.

“My eyes beheld a fascinating sight; it was a show wagon,” spoke the elderly woman rather alluringly, hoping to seize the attention of the other patron in the store.

“Perhaps there might be a show tonight––what type of show do you suppose it shall be?” enquired the shopkeeper.

“A show with many amusing puppets,” easily replied the old woman.

It was by this exact time that the young gentleman began to overhear the shopkeeper and elderly woman’s intriguing conversation. He deliberately moved towards them.

“And at what time will this puppet show begin?” enquired the shopkeeper, now realizing the other patron was listening.

“Unerringly at five o’ clock,” answered the old woman, making certain that the gentleman heeded her words.

“Well then, I shall have to close at four thirty this evening––I am quite eager to see the show,” ardently spoke the shopkeeper. He thus continued, “Oh, and where will this show take place?”

“On a plot of land at Mr. Butler’s farm,” responded the old gentlewoman.

“Very well then. Shall I see you there tonight?” queried the shopkeeper.

“Yes. Indeed you shall,” spoke the elderly woman. She thereafter departed with her items.

The gentleman strode to the shopkeeper’s counter and began to place his goods on the scale. “A puppet show, you say?”

A smile instantaneously lit up upon the shopkeeper’s face. “Yes, evidently,” he spoke. “I presume you shall be heading there tonight as well?” asked the shopkeeper inquisitively.

“Yes, I shall indeed,” declared the gentleman. “I shall bring my wife as well––she has always appeared to have been charmed by puppets and such.”

“Very good––I hope to see you two there tonight as well,” said the shopkeeper.

The young gentleman left the store, and the shopkeeper was alone. A threatening grin began to insidiously form upon his face.

By four-thirty, the shop closed, and dusk began to settle upon the earth. The streets of Hemlock were dimly lit, and the encircling countryside was vague, dark, and shadowy. Many dreaded how abruptly the delightful day had come to an end––its radiance had mostly faded with the admixed colors in the heavens of twilight; feeble rays of crimson and orange gradually altering into portions of dominating darkness. The gentleman and his lovely wife set off on horseback to witness the alleged spectacle that was to take place on Mr. Butler’s farmland. The imminent night encompassed their bearings––becoming blacker and blacker. The lantern of which the gentleman wielded proved to be of vain use, as their vision was sluggishly lost in the dusky hazes. But lastly, upon nearing the entrance to Mr. Butler’s demesne, the couple felt a sensation of uneasiness slither into their bones, comparable to Virginia Creeper strangling a rotting oak.

While they cautiously proceeded beyond the opened gates, the two dared to continue along, through the stillness of dusk. In a knoll-strewed field, Morley’s enticing wagon stood lonesome and deadened. Candles were placed atop and around the dull carriage, and their flames irradiated a flickering luminescence upon the unintelligible symbols. The delicate curtains were, of course, shut––but the silhouettes of large, puppet-like figures could be distinguished from behind them. There were two spindled chairs placed before the show wagon––undoubtedly reserved for the couple who were awaiting their ever so anticipated performance. The gentleman and his wife thought it was incredibly unusual; how could the one who administrated the show know that only two attendants would arrive? Where were the shopkeeper and elderly woman? Perhaps they would be joining them shortly. In the meantime, the gentleman and his wife comfortably (or, at the least, what they considered to be comfortable) seated themselves.

They were both desolate visitors––attending a show which they would have never dreamed of experiencing in their entire lifetime; two inhabitants of Hemlock would soon behold an illustration of amusement beyond their simplistic comprehension. But still––without seeing the old woman, nor the shopkeeper, vast apprehension began to whelm their souls. The gentleman nervously took out his pocket watch to observe the time. In the weak glow of the candlelight, he could scarcely discern what appeared to be five o’ clock. But without prior notice, the door of the carriage accordingly swung open, and before the anxious couple was none other than Morley. Bowing reverently, Morley’s arms stretched broadly, in a welcoming manner. Thereafter, Morley silently trudged back into his wagon. A sentiment of uncertainty was immediately invoked.

Morley thereupon returned with two small, glass flasks, filled with a violet-hued, transparent liquid; they were elixirs––a gesture of appreciation towards his two guests. Insistently, Morley approached both the gentleman and his wife, attempting to give them the elixirs. “No thank you,” quickly spoke the gentleman, with a fearfulness in his voice, as he discourteously declined Morley’s selfless offer. There was an offended expression upon Morley’s face, despite his black, poorly painted smile. In an instant, Morley grew vengeful and bitter; he angrily flung the two elixirs upon the ground, causing them to shatter. The couple’s steed was thus frightened, and galloped away––it was never dismounted properly. Rancorously eyeing the gentleman, Morley clutched onto him pugnaciously––they both struggled, but at length, Morley proved to hold the most strength. The wife shrieked while she hastened frantically away from the carriage. Morley’s attention forsook her husband, who was unconscious, and promptly fastened onto her.

Rushing through the hilly field of pumpkins and cornstalks, the young woman freed many piercing screams, which were imprisoned within her tightening lungs. She stumbled upon hardened vines and scythed corn roots. Morley was becoming nearer by the second of the obscured, merciless hour. Perhaps if she hurried farther, she would be able to leap over the fence. Alas, without warning, a pumpkin vine sharply caught her foot, and she thereupon plummeted onto the unyielding earth. Morley hurriedly snatched her, while she cried aloud in grave distress. However, Morley did not care the slightest––on the contrary, she amused him immensely as she was dragged further into the shadowed field. Her screams were fruitless, for nobody could hear them. The wife and her husband were thereafter reunited––both were bound forcefully to their chairs. After the gentleman awoke from the mad pandemonium, Morley thus resumed his show.

The curtains were violently drawn apart, and there before the misfortunate attendants hung two unnatural beings. Nevertheless, they were quite recognizable. An unredeemed horror surged through the veins of the gentleman while he realized precisely whom the horrendous and insufferable fixtures were; the elderly woman and shopkeeper––they dangled like puppets. Morley grinned at his two guests through the window, afterwards hurrying towards his pipe organ of malevolence. While Morley commenced the manipulation of his repulsive crafts, the gentleman and his wife both wailed in uttermost torture. This soon acutely agitated Morley, who thereupon ceased his performance. Approaching his two visitors, Morley seized two old cloths from his pocket and viciously gagged them. When his ears could no longer reap the irritating sound of their wretched voices, he sluggishly returned to his carriage of morbid amusement.

Dismantling the deathly puppets, Morley hurled the two intolerably unhallowed creations over his widened shoulders and brought them forth to the gentleman and his wife. By two sets of strings, Morley held the corpse-puppet of the elderly woman before the wife and the corpse-puppet of the shopkeeper before the gentleman. The poor participants’ inaudible shrieks endured for an unsparing interval, until two other figures (which resembled life-like forms of the elderly woman and shopkeeper seen prior that day) stepped out of the surrounding murk from both sides of Morley. The two disturbed victims’ eyes widened––were they truly experiencing this loathsome lunacy? The two seemingly alive entities thereupon transfigured into an amethyst-shaded mist, and ethereally swirled through the window of the carriage, into the antique pipe organ—they were baleful impostures with callous intents. As the preternatural organ began to emanate uninviting melodies, the puppets in Morley’s hands made aberrant movements. Each of the two dead, hollowed-out, body dummies began inhaling deeply, in an utterly unsettling manner. It seemed as if the blackened, eyeless eye-sockets were also gasping chokingly. Both victims perished of excessive anguish and fear. Morley merely smiled, and straightaway, he began his work to construct new ones.

IV.

October Eighth came upon the calendars of the Hemlock townspeople quite unexpectedly. This particular day of the month was ordinary in every respect––nothing appeared to be out of place. The residents all went about their day, hurrying amongst themselves to and fro––all unaware of what was to become of their miniscule community. Near Hemlock’s courthouse was the town theatre. It was not boastful, but the edifice still held a uniqueness. On special occasions, the majority of the inhabitants would meet at the theatre to witness astounding plays, wondrous orchestrations, and intermittently, even puppet shows––the owner and his assistant were to host “a grand illustration of dancing figures” the evening of October Eighth. At morning, the two went their ways to spread the word throughout Hemlock.

The owner of the theatre strode to several shops to hand out invitation pamphlets. Those who were affably invited became quite fervent of the idea that a spectacle of puppets was to take place. The assistant halted several townsfolks on the streets of Hemlock, pleading with them to come see “the performance of dangling people”. Many more became quite intrigued, and before dusk, there was a significant portion of the overlooked town that desired to see this marvelous show. Mystical puppets, elixirs of immortality, humorous acts, and cheerful music––many things were promised to those who would willingly come. And as the day began to hauntingly diminish with the soft twilight, the occupants of Hemlock followed one another to the theatre––all anticipating a moment in their lifetime which would bring them utter glee and excitement.

As they all entered the town theatre feeling exceedingly contented, the residents were greeted with a rather pronounced melody, originating from a pipe organ. The maroon, velvet curtains were still drawn shut on the stage, but several movements from behind caused the claret draperies to slightly sway. The immediate sensation that was conceived by those who were watching was an irrepressible anxiousness and expectancy. In the midst of the music, many were given their elixirs of unending life. But without prior notice, the owner of the theatre walked upon the stage and seized everyone’s attention. Thunderously, the man spoke thus, “Good evening to you all. Please allow me to explain what you will momentarily behold. A very brilliant and gifted puppeteer was kind enough to travel to our sleepy town. And I understand that word of his arrival has been circulating. When I first became aware, I instantly sought after him, to request that we both collaborate to deliver a prodigious show for you all. He agreed, and thus now, you shall witness ‘The Illustration of Dangling and Dancing Figures’.”

Bowing respectfully, the gentleman took backward strides, and the curtains were instantaneously drawn apart. A look of astonishment came upon all of the faces in the theatre; small, meticulously carved, wooden figures––of which resembled every presence watching––began to move through the air with miraculous measures––speaking to one another as they did. It was utmost extraordinary––inconceivable––remarkable––how was it that these puppets could appear precisely as the townspeople? Every feature and detail was so splendidly captured. Whatever could have been the reason, the inhabitants of Hemlock did not care the slightest––they could only stare, dazed by the unbelievable performance that was being held before their gaping eyes. The puppets danced in mid-air, whilst their movements appeared as if they were marching upon solid earth.

The show was prolonged for a few more lengthy moments—until all at once—the red-wine hangings drew back together, consuming the unfathomable splendors with such abruptness of the second. It had ended—almost as sharply as it had commenced. Such expressions of disappointment and vexation were shortly thereafter formed upon each of the attendants’ faces. However, the owner and his assistant made haste to come upon the theatre’s stage to give a comprehensive enlightenment, “I am exceptionally pleased that you all so richly enjoyed the performance. And indeed, your reactions are what we were expecting—thus, we bade you forth, to come see a grander variety of the show. It shall be held on the festival grounds, beyond town—tomorrow—do not forget. If you wisely choose to come, you will be bequeathed the good fortune to meet the endowed puppeteer. Thank you all—have a pleasant evening—good night.” While the townspeople cleared the theatre, six motionless figures shared glances, and subsequently grinned rather surreptitiously—the elderly woman—the shopkeeper—the gentleman—his wife—the owner of the theatre—and his assistant.

And thus the Ninth of October came, and thus it went. Despite how each day waned further while the month continued onward, many of the townsfolks perceived the day of October Ninth to be notably shorter than usual. It appeared as if the sun set precisely as rapidly as it had risen. With the unexpected arrival of the night, the lamps were lit hurriedly and the shops were closed. However, it mattered little to those who were profoundly awaiting the puppet show. At dusk, they hastened together through the mild, autumnal breezes, and down the narrow road which led to the festival grounds outside of Hemlock. While approaching where this puppet show was to be held, many were quite suddenly overcome by an unwelcoming presence. Fear, reluctance, and disquiet were purely the emotions that were impressed upon the minds of those who were walking nearer and nearer to the festival grounds.

This unrelieved terror only intensified, for half-inaudible melodies could be heard, emanating from the distance. But what elongated the flourishing fear was the familiarity and unfamiliarity that was distinguished in the melodies—it was the pipe organ music that was played at the theatre the night prior—only this time, it was intolerably distorted. The music did not bestow a single welcoming fancy; it merely worsened the infectious fright and anxiety. Candles had been placed on both sides of the pathway, so that those who were walking through the dense gloom and duskiness would not be constricted by the leaden environment. However, the subdued gleams of each candle did not bring comfort to the occupants of Hemlock while they trudged onwards. Sluggishly, the daunting music became more distinct. Dull-violet, enshrouding mists soon rose and appeared to billow slowly—churning hither and thither, about the shadowy landscape.

When the townsfolks finally arrived to the darkened festival grounds, they each observed a lone carriage and a fairly large canvas tent. Candlelight flickered ominously from inside the tent and around the wagon. The peculiar music was lengthened further while everyone entered and uncomfortably seated themselves—nobody was capable of finding where the horrid melodies were originating from. One may have listened warily, only to become even more bewildered by the inexplicable music—there simply was no way to discern where the organ was. Many waited patiently, watching eagerly for the theatre proprietor and his assistant—yet neither became present that evening. Nevertheless, there was a rather unwholesome representation of the two—his name was Morley.

Out from the surrounding blackness came an odd figure who silently paced through the attendants and into the center of the weakly illuminated tent. When all beheld his appearance, they instantly developed a sentiment of uncertainty, but were willing to stay and see what amusements he had to offer. Morley stood among all of them, with his stained, ebon, grin. His blood-red eyes peered piercingly into the fearful souls of those staring back—he breathed deeper, drawing each inhale and exhale through his violet, bulbous nose. Without speaking a word, Morley bowed respectfully towards the inhabitants of Hemlock—gratified that they had come to his humble show. Morley thereafter leapt through his onlookers, and out of the tent. The music quite suddenly deadened, and all were left in inexorable silence. The occupants of Hemlock whispered amongst each other—curious to see what was to subsequently happen after the bizarre introduction.

Nothing seemed to occur and only a singular dread persisted—it was dead—deader—and deadest. This was not by any means what the townsfolks had experienced the night before. Where was the cheerfulness—the music—the merrymaking—and splendid host? Instead of basking in these qualities, they were purely decaying in melancholy—unbearable music—and idleness. Their host was an ill-mannered clown—not a respectable gentleman. Surely something astounding would transpire? Was not it sworn to them? Without warning, Morley dashed ungracefully back into the tent, and there even appeared to linger a leer behind his grimly painted smile this time. While he stood in the middle, he gazed exceedingly more attentively than before. Quickening his spirit, Morley rushed out of the tent again—and this time did not return. The insufferable pipe organ music sharply began to penetrate the stillness once more—shadowed bodies began to descend from the veiling darkness above, while they dangled loosely.

As every inhabitant of Hemlock began to notice the insidious figures being lowered from the abysmal shadows, they all whispered to one another apprehensively—perhaps the puppet show was merely beginning in a quainter fashion, than it had the night before. Indeed, it was eccentric how this performance was starting—and gradually, an instinctive disconcertedness was evoked within the throbbing hearts of each attendant. When the fragile candlelight shone upon the first puppet, an all-pervading panic and horror was the immediate response. An empty body, which characterized the reputable shopkeeper of Hemlock, was unsettlingly dangling in the air, creating wretched sounds, as if breathless—gasping for air through its hollow eyes and mouth. Soon thereafter, the second cadaver-puppet was dropped—Mr. Butler. Then a third—a fourth—a fifth—a sixth—and a seventh. All of these hanging dummies bore familiar faces—these faces were all too well-acquainted—they were real.

Shrilling shrieks, screams, and cries called out deafeningly, over the quietude of the festival grounds. The puppets extended their gaunt hands outwards and discomfortingly brushed against the shoulders and necks of the townsfolks, who were fleeing out of the canvas tent. The puppets possessed whispery, deathly wails that chilled the very marrow within the attendants’ bones—these vacant figures appeared to be in great torment—they were anguished souls, who unwillingly joined in communion with Morley’s contemptable collection. Mayhap the puppets were solely pleading with the dwellers of the small community to leave before they too would become an everlastingly paralyzed individual, who would eternally serve Morley. But hope was simply nonexistent during Morley’s sadistic reign—and undeniably, he held a ravenous thirst for lunacy, fear, and distress. Morley hastily exited his formidable carriage and beheld the extraordinary sight—he could only ponderously wonder why the living were so foolish.

Without sparing an additional moment, Morley skulked into the sickened and fearful gathering unnoticed. Each person was soon afflicted by a disorientation of angst and horror—witnessing illusionary visions before their very existences. The mists about encircled all who aimlessly hastened through them, seizing their senses and replacing each one with phantasmagoric perceptions. Forms and variations of darkness wriggled and darted in many directions, while the amethyst hazes rose higher. The flourishing fear was prolonged when all realized that they were losing their bearings—and periodically, these individuals felt something forcefully graze against their backs and arms—it was undoubtedly the lone jester, fooling around with his meager prey, as would habitually ensue. Indeed, one may have heard an imploration for mercy from the distance as they vulnerably wandered farther away, into the vast unknown—how particularly amusing this was to Morley.

 Many other screams of suffering cried out over the midnight landscape during the whole of that restless evening—Morley took each victim, and dragged them to the wrought-iron kettles that he had placed across the broad fields. And into the silence, there came several sounds of boiling liquid—many cauldrons had been ignited altogether. Stewing fluids within the iron kettles held ruby gleams.  These pots stood in many areas, solitarily positioned throughout the fog-sheeted festival grounds. Morley leered joyously while he carried forth his rancorous acts; viciously, he thrusted each attendant into the scorching pots. Each victim felt an acute paralysis sidle through their body while their heads were helplessly submerged into the crimson, glowing liquids. Slowly, this inexorable weakness claimed their bodies, while their consciousness endured the horror of their actuality. The entirety of their bodies were thereafter immersed farther into the large kettles, until even the toes of their shoes were swallowed by the contents in the caldrons.

One by one, Morley unpityingly seized each victim by the hair on their weak heads—each former resident of Hemlock was now soulless and forever preserved. Straightaway, Morley separately worked upon each body—thick threads were pinned through the wrist bones, elbows, shoulders, and jaws; it was Morley’s greatest longing that all could see how well and carefully he constructed his magnificent children—how preciously dear they were to him. Within the canvas tent horridly hung the transfigured remains of the each attendant. Morley stood pridefully, observing each one ever so conscientiously. He thereafter moved out of the tent of delirious morbidity and watchfully peered towards the meek town of Hemlock. And thus out of the violet mists strode forth the impersonations of each townsperson who fell asleep under Morley’s treacherous monarchy of mayhem.

V.

The following daybreak was lulled by the calming wind gusts overhead—the unrestful night had ended, and thus conveyed forth a funereal peacefulness throughout the bleak, autumn day. The withered leaves moved uninhibitedly through the streets of Hemlock—representing the utter insanity that was liberated the preceding evening. All were pervaded with an immeasurable uneasiness—but alas, most did not earnestly take note. All who were whelmed by this sensation shrugged it off as purely nothing—and nothing more. Nevertheless, those who concurringly shared agitation regarding the mysterious puppeteer remarked to themselves how powerful and intense their perceptions were. Conspicuously, these were impressions of something dark—something of the confounding preternatural. These particular individuals had all before experienced this familiar grim awareness—it was a singular pervasion that they became acquainted with during the night of October Fifth—an evening of immense restlessness—the night of which Morley came into town.

One such individual touched by this brooding shadow was the mayor of Hemlock himself. He had not wandered to the festival grounds the night prior—for his instincts desperately urged him to stay home during the evening of October Ninth. Another dweller who did not dare participate in the events held during that nightfall was a young maiden. She was quite occupied, caring for her widowed mother. Notwithstanding, she too was disconcerted by the odd compulsion to not join the procession of townspeople who strolled to the festival grounds. And yet a further illustration of this peculiarity may be observed in another occupant of the simple New England town—the old cobbler who owned the only shoe shop in Hemlock. For an unexplainable reason, he felt fervidly compelled to linger at his store and toil additional hours—feeling unsettled by the event which was held at the festival grounds. On the Tenth of October, these three, very wise individuals went about their days—and they all noticed how unusual their fellow townsfolks acted.

The young maiden strode watchfully down the main street of town—and she felt as if the figures standing in the doorways were observantly eyeing her. But when she turned to face those who she thought were studying her, they were only going about their day. Shaking off what must have been nothing more than a misconception of the weary mind, the young maiden hurried along—soon hastening her gait. That morning, the mayor of Hemlock was also confronted by the oddness of his fellow townspeople. When he entered his office, he was greeted by the copy clerk, who was not ordinarily a merry individual—on the contrary, the mayor’s copy clerk had always held a despondent temperament. And why now was he so incessantly gleeful? The mayor merely could not make sense of the copy clerk’s abnormal mannerism. Thus, the mayor’s day continued unpleasantly. The cobbler began crafting shoes in his workplace at around ten o’ clock. He had very few patrons that day, and the ones who did come to his shop were quite strange. They made inelegant gestures and spoke gracelessly.

All throughout the day, these three inhabitants perceived that Hemlock itself had become a rather altered community. Whether it was purely the sensation of being menacingly watched, the uncharacteristic behavior of daily acquaintances, or even the mood that hung over the small town—these aspects were enough to daunt those who had not yet contracted the illness that Morley had brought with him. God only knew if this Dark Sickness was to, at length, consume the true remaining townsfolks of Hemlock. It was nightfall when the three tenants became wary in regard to the very truth of the grim matter. The young maiden was trudging home along a path which led to her rural dwelling. A horse was not necessary, simply because her home was only a seven minute walk from Hemlock. Regrettably, however, she would indeed desirously wish that she had gone into town on horseback that day. The delicate twilight perished promptly during the evening of October Tenth—it was not long before she found herself wandering about, beneath the drape-shaded heavens of night.

Carrying her four baskets of goods, the young maiden advanced further into the duskiness, unaccompanied. The path of which she took winded over a strand of sylvan hillocks, and shortly thereafter led to her pastoral edifice. Yet the realm of the nocturnal could easily deceive those stumbling in the dark, and cause such a misfortunate individual to unintentionally mistake the wrong trail for the correct one. And alas, this is what unerringly happened to the young maiden. Straying accidentally, while a nervousness commenced, she took a pathway which only wound deeper into the blackening murk—each looming tree stood within an infinite union, peering over the nightly countryside. The hilly timberland became denser as she hurried along—with a foreboding increasing within her fragile soul. The air became thin and her breaths were soon drawn; now hysterically, she struggled immensely to evade her constricting premonition, when quite unexpectedly, she came upon Morley’s carriage.

There it stood before her—the candles were burning silently—all flames were without flicker—and an unhallowed glow radiated from behind the curtains. The young maiden unconsciously dropped her baskets and approached the carriage. She deliberately ascended the four, uneven steps and opened the wagon’s door. It all made sense now—the mysteriousness that had befallen the town was quite explicable; Hemlock’s Mesonoxian stranger had come to dine—dine unnoticed by all—dine upon the one thing that satisfied his hunger and quenched his thirst—uttermost madness. But nothing could have been done—nothing could have ever been done to cease what Morley cherished most. His foretaste was ending tonight, and the main course would thus come during the morrow’s nightfall. While the young maiden deliriously observed the hollowed-out body puppets, she realized that each of them was what truly remained of the majority of Hemlock’s insignificant populace.

Straightaway, she fled from Morley’s gruesome carriage, made haste through the darkened underbrush, and at length found her way home. Without offering an enlightenment (regarding her frantic actions) to her mother, the weary and dismayed maiden thoroughly locked and bolted their homestead’s door, shut all windows, and snuffed out every candle. The fireplaces were kept burning, but all else was preserved quiet and dead. They would remain indoors until the dawn of October Twelfth. While the night was elongated, Hemlock did not rest comfortably. The mayor had not retired at five o’ clock—he found himself beginning to nod—almost asleep—precisely until his clock tolled eight. He understood that he had worked rather late, and thus decided it was time to cease his toil. With a sigh, he rose to his feet and extinguished the sconces’ flames. Shutting the door, he stepped into the vacant streets.

While the mayor walked down the main thoroughfare of Hemlock, the shadows stalked about stealthily—peering out from within the darkness of the narrow alleyways as they did. The mayor began to quicken each step that he took, for there lingered about a threatening perception—irrepressibly, he quivered in the coldness that enwrapped his spirit—he hurried, but nevertheless, the scuttling shadows were more prompt. As the mayor neared his house, he turned with great precaution and eyed his surroundings—all was quite the same—soundless and unlively. With a prolonged exhale of half-relief and reassurance, the mayor seized the key from his waistcoat’s pocket and inserted it into his door’s lock. The mechanism made a wretched noise while he carefully turned the key—this was very odd, for the lock of the mayor’s door had never done this in the past—not even the evening prior. Perhaps the house was simply an aged structure—what else could the poor mayor have possibly told himself?

Disregarding all fearful theories, the mayor entered his dwelling. He moved upon the oaken floor of his foyer with steady movements. Igniting the wick of his candleholder, he gaped into the three doorways leading from the antechamber—as if he feared somebody was lying in wait for him in the adjoining chambers of the house. The parlor to the left was empty, as was the dining room to the right. The kitchen too was without the presence of another soul. Once gratified by understanding that no other living being was present, he ascended the stairway which led to his bedchamber. And upon entering, he was greeted by something of a rather uncanny nature—the opaque draperies of his window were swirling in such a way that one might have suspected someone was undoubtedly standing behind them. The mayor was entirely inert as he watched the hangings undulate before him. But mayhap, the window was merely left open—of course it was! Chuckling to himself, exhausted from the bizarre day, the mayor slowly approached the drawn curtains.

 And yet, before he was even able to pull them apart, he noticed something that caused his heart’s beating to end sharply once more—two broad, pale feet protruded from underneath the drapes. During this moment, it felt as if time itself had died—a quietness rang loudly through his ears. The mayor dared not advance further, for he intensely feared the entity behind the draperies would lunge outward. For a long-lasting while, he deliberated upon all of the horrifying possibilities—who was it that was standing behind the curtains and what was the encroacher’s purpose for intruding inside the mayor’s home? The mayor could not have plausibly known, and was therefore only rendered the option to act hurriedly. And finally, all at once, he unwaveringly made up his mind—he was going to leap away in terror. Rushing out of his bedchamber, he thereafter manifestly heard the footfalls of the being pursuing him down the Gothic staircase.

From out of his own home fled the mayor—he cried out distraughtly, yet it seemingly appeared no one could hear his wails. Perhaps if he shrieked more blaringly, the sleeping residents of Hemlock would hear his distressing voice and awaken from their restful slumber—yet unfortunately, the whole of the town remained unresponsive. The perturbed mayor refused to peer over his shoulder while the nightstalker hunted him through the dismal roads of Hemlock. Oh, how earnestly the mayor desired for at least someone to acknowledge that he was in mortal peril—why were his piteous implorations unheeded? Soon, the mayor’s ears could already garner the harrowing sounds of the entity’s bare feet hastening upon the cobblestone street—Morley was becoming nearer by the second. But quite suddenly, there beckoned a light at the end; the cobbler’s shoe shop—he had not yet retired for the evening. Feeling much relief, the mayor dashed headlong into the cobbler’s store. Nonetheless, it was during this moment that the real darkness penetrated the mind of the mayor. The cobbler’s body was suspended from ceiling—and the cadaver—hollowed excessively. Collapsing to the floor in disbelief, the mayor thereupon became delirious. Morley entered the shop with the morose smile, painted over his lips. There were many beseeching screams, before Hemlock deadened utterly.

VI.

Hemlock had ruinously developed Morley’s morbidity—like a plague, it spread rapidly within the course of simply a week—and a week alone. Although one may have mistaken Hemlock to be a small, vivacious town, it had been quite the contrary; those who many would have believed to be the peaceful inhabitants of the community were, in all actuality, cunning deceptions. No one would have ever seen through the pretentiousness—it was merely too real—and Morley was a master manipulator. But thus now, the vibrant illustration that the town displayed had concluded. During the Eleventh of October, Hemlock’s actuality was apparent—the shops were not open—the schoolhouse was empty—the sounds of horse hooves clucking and carriages wheeling were not present—the pumpkins rotted upon the stoops of the single-gabled houses—and the leaves began to shroud the streets. Next to Hemlock’s greeting sign hung the puppet-corpse of the mayor. Smeared in ink upon his protruding forehead was the word “disappointment”.

While the futile dummy hung from the gnarled maple in the morning wind, the welcoming sign fell from its decaying post. It was thus no more that strangers were welcomed; the spirit of Hemlock had forever diminished. Only those who resided within the rural edges remained. And of course, Morley’s longing was not yet fulfilled; the grand finale was to be held at dusk. He yearned that his closing act would eternally leave a stain upon the dreary town—precisely as it had with many others. The Dark Sickness was purely irredeemable—and Morley’s will was obstinate. When the occupants of the countryside came into town during October Eleventh, they were utterly baffled—and stricken with a spreading fear; Hemlock’s townsfolks had seemingly gone extinct—where were they? The rural dwellers wandered about the unoccupied streets—the only sound which pierced the stagnant air was that of a few isolated drafts, whisking a few browned leaves over the cobblestone.

They methodically scrutinized every corner of Hemlock and peered through every shop window, yet nobody could be found. These remaining inhabitants began to doubt their own sanity—notwithstanding, they all remained peaceful and began to reflect upon the inexplicableness; what was the reason? They each pondered rather profusely, scarcely conceiving a mindful understanding. And as these final residents recollected further, there were several quite disturbing remembrances; a stranger—an odd carriage—conversations overheard in the shops and on the streets—the procession of townspeople, trodding to the festival grounds—the restlessness throughout many evenings—the eccentric behavior of fellow residents—and now the disappearance of those who beat the heart of Hemlock. These memories stirred a forbidding enquiry; when would they themselves vanish? And if they were to, what realm would they be led to?

Whether their fate had already been predestined, or there lingered a chance to endure the advent of the tempest, the remaining few occupants hastened back to their homes—upon the precipitous hillsides is where they stood. Through the thin glass windowpanes, they would fearfully observe the sullen town below—their eyes would soon be fixed upon the subjects of insanity. And without doubt, all would see. And alas, nobody could have ever been forewarned of what had transpired the past six nights, as well as what was to transpire on the Eleventh of October. The uninviting jester had come to their meager town and made Hemlock destitute of all joy and orderliness. The ghosts of those seized by Morley roamed about forlornly, mourning as they passed through all objects of physical property; wooden doors, wrought-iron gates, forgotten carriages, and stone walls.

The grayed heavens only condensed the abundant spiritual gloom. But soon this weighty sorrow would be broken, and an innermost joy would be shared everlastingly. As dusk commenced, and its thousands of darkened shadows began to inch forth, Morley solemnly entered Hemlock, riding in his wagon of morbid humor. The violet vapors danced in a wraith-like manner, over and under the carriage. Morley stared upon the souls of those he had taken—the reunion with their bodies was to occur shortly. Morley studied his pocket watch, thereafter gazing upon the moon—emerging and reemerging from the smoky streaks. Among the downcast spirits glided the elderly woman—the shopkeeper—the theatre proprietor—his assistant—the gentleman and his wife—the cobbler—the mayor—and Mr. Butler—the first mortal to fall victim to Morley. The twilight waned more—and more—and more, until lastly, the ending performance of Morley’s season initiated.

One by one, each puppet that Morley had so delicately crafted came dangling out of the show carriage—and all at once, each ghost thereupon became magnetized by the hollowed cadavers—all of which had once vesselled the deceased individuals’ souls. Thus now, they were to unify with their new earthly bodies and join Morley in one last night of madness and amusement. The amethyst fogs swirled gracefully around the puppets as the souls mistily entered through the blackened eyes, mouth, and nostrils. The once-soulless corpses sluggishly began to breathe, while a deathly life was infused within them. Morley leered while all of his cherished children stood before him—the pipe organ was no longer needed, for the puppets now wrought their own strings. Extending his index finger towards the enveloping mountainsides, Morley began to merrily lead the marching puppets; they were to courteously invite those who had not yet been miraculously transfigured by Morley. The churches’ remorseless bells rang deeply, while the ill-willed carnival trudged overbearingly out of Hemlock.

Those gaping through their windows heard the bells toll from below—it was indeed remarkably perplexing, for not a single living being was found in the town that morning—and now to hear these low and forbidding tintinnabulations—it was horridly unnerving—surely someone had to have been present in the sharpened steeples? What could it have been? An omen? For this no one was certain. Among those horrified by the resounding bell tolls was the young maiden and her mother; it was happening—the main course would very shortly be served—to Morley. Hundreds of whirlwinds swept through the country landscape, emanating from Hemlock, while Morley and his parade of perpetual darkness marched forth in an exceedingly unblissful manner. It was no more that Morley’s children feared him—for they held much contentment, acknowledging that their leader was to never abandon them; always would they dwell within his shadow.

The gale only strengthened, unpityingly shuddering the trees strewed about. Countless leaves whirled through the hilled landscape, and into the rural regions—fiercely thumping against the wavy glass of the farmers’ windows. The shutters knocked rather violently against the weathered masonry of the old homes, and the lengthy limbs of the century-old oaks, maples, and hickories brushed roughly over the slate shingles. Many could already see the ethereal procession of Morley and his puppets waltzing forth—perhaps they could all flee—or mayhap the windstorm was too precarious—time was fading, for Morley’s ghastly parade had already dispersed. The bells’ dull ringing continued to penetrate the unrestful wind gusts; they proclaimed The Dark Sickness’ dominion. The doors of each dwelling were vehemently jolted—they were coming. Oh, whatever were the remaining occupiers to do? The forceful knocking was carried further, until Morley’s puppets became extraordinarily vexed.

The windows of each edifice were soon thereafter shattered, and the puppets’ emaciated hands reached intrudingly inwards. The residents shrieked in acute torment as they fled their abodes—but the puppets had gained much wisdom from Morley—they were not yet through with the remaining occupants of the desolate community. Making haste, the misfortunate inhabitants hurried swiftly through the brisk gusts of merciless wind. But from not far behind, the puppets thus followed. Morley grinned with such pleasure as he heard the faint screams and bellows of his deplorable victims—they were indeed such fascinating creatures. The lively puppets clutched onto the escaping townsfolks with their gaunt fingers, emitting many chokingly gasping noises. Many collapsed upon the stony earth—as a consequence of their unremitting anguish—only the young maiden and her mother held enough perseverance to outlast Morley’s grand finale.

Straightaway, Morley neared each excruciatingly paralyzed victim and knelt beside them—he peered into their inert eyes, thereupon dragging the motionless bodies away, and haphazardly hurling them into his carriage. Muffled thunder from yonder slightly disrupted the tranquility, and the powerful air subsided as Morley merrily eyed his surroundings—it was no more that Hemlock was a town—it had merely died within seven nights. But nobody would have ever known—for Hemlock remained unnoticed by all for many years. It was simply one stranger alone that deprived Hemlock of all. And even if—perchance—Hemlock was to reestablish its once prosperous township, nevermore would it be the same. While Morley strode to his carriage, he smiled as The Dark Sickness grimly whispered into his ear, “I am rather amused.”

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