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 The Many Morbid Tales of Spookinite Valley

Morley
Written by Benjamin Fouché

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 forgotten aspects of darkness.

Indeed, 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 them.  Rarely are these malign reveries liberated from the clutch of one’s slumber––they only reside within the lapses between centuries long passed––the ancient and obscured times outside of the perceived times, where figures of nightmare were borne unto the human mind everlastingly.  And passed down from our forefathers is the curious admonishment of The Dark Sickness.  The mere enquiry of where he comes from is unfathomable.  Nevertheless, one may effortlessly discover that the question of why he 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 and the conceptions it spawns are, in their essence, meaningless––but could this statement purely mean that lunacy does not truly exist?  Would it be rational to suppose that madness is only an unusual outlook developed by a particular individual or caused by diseases of the physical mind?  And yet, that very question could easily contradict the conception that insanity is nothing more than utter nonsense, as 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 or from what unfathomable horrors do they flee?  Why do such morbid and grotesque acts sometimes conjure abundant mirth and merriment in the minds of the insane?  Why do they sometimes 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?  Or would we only do this by force?  Little did many of the townsfolk in the desolate Vermont community of Hemlock know that they 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.  And therefore, this fear rose, 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 that 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-gable 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, the townsfolk knew not 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 5th, 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 whilst the fall winds rushed through the nightly heavens.  Dark clouds streaked across the wan moon and cast mist-like shadows through the pallor of the descending, silver rays.  One may have considered this night to be dismally beautiful.  Indeed, the night of October 5th 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.  And each eye was decorated with a black streak of paint that ran from the bottom of the forehead to the dimples.  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 5th, all slept restfully.  But during the unusually downcast evening of the 5th, all rested quite uneasily.

The swift gusts, emanating from the hollows and hillsides around, brushed the emerald, silken, curled hair of Morley as 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 forevermore.  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, purple gown.  His pasty, bare feet protruded from underneath the wavy cuffs of his outfit, and they felt the desiccated grass below.  Breathing deeply, Morley hurled out his arms in an embracing manner, knowing unerringly that his demesne of eternal madness was to claim Hemlock.  Morley paced along the lonely road, when suddenly, a farmhouse abruptly seized his attention.  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 and violent thuds 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, poisoning 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 all joy and orderliness.  The Dark Sickness would encourage and provoke Morley to carry forth his unhallowed deeds.

II.

The dawn of October 6th scarcely offered the convivial sunlight 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 townsfolk of Hemlock; all of whom were pervaded with a sensation of intrigue and uneasiness.  The 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 p.m. 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 the wagon’s venturous travels, the weather had discolored its once-beautiful purple-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 weekly 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 which she had never seen in all of her meager lifetime.  Why now?  So suddenly?  After nearly seven decades?  There would transpire 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 caused her steed to stride backwards, 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 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 that came upon the old woman caused her to shiver irrepressibly.

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

“Greetings, Mrs. Clara.  How may I possibly assist you on this exceptionally dreary afternoon?” Mr. Godwyn asked, also adding his opinion of the day.

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

“Will that be all?” asked Mr. Godwyn.

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Clara.

“This day has been rather odd,” whispered the shopkeeper.

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

“What was it?” questioned Mr. Godwyn.

“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?” he asked.

“Yes.  I can only assume that he was indicating the time of his show,” answered Mrs. Clara.

“Very odd indeed.  And how could one describe this fellow?” enquired Mr. Godwyn.

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

“Do you presume he is malicious?” Mr. Godwyn asked 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, Mr. Godwyn 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 half an hour early today,” spoke Mr. Godwyn.

“Then I shall leave at that time,” stated the old woman.

The shop was closed hurriedly at four-thirty p.m. after Mrs. Clara 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, Mr. Hibbard and Mr. Tarrant––had overheard the curious conversation in the shop and chose to follow Mr. Godwyn and old Mrs. Clara.  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, whilst 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, they 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 that the carriage evoked was pure disquiet, for once the four townsfolk dismounted their steeds, the chirping of crickets and other nightly sounds had altogether deadened.  The townsfolk nervously––and hesitantly––waited for the stranger to appear before them.  At five o’ clock, the stranger still had not yet made an appearance outside his wagon.  And shortly thereafter, Mr. Godwyn, Hibbard, and Tarrant began to doubt Mrs. Clara.

Nonetheless, before the three respectable residents of Hemlock chose to abandon her, 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 reason why he inflicted 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 doubt and anxiety 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 secretly 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 townsfolk’s 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 thrust 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 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 naturally believed 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.  But the candlelight faded, and all went silent.

III.

Distinguishable from the preceding day, the 7th of October was quite merry.  The morning sun beamed over Hemlock in a welcoming manner, and the air was gratifyingly loose and pine-scented.  The crows cawed scornfully upon the farmers’ ineffective scarecrows whilst the leaves crackled freely over the comforting streets of the humble town.  October 7th 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 7th was a day where one would happily visit the graves of their deceased ones and recollect the wondrous memories that could never be forgotten.  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 townsfolk 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 belonging to Mr. Godwyn.  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 the shop to still be closed by eight o’ clock.  Where had Mr. Godwyn 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 Mr. Godwyn––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.  Mr. Godwyn stared coldly upon the boy, thereupon opening his shop.

As noon shifted into afternoon, Mrs. Clara 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 Mrs. Clara, 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 Mrs. Clara had become a witch.  This brooding mistress glared upon the two, small girls.  There was indeed something odd about the elderly woman who had hitherto spoken to the girls with such gentleness and affection.  What had become of poor, old Mrs. Clara?

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, brass pipe organ which Morley would shortly play; for Morley would have to rigorously practice, if he was to bemuse and confound his credulous attendants.

As Mrs. Clara began to approach the shop, she watchfully stared in many directions, curious to see if another fellow patron was nearing the store too.  When she entered, the equally sullen shopkeeper shared a dark glance.  Both despondent souls waited, until a young gentleman, Mr. Winfield, quickly moved through the doors.

“Good afternoon, sir,” spoke Mrs. Clara to the shopkeeper, while she purchased a few scant goods.  She thus continued, with very distinct language so that Mr. Winfield 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, Mrs. Clara?” Mr. Godwyn queried quite loudly.

“My eyes beheld a fascinating sight; it was a show wagon,” she spoke 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 Mr. Godwyn.

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

It was by this exact time that the young Mr. Winfield 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 Mrs. Clara, making certain that Mr. Winfield 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 Mr. Godwyn.  He thus continued, “Oh, and where will this show take place?”

“On a plot of land at Mr. Butler’s farm,” responded Mrs. Clara.

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

“Yes.” She thereafter departed with her items.

Mr. Winfield walked 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 Mr. Godwyns face. “Yes, evidently,” he spoke. “I presume you shall be heading there tonight as well?”

“Yes, I shall indeed,” declared Mr. Winfield. “I shall bring my fiancé, Annabelle, as well––she has always appeared to have been charmed by puppets.”

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

Mr. Godwyn 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.  Mr. Winfield and Ms. Annabelle 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 which Mr. Winfield 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 property, 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 two young souls who were awaiting the much-anticipated performance.  Mr. Winfield and Ms. Annabelle thought it was incredibly unusual; how could the individual administrating the show know that only two attendants would arrive?  Where were Mr. Godwyn and Mrs. Clara?  Perhaps they would be joining them shortly.  In the meantime, Winfield and Annabelle comfortably 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.  Mr. Winfield 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 extended his arms in a welcoming manner.  Thereafter, the odd jester 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, translucent liquid; they were elixirs––a gesture of appreciation towards his two guests.  Insistently, Morley approached both Mr. Winfield and Ms. Annabelle, attempting to give them the elixirs. “No thank you,” quickly spoke the Winfield, 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 two visitors steed was thus frightened, and galloped away––he 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 fiancé shrieked while she hastened frantically away from the carriage.  Morley’s attention forsook the now unconscious Mr. Winfield and promptly fastened onto poor Ms. Annabelle.

Rushing through the hilly field of pumpkins and cornstalks, the young woman freed many piercing screams.  She stumbled upon hardened vines and scythed corn roots.  Morley was becoming nearer by the second of the obscured, merciless hour.  Perhaps if Ms. Annabelle 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 farther into the shadowed field.  Her screams were fruitless, for nobody could hear them.  Ms. Annabelle and her husband were thereafter reunited––both were bound forcefully to their chairs with a rope.  After Mr. Winfield 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 Mr. Winfield while he realized precisely whom the horrendous and insufferable fixtures were; Mrs. Clara and Mr. Godwyn––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, Winfield and Clara 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 wide shoulders and brought them forth to Mr. Winfield and his fiancé.  By two sets of strings, Morley held the corpse-puppet of Mrs. Clara before Annabelle and the corpse-puppet of Mr. Godwyn before Winfield.  The poor participants’ inaudible shrieks endured for an unsparing interval, until two other figures (which resembled life-like forms of Mrs. Clara and Mr. Godwyn) stepped out of the surrounding murk from both sides of Morley.  Indeed, they were the impostures seen earlier that day at the store.  The two disturbed victims’ eyes widened––were they truly experiencing this loathsome lunacy?  The figures thereupon transfigured into an amethyst-shaded mist and ethereally swirled through the window of the carriage, into the antique pipe organ.  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 8th came upon the calendars of the Hemlock townspeople quite unexpectedly.  This particular day of the month seemed 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 theater.  On special occasions, the majority of the inhabitants would meet at there to witness astounding plays, wondrous orchestrations, and intermittently, even puppet shows.  The owner, Mr. Hibbard, and his assistant, Mr. Tarrant, were to host “a grand illustration of dancing figures” the evening of October 8th.  At morning, the two went their ways to spread the word throughout Hemlock.  Mr. Hibbard strode to several shops to hand out invitation pamphlets.  Those who were invited became quite fond of the idea that a spectacle of puppets was to take place.  Mr. Tarrant halted several townsfolk 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 beneath the soft twilight, the occupants of Hemlock followed one another to the theater––all anticipating a moment in their lifetime which would bring them utter glee and excitement.

As they all entered the town theater feeling pleasantly anxious, 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 experienced by those of whom were watching was an irrepressible expectancy.  In the midst of the music, many were given their elixirs of unending life.  But without prior notice, Mr. Hibbard 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 steps, and the curtains were drawn apart.  A look of astonishment came upon all of the faces in the theater; 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 each townsperson?  Every feature and detail was so splendidly captured.  No matter 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 the face of each attendant.  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 theater, six motionless figures shared glances, and subsequently grinned rather surreptitiously—Mr. Butler—old Mrs. Clara—Mr. Godwyn, the shopkeeper—Mr. Winfield—Ms. Annabelle—Mr. Hibbard—and his assistant, Mr. Tarrant.

And thus the 9th of October came.  Despite how each day waned further while the month continued onward, many of the townsfolk perceived the day of October 9th 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 night, the lamps were lit hurriedly and the shops were closed.  However, it mattered little to those who were anxiously awaiting the puppet show.  At dusk, they hastened together through the 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 furthered 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 theater 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 dark, 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 and offensive.  Dull-violet, enshrouding mists soon rose and appeared to billow slowly—churning hither and thither about the shadowy landscape.

When the townsfolk 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 Mr. Hibbard and Mr. Tarrant—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 townsfolk 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—and shadowed bodies began to descend from the veiling darkness above, dangling 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 eye sockets 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 by then 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 hallucinations.  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—and 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 thrust each attendant into the scorching pots.  And each victim felt an acute paralysis sidle through their body whilst their heads were helplessly submerged into the crimson, glowing liquids.  Slowly, this inexorable weakness claimed their bodies as their consciousness endured the horror of their actuality.  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 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 quietude 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 take note of this deep-rooted feeling.  All who were whelmed by this sensation shrugged it off as purely nothing—and nothing more.  Nevertheless, those who did share agitation regarding the mysterious puppeteer remarked to themselves how powerful and intense their perceptions of unease 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 5th—an evening of immense restlessness—the night of which Morley arrived.

One such individual touched by this brooding shadow was the mayor of Hemlock himself, Mr. Copperfield.  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 9th.  Another dweller who did not dare participate in the events held during the nightfall of October 9th was a young maiden by the name of Emily.  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, Mr. Howard.  For an unexplainable reason, he felt compelled to linger at his store and toil additional hours on the night of October 9th—feeling unsettled by the event held at the festival grounds.  And so, on October 10th, these three, very wise individuals went about their days—and they all noticed how unusual their fellow townsfolk acted.

The young Ms. Emily 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 of whom she thought were studying her, she realized 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 Copperfield 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.  Why now was he so gleeful?  The mayor merely could not make sense of the copy clerk’s abnormal mannerism.  Thus, Mayor Copperfield continued on with his day unpleasantly.  Mr. Howard 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—something had changed.

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 townsfolk of Hemlock.  It was nightfall when the three occupants ascertained the very truth of the grim matter.  Ms. Emily was trudging home along a path which led to her rural dwelling.  A horse and dray were not necessary since her home was only a mile walk from Hemlock.  Regrettably, however, she would indeed wish that she had gone into town by horse and wagon that day.  The delicate twilight perished promptly during the evening of October 10th—and it was not long before she found herself wandering about, beneath the drape-shaded heavens of night.

Carrying her four baskets of goods, young Ms. Emily advanced farther into the duskiness, unaccompanied.  The path of which she took winded over a strand of sylvan hillocks, and shortly thereafter led to her rural 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 happened to poor Ms. Emily.  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 Ms. Emily 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 12th.  While the night was prolonged, Hemlock did not rest comfortably.  Mayor Copperfield had not retired from work at five o’ clock, as he would usually.  Instead, he found himself beginning to nod—almost asleep—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.  Mayor Copperfield 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 he neared his house, he turned with great precaution and eyed his surroundings—all was quite the same—soundless and unlively.  With a lengthy 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 poor Mayor Copperfield 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, Mayor Copperfield 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, bare, 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?  Mr. Copperfield could not have plausibly known, and was therefore only rendered the option to act hurriedly.  And finally, all at once, he 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 appeared no one could hear his wails.  Perhaps if he shrieked more, 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 Copperfield’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; Mr. Howard’s shoe shop—he had not yet retired for the evening.  Feeling much relief, the mayor dashed headlong into the old cobbler’s store.  Nonetheless, it was during this moment that the real darkness penetrated the mind of the mayor.  Mr. Howard’s body was suspended from ceiling—and the cadaver—hollowed excessively.  Collapsing to the floor in disbelief, Mayor Copperfield 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 not even a week.  Although one may have mistaken Hemlock to be a small, vivacious town, it had been quite the contrary; those of whom 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 October 11th, 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-gable 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 welcome 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.  And indeed, The Dark Sickness was purely irredeemable—and Morley’s will was obstinate.  When the occupants of the countryside came into town during October 11th, they were utterly baffled—and stricken with a spreading fear; Hemlock’s townsfolk 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 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 possible reasons.   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 once beat the heart of Hemlock.  These memories stirred a forbidding enquiry; when would they themselves vanish?  And if they were to, to what realm would they be led?

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 nightfall, as well as what was to transpire on the night of October 11th.  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 furthered 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, and he thereafter gazed upon the moon, which emerged and reemerged from the smoky streaks.  Among the downcast spirits glided the ghosts of old Mrs. Clara—Mr. Godwyn—Mr. Hibbard—Mr. Tarrant—Mr. Winfield—Ms. Annabelle—Mr. Howard—Mayor Copperfield—and Mr. Butler, who was 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 around the puppets as the souls 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 watching 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 this low and forbidding ringing—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 young Ms. Emily 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 perhaps 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 thrown open—they were coming.  Oh, whatever were the remaining occupants to do?  The forceful knocking was carried further, until Morley’s puppets became 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 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 townsfolk with their gaunt fingers, emitting many choking and gasping noises.  Many of the people collapsed upon the stony earth—as a consequence of their unremitting anguish—not even Emily and her mother held enough perseverance to outlast Morley’s grand finale.

Straightaway, Morley neared each excruciatingly paralyzed victim and knelt beside him or her—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 six 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 marched to his carriage, he smiled as The Dark Sickness grimly whispered into his ear, “I am rather amused.”

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