The Many Morbid Tales of Spookinite Valley
The Winston Manor Mortuary
Written by Benjamin Fouché
The quiet and dismal hour of that October evening had arrived unexpectedly—just a mere knocking on my parlor’s door. And then, to my surprise, there lay a coffin upon my mortuary’s stoop. Grimly leaning against the coffin was its lid: a melancholy reminder of one’s demise. And a note, tucked underneath the narrow, gaunt fingers of the corpse. Oddly enough, it gave me the directions to where its burial was to take place. The paper expressly stated that the lid should be nailed atop the coffin at the grave. My delivery was to be prompt, and if I arrived on time, my pay would be rather handsome. Of course, despite how unusual this may have seemed, I undertook the task. Before becoming aware of the terrible actuality, I was already chauffeuring my patron in the hearse. I remember questioning myself: at such a late hour of the evening, where could this undertaking possibly lead me? The gray, oppressive gloom had lingered in the heavens that day, but shortly after nightfall, it had transfigured into an ebony shroud.
From what I can recall, there was a draft of cold air that brushed the outer draperies of my hearse. But what uneased my spirit most was the corpse lying in the back. There was no lid, and thus a baleful sensation trickled down my spine. Perhaps I feared it would rise from its reposing position—watching me—with such an unnatural grin. The visions were all too lurid in my mind, and so, I peered over my shoulders. As anticipated, the body was soundless and unmoving. There was no moonlight to help us gain our bearings. Only the flame of my sconce could guide us through the darkness. And above us hung tree limbs. They appeared as draping shadows—spiny claws and talons—but all they seemed to be was purely by my very own imagination. Nothing less, and nothing more.
While steering my hearse farther, I passed through the sullen cemetery gates. My surroundings had altered: the breeze quieted and the only noise was the trotting of my horses’ hooves upon the path. At the very top of the hill was where I was to lay the body to rest. The black haze obscured most of my sight; I was thus unable to tell if someone was above, awaiting my arrival upon the shaded hillock. The darkened landscape that encircled me seemed to shift after every movement—black shapes and figures stirring wherever my light shone. The trees scattered about hung their gnarled arms over many graves. Their roots had slithered through the soil over a hundred years, and slowly claimed the tombstones—causing them to become crooked and crumbled.
Farther on, we ascended the hillside. The path was steep and it weaved through a dense woodland. Many of the strangled headstones were buried among dead leaves—and some were even swallowed by the remorseless earth. Surprisingly, there were no critters—nothing crawling through the withered leaves—no perched owl hooting—not even the chirping of a lone cricket. It was all too disquieting. While nearing the end of the path, I did not see a single lantern in sight. And where was the one who wrote the note attached to the corpse? I stepped down from my hearse and calmed my horses. Over the insufferable quietness, I called out many times. Alas, there was no reply. Henceforth, it was evident that I was the only soul standing amidst the isolation of the graveyard.
Turning back towards the hearse, I realized that something was indeed out of place: the coffin was empty. In an instant, my eyes widened. I quivered and felt my heart tighten. I was not alone—for I knew that I would soon be confronted by this living cadaver. Aghast and dismayed, I turned in many directions. My struggle to evade the unnatural occurrence endured. And all at once, I came face to face with the thing I had previously presumed to be a dead body. Upon the corpse’s face was a downhearted frown. He stared into my eyes for a few moments, and then spoke.
“What are the deceased?”
I could not answer, and for a while, we both remained silent. A weak whirlwind disturbed the leaves around us as he leered in the light of the hearse’s sconce.
“All we are, my friend, is merely a reminder of the past. Now, what does your insight say about this place, and your work?”
As foolish as I was, I could not grasp his question.
“You must open your eyes, good sir. Among the earth are many mysteries and secrets—buried, concealed and long forgotten. They are far beyond the realm of the living’s simplistic comprehension. Now then, do you understand?”
I shook my head, still unable to see the things that he could see.
A few stretching clouds parted and a gleam of majestic moonlight descended upon us. While I was watching him, I saw that there was an uncanny characteristic about his face: it was aging drastically.
“All that we seem to be when we live is no different from when we are dead.”
There before me now stood a rapidly decaying corpse; the skull began to protrude from the crisp, shedding skin. His fingers were now long and skeletal—no longer encased in flesh.
“Do not let the earth fool you. The deceased can lie, but they hold a sincere truth. And now, you will remember this night eternally.”
Disrupting thoughts haunted my mind all night long—and to no end. My recollection of what occurred at the cemetery was rather vague and only a few memories became apparent. I remembered that there was a bewildering corpse, as well as the directions to its burial place. But all of the rest of my thoughts blurred as I strained my memory. However, as the day wore on, something caused me to remember everything. There was a knocking on my parlor’s door, and thence, my memory improved. Just a mere knocking on my parlor’s door. “Yes, yes. That was it—and then what?” I enquired to myself while I trudged over to the door. Upon opening it, I greeted my new patrons and invited them inside. Directing them towards my office, I shut the door—and suddenly, there was yet another remembrance: And then, to my surprise, there lay a coffin upon my mortuary’s stoop.
I sat down at my desk, and we discussed the funeral arrangements. As we were conversing, another memory was recollected. My delivery was to be prompt, and if I arrived on time, my pay would be rather handsome. “That was the reason I delivered the corpse,” I told myself aloud. My patrons paused a moment, perplexed. “Forgive me. Sometimes I speak my very own thoughts,” I said. That afternoon, I retrieved their deceased one—the funeral was to be held the following morning, and this, of course, meant that I would be preparing the body during the evening. As I laid the stiff down in my mortuary’s room of preparation, I remembered again: the corpse that I delivered was alive. Most of what he said to me was hazy, but I expressly remembered him asking a question: “All we are, my friend, is merely a reminder of the past. Now, what does your insight say about this place, and your work?”
I studied the new corpse, on which I worked, pondering upon what I was told by the living cadaver. I wondered if it was all a dream—no, a nightmare. But the longer I remained in thought, the whole of that wicked and phantasmagoric night came back to torment my mind. The experience was all too vivid—for I felt the cold air—I saw the wriggling fingers of the shadows—and I peered into the eyes of the stiff’s decomposing face. It all had indeed happened—no doubt whatsoever. My only wish was to forget it, but how could I? Carrying on with my work, I rested the body inside the coffin. The night was endless and I could not sleep easily. The following daybreak, I rose from bed early and arranged the parlor for the requiem. After this, the mourners and I proceeded to the cemetery. As the coffin was lowered into the grave, I knew that forever would he rest beneath the earth. Or at least I thought so.
I heard the coffin’s bell ringing as the dirt was shoveled back into the grave—the chilling chime of the coffin’s bell. I saw it swaying back and forth—but for some odd reason, it seemed that nobody else could hear the sound—nor see the bell moving. “He is alive! Quick, pull the coffin back up to the surface!” I exclaimed. They all stared at me as if I were trying to make humor of the solemn ceremony. I snatched the shovel and unearthed what was already atop the coffin. After unnailing the lid, I realized that the body only gave the impression of being soulless. His pallid hands were folded—just as I had done with them while he was being postured. The body was stiffened and the skin was cadaverously pale. Not only had he not rung the bell, but he was as dead as a coffin nail. I knew that everyone would allege me to be a fool. All of the mourners gawked upon what I had done, and I had no reasonable explanation. But what was worse, I could not explain my own thoughtless actions to myself.
Embarrassed, I stepped out of the grave, brushing the dirt off my coat. Clearing my throat and adjusting my cravat, I permitted the grave diggers to carry on. For a short while there was an obstinate silence, but eventually the procession of grief resumed. Afterwards, everyone left in a rather unpleasant manner. Indeed, nobody requested the groundskeeper to keep watch over the grave—but I believe it was dreadfully unmistakable that the body was without a doubt, dead. Yet during the evening, the sound of the bell was as clear as day—the frightening ring resounded in my restless mind—was he still alive? And could he still be alive? Suddenly, I recalled the corpse’s question from that ethereal reality that I had suffered those few nights ago: “All we are, my friend, is merely a reminder of the past. Now, what does your insight say about this place, and your work?”
All at once, I heard the distinct ringing of the coffin’s bell. Troubled and distraught, I sprung out of bed. Scurrying down the stairway, I seized a lamp from the wall. And after pulling the closet door open, I clutched a shovel leaning in the corner. I ran headlong to the stable, climbed atop one of my horses, and he galloped onward, into the ink-like heart of midnight. I knew that the body’s soul did not depart—and I was the only one who held the critical responsibility of saving him from the reaper’s harvest. Upon arrival, I heard the ringing become slower. His ghost was surely saying goodbye to the mortal realm. I leapt from my steed and rushed to the fresh burial place. Excavating the soil, I prayed, for the ringing was little by little decreasing. When I uncovered the coffin, I began detaching the lid and thereafter threw it off. To my disbelief, the body was in the same position as it had been since I prepared it.
Without prior notice, someone called out—and it was not the corpse—it came from the cemetery groundskeeper. Holding his lantern over the grave in which I was crouching, he recognized that I was the mortician.
“Taking from the dead, are we? Now, now, how disappointed I am in you. I would assume a mortician would respect the deceased the most. But how reprehensible this is!”
I was speechless. What was I supposed to say? Who would believe me? Especially after the odd incident during the funeral. Everyone would consider me to be undeniably mad and morbid.
“Do not move an inch, you ill fiend!” he yelled.
My heart began beating against my ribcage. I shuddered, and wished this to only be a dream. But alas, it was the reality in which I dwelled.
“Foul ghoul!” he jeered. “Have you no remorse for your heartless actions?”
I began to feel something down inside me—it was dark and intense; I found pleasure in it.
“Perhaps I am a ghoul—or a fiend,” I whispered to the groundskeeper.
For a while, the crickets chirped, and neither of us spoke—but I then lunged at the groundskeeper. My heart pounded as I threw him to the ground. There was a violent struggle, but ultimately, I strangled him—his pulse slowing. Afterwards, I hurled him into the coffin with the corpse. Tossing the lid on, I became dead in my very own movements. “What am I doing?” I gasped. Whatever I did was finished—my deed was only to protect myself from being persecuted by my entire town. I shoveled the dirt back into the grave and rushed home on horseback. I vowed never to look back upon the happening of that unendurable night forevermore—and I also knew it would become a secret that I would have to forever obscure in my own filth. “We all keep a skeleton or two in our closet,” I told myself reassuringly.
Before crawling back into bed, I blew out the candle on my table. There was an unsettling sensation and I could not drift into slumber. Unendingly I tossed and turned—my anxiety bore forever. As this continued, there was scratching in the walls—almost as if someone were trapped—like sharp fingers or claws scraping against the grain of wood. At first, the ghastly noise was at its own leisure, but then, it increased. Eventually, it seemed as if there were many hands trapped within the walls; all scraping to make known their presence! But there in the dimness of my bedchamber, the door creaked ajar—and then, it opened wider. Standing in the doorway was the cemetery groundskeeper—I was baffled! Horrified! Sickened! He skulked nearer to my bedside and peered down towards me. His face was white.
“Why?” he asked in a whispery voice.
I shrieked, until the false reality diminished, and I then recognized that the occurrence was only a dreadful dream.III.
The chime of the coffin’s bell was something very, very real—and perhaps that is why I went to bed, preoccupied with the thought of a premature burial. What happened in the dream terrified me—however, it was not the ringing, nor the groundskeeper returning from the grave. What disturbed me most was what I felt: something unknown manifesting itself within my spirit. It was as though I possessed a grisly capability—and what I told the groundskeeper was unlike anything that I had ever said to anybody: “Perhaps I am a ghoul, or a fiend.” The dream was unfolding time after time in my head. It lingered like a specter. Even so, I had to begin my day. There were two new bodies to retrieve and prepare, and thus my schedule became unforgiving. Late that evening, I decided to rest for only a mere moment (at least this is what I said to myself). While reclining in the chaise longue in front of my fireplace, I shut my eyes. The warmness was too tempting, and I fell asleep.
As I was almost napping, footfalls resounded from the downstairs. I listened, and soon discerned that there was not one presence, but two. I rose from my chair and crept over the floor. I continued listening while I approached the staircase—the stirring was stopping: conceivably, they realized that they were causing too much of a commotion. When I was halfway down the stairway, the footsteps discontinued altogether. I felt the unease of not knowing who had encroached inside. Although the mortuary was my place of practice, it was also my home, and accordingly, I had to protect it from trespassers. But little did I know that when I entered the parlor, I would once again make contact with what I called The Dark Sickness, who had already commenced his war over my mind through the previous nightmares.
Lying on the sofa in an unnatural position was one of the bodies that I had prepared earlier. But even more disconcerting, suspended from the ceiling was the second corpse—it hung upside-down by its ankles from a rope that had been tied to the chandelier. They both had ghost-like faces. All of it was beyond my comprehension. My only wish then was to scream, but all efforts proved futile. I was afraid. What was I to do? The corpse on the sofa was in an excruciating position—I could not bend the arms back the way they once were—nor the legs. The entirety of the stiff was mangled. What would the family think of the body’s disfiguration? I would indisputably be to blame. Nonetheless, there was a way to escape this peculiar predicament—I had to rid myself of the cadaver!
My plan was ingenious: I would bury the body in a distant ravine in the foothills. And thenceforth, I would state to the family that the body was stolen. My idea was going to be infallible. Thus, carefully, I removed the corpse from the sofa and enfolded it in an old, tattered cloth. I carried the body over my shoulders and placed it on the back of my steed. After tying the bundled corpse to the saddle, I took my shovel and mounted myself atop the horse. He hastened through the bitterness of that miserable evening. I kept my lantern dim while we galloped onwards—for I had to remain unseen. Alas, I was not unseen to all eyes: The Dark Sickness was always watching me and I could perceive that he would attempt to fool me—whether this was another dream or indeed my reality. As we ventured farther into the wilderness, the unpleasant atmosphere grew heavier. The farther we traveled, the narrower our path became.
As we were descending a trail carved into the hillside, there were whispers calling from here and there. Upon reaching the bottom, I halted my horse and eyed my surroundings. There was no sign of any living existence. I dismounted my steed—and again, I heard the resonating whispers. A few moments after they stopped, I searched for suitable ground to bury the stiff. When I found the perfect soil, I returned to my horse and untied the enshrouded corpse. While lugging the body through the leaves and twigs of the forest’s floor, I heard a few more whispers disperse into the air. Thus, I hurried on, endeavoring to ignore the harrowing sounds. Upon reaching the patch of smooth earth, I went to work with my shovel. Eventually, when the hole was deep enough, I laid the body to rest.
“I—I am dearly sorry—I am certain that you understand what I have to do. Why this is happening to me is beyond my own understanding,” I whispered. When the task was complete, I knelt down and stared upon the fresh grave. “Forgive me,” I said, mourning and raking the leaves over it with my bare hands. I then mounted my horse and took off into the dismal hollows. Upon arriving at the mortuary, I rushed inside so that I could safely remove the other corpse hanging by its gaunt ankle. The rope it dangled from twisted one way, then the other. The hands of the suspended corpse were cold and had hardened. I was certain that gloom wavered its fingers over my dominion. And now, it would be forever stained in the unhallowed shadow of horror.
I seized the ladder from my cellar and brought it back up into the parlor. Every minute of taking the body down from the chandelier was as grim as it was loathsome. While I was lowering the body, something shredded—it was the rope—and before I knew it, the rope snapped in half. Down fell the corpse head-first. Upon the body’s impact, there was a cracking sound. I was aghast at the sight: the neck was broken and the bones protruded from the crushed arms. Now, the lie I would have to tell would become greater: two bodies were stolen. The unforgivable dread stretched onwards while I took the same cloth in which I had enwrapped the previous cadaver. Grieving every moment, I left on horseback with the second body. After returning to the same spot and exhuming the second hole, I placed the corpse inside it. I said goodbye, shoveled the earth back in, and spread leaves over the grave. While riding back, my sense of direction crept away. I became lost; a condensed mist rose from the surface and ingested most of my sight. I raised the wick of my lantern, yet the merciless fog withstood its radiance.
We moved, listening over the stillness—until it was unsettled. Wind gusts whistled through the barren branches overhead—and for a few moments, I could have sworn that the bodies were calling out to me. The wails and moans of the blustery weather cried out a lengthy “Why?”
“Leave me alone!” I cried. “I had no other choice—what I have done is finished!”
Emerging from out of nowhere came one of the corpses—and I remember that it was the one who had fallen from the rope. The head leaned against its shoulder.
“If you would be so kind, as to give me your neck bone,” said he.
The undead being was nearing me—I shrieked, yet the gale stifled my voice. The tall trees shuddered as the other corpse appeared before me, stepping out from the shadows.
“I shall have to mangle your arms and legs,” it declared.
I fell to my knees, imploring for the madness to cease.
“What do you want from me?” I beseeched the phantom responsible for my nightmares.
Before I knew it, The Dark Sickness sprung out from between both corpses and impaled my soul with his sharp finger. He glared into my eyes with such a malevolent grin. His low mirth reverberated throughout the forest. The dark wraith said to me, “I do not desire anything of you; it is the part inside you that wants something magnificent, but as of this moment, only I can discern what it is. You shall come to recognize it, in time.”
The proceeding morning, I awoke in bed as if nothing had happened. But whatever transpired was not a dream. I could recall every detail. Yet the families that had approached me did not exist—nor the corpses I brought back and buried in the forest. I made enquiries of their names, yet no records were available. Thus, what I dreaded was the idea of my very own soul becoming sullied with a morbidity of the heart. Indeed, there had come a strange sensation when The Dark Sickness pierced my spirit. The feeling slightly amused me. I knew my struggle and journey had already commenced. The only hope was to remain brave and retain the already-eroding courage. However, I was certain the challenges would worsen by the wanes and waxes of the moon. There would be very little rest during the night—for that was when The Dark Sickness would taunt me. It was apparent that his fury would haunt me unto my final hour. Yet for seven days and nights, nothing as I would have expected transpired. Only silence and vacancy reigned in my mortuary. This caused such a rage to ignite in my soul. Surely someone would be claimed by the Reaper soon?
Then, one morning, a family in woe approached me. The arrangements were thus made for their deceased one’s funeral. Gladly, I retrieved the body and freshened it up. While carrying on, I gazed into the stiff’s emotionless eyes. Studying the corpse, I conjectured it would move or speak—but none of this it did. After retiring for the evening, and the painful hours went by, I felt that the night only lengthened. It was all too quiet. Sitting erect in bed, I doubted and feared. Perhaps it was the understanding that nothing unusual was befalling me. Was this the cause of my uneasiness? I could not be certain, and while I wondered more and more, slowly, I fell asleep. The following morning, the requiem was held in the parlor, and afterwards, the gathering of mourners and I moved to the cemetery. As they lowered the coffin into the grave, I could not help but grin—the mourning was pointless. What good would result from shedding tears for a corpse that would soon decay beneath the earth? Besides, its immortal ghost had been freed.
Later that night, the stillness was too agonizing to withstand. “Why must you torment me through silence?” I asked. “I am unsure if I shall be able to endure anymore of this wretchedness. Where must I look to find you?” Of course, and as expected, nothing happened. Though suddenly, there came a rather imaginative idea: was it possible that I could write a letter to The Dark Sickness? Surely, he would soar over my mortuary and retrieve it—surely, he would open and read it—surely, he would reply and I could resolve my intolerable issues? Crawling out of bed, I lit the candle on my table and crept to my office. Dipping my quill in ink, I composed the letter on a single sheet of paper.
Every word—every sentence—and every paragraph was so wisely written and thought out—for I wanted to reason with The Dark Sickness. If he were to listen to me, I would have to be particular about what it was that I desired from him. It came and flowed smoothly—I was even impressed with myself. Writing my signature at the very bottom of the sheet, I then folded the letter. And after sliding it into an envelope, I sealed it with a crimson wax—and lastly, placed it upon the windowsill. As I pulled open the window, a light breeze moved the draperies. I knew that The Dark Sickness would come. Why would he not? Feeling satisfied, I went off to bed and my restlessness vanished. Early the next morning, I hurried over to the window. To my surprise, the letter was gone. To be certain, I examined the garden below; the letter was nowhere to be found. In all likelihood, I would receive a reply that night.
Indeed, at nine o’ clock p.m., before snuffing out the candle, I realized that there was something on my table; he had delivered his letter earlier than I had assumed. I snatched my knife. Carefully—very, very carefully—I unsealed the envelope. The paper was old, thin, and crisp—for all I knew, it was over a hundred years of age. As I unfolded the yellowed sheet, my heart raced. The handwriting was neat and exquisite. Every word so beautifully penned! The letter read:
Yes—I am indeed aware that a part of you is altering quite rapidly, and it wondrously flourishes inside the essence of your heart. You must not fear the person you shall become—you must embrace him, and moreover, you must embrace the gift that I bestow upon you. Your morbidity craves the gruesome acts of which you are very much so capable. I think we both know that you long for this as well. The more you struggle, the larger your predicament will become. It is a much wiser choice to remain calm and watch yourself as you transfigure gloriously.
Sincerely and evermore,
† The Master †
Whatever was going to whelm my soul could not be prevented—and for some strange purpose, I suddenly liked it. I liked it, very, very much.
The following morning, I decided that I would have to reply. While I compiled each word into the first paragraph, I was disrupted by an unforeseen rapping at my door. And thus, a frown fell upon my face. I trudged over to open it—and once again, someone had died. After speaking with the family, I rode out to collect the body. But it was only instinctive to finish the letter before I began my work on the body. Why, you ask? Because, my true purpose exceeded all other matters. Thus, I did not have time to place the body in the room of preparation right away, so I decided to give my new patron a seat while I concluded the letter. Before I resumed, I looked him in the eyes, and smiled. “I hope you find yourself comfortable.”
I continued to pen, dip my quill, and pen some more. The letter was brilliantly composed, and I could not have surpassed it to a higher degree in the art of language—each word illustrated my thoughts so perfectly. Satisfied, I slid the letter into an envelope, and before sealing it, I glanced over at my patron who sat motionless.
“Now, tell me, do you think I have done well with this letter?” I asked. Yet alas, he refused to compliment my work. “Discourteous,” I mumbled, annoyed by his insolence.
I proceeded upstairs, rested the letter atop a windowsill, and returned downstairs to dress and prepare the body. Thereafter, I turned in for the night. And oddly, I fell into a sleep comparable to a corpse’s rest. Then at dawn, I rose earlier than usual, only to discover that the letter was gone. Delighted by this, I dressed myself for the funeral. After the funeral mass, the procession of mourners strode to the cemetery. During the course of the burial, a sentiment of anxiety overcame me. When the service had ended, I crept away unnoticed by the doleful gathering. I chose a path that led me to the older section of the graveyard. While continuing on, I stumbled upon something that was actually quite fascinating.
Among many of the weatherworn headstones were swallowed graves—the soil had long collapsed into the deteriorated coffins below, scarring the grounds with coffin-shaped hollows. It was evident that these burial places had been in their sinking conditions for many years (perhaps even decades). Browned leaves and evergreen needles had fallen down into the deathly cavities. I peered into one of them, and as the wind stirred, noticed something protruding from the earth. Stepping down into the sunken resting place, I began brushing the leaves and dirt aside. Soon, I realized the object was the gaunt finger of a skeleton. I continued to move my hand over the surface and felt something else extending from the earth: it was the skull. I then crawled to the narrow end of the sinkhole to find two cadaverous feet partially rising upwards. What I had uncovered was enthralling.
I was determined to return to the cemetery very late that night. Thus, I prowled from the scene and made haste to my mortuary so that I could contemplate taking possession of the corpse. Although I was not sure what it was that I wanted with it, I knew this was what The Dark Sickness sought of me—and I did not dare question his sophisticated ways. Around midnight, I revisited the cemetery. A threadbare sack hung over my shoulder, and closely, I held my lantern. While advancing farther into the churchyard’s melancholy depths, I felt the cold air brush against my ears and over my top hat. Clouds spread over the heavens and translucently swathed the moon while the trees all around appeared to be hands reaching out.
The leaves crunched beneath my feet as I walked farther and farther into the heart of the boneyard. After a few moments of seeking out the grave I had stumbled across that morning, I finally rediscovered it: there in the dim glow of my lantern was the very same lonesome finger pointing upwards—the very same boney feet sticking out—and the very same skull, which seemed to welcome me with its eyes. “Hello again,” said I. This curiosity was wondrous. I clutched the skeleton’s two feet, and with much care, heaved them out. Joined to the feet, were of course, its legs—but without warning, they broke apart from the knee joints; there was a crack that followed their separation. “Why must you vex me now?” I asked. “This will not do—no, not one bit!”
Although the situation enraged me, I found slight humor in it—or perhaps too much humor. I could not help but laugh as I held the two halves of the detached legs in my hands; especially after seeing the way the pallid and boney feet began breaking from the ankles as I shook the legs from the ends of the shin-bones. Dropping them down into my sack, I then gazed upon the next set of relics. The skull’s forehead was broad and the lower jaw stretched wide—the soil pouring into its mouth. The nose shared a resemblance with that of a hollowed hickory nut—and the eyes were empty; even so, they seemed gleeful of my presence. What most could not discern in a mere skeleton was something that my clever eyes could see. When I finally held the skull within the palms of my hands, I heard many vague—yet familiar—whispers resound from behind the copses. I was not afraid. And by the time I excavated the rest of the desiccated remains, the phantom came to me.
I felt the stony hand of The Dark Sickness rest upon my shoulder. Bearing no fear, I turned around and faced him unlike anytime that I had faced him before. However, this was not a confrontational approach. It was nothing more than a humble greeting.
“Where do you come from?” I asked.
There was a brooding grin carved upon his pumpkin-head resting within the hood. A dim gleam lit up his two scowling eyes. Dusky smoke drifted from his skeletal nostrils as he breathed.
“I come from every corner of the world. I have survived through evoking the morbid curiosity of mankind. I am but a mere fascination for everything grim.”
“Who are you, then?” I asked in awe.
He stared deeply into my eyes. Smoky breath wafted from his sharpened mouth as he inhaled and exhaled—the glow within his eyes became much brighter. After a few moments of silence, he spoke once more, and as he spoke, it was as if a fire of superiority ignited inside his soul.
“Who am I, you ask? Why, I am simply known to those whom I watch over as The Master.”
And while he declared this, there was a gust that disturbed the stillness of his hooded, dark-violet shroud. The shredded bottom and sleeves of his cloak blew about in the wind.
“Will you not tell me more, specter of the night?” I asked with such admiration.
“I am indeed who and what I have revealed to you. My time here grows rather short—daylight shall break soon. This is not my final farewell—for I shall see you again.”
I bowed my head as he glided away into the shades of the woodlands. The withered leaves below his ghostly cloak whirled as he soared farther into the gloom. When he vanished, the foreboding sounds of his presence ceased. I stood in the cemetery’s solitude for a while, reflecting upon The Dark Sickness’s revelation. It meant something to me—something astounding—something that no mortal had ever dared think. I had gained much wisdom in only one entire evening—and though I did not clearly understand his mysterious ways of expressing words, I could grasp their essence. Furthermore, I could acknowledge my own purpose—and I was to live the destiny I was given. Before the hour of daybreak, I returned to my mortuary to conceal the dismembered skeleton. And the attic was the cleverest place to hide it.
If for some odd reason the townspeople were to accuse me of stealing the stiff from the grave, they would never suspect that I was veiling the bones in a sack hanging from a beam in my attic. They all would walk under the remains, having absolutely no knowledge of where I was keeping them! Such fools would they be! While I strode forth into the shadows of the attic, I felt quite at home. My candlestick scarcely illuminated the darkness. Old and antique furniture from my childhood home rested in despair with sheets cloaking them. It was somewhat sorrowful seeing them in their forsaken state. The floor did not make even one creak as I prowled farther into the manor’s loft. It was rather sturdy. And instead, the consequence of every step was a footfall. The shadows cast upon the walls by my light also appeared to follow me. Yet suddenly, I found what I was seeking. There in the midst of the attic, I found the ladder. Grinning, I stepped aside and laid the bag upon the floor.
But before I hid the remains, I decided to have one last look at them: thus, I emptied the bag of its dead contents: the spinney-ribcage, thorny-fingers, the rounded-skull, boned-toes—all of the skeleton—it was poured on to the floor. Such brilliant relics they were! I looked upon the pile of bones for a few moments before throwing them back in the bag. After this, I leaned the ladder against an overhanging timber; then, seizing a rope, I pushed it through holes I cut in the sack, wrapped both ends around the beam, and tied a knot. It was finished.
While returning to my office, I walked past a mirror in the attic and saw an image that I had not seen before. I returned and paused in front of the tarnished mirror, staring upon what was my very own reflection; and I no longer saw the face I once knew—I saw something else. The eyes encircled by a sinking darkness—the nose in extreme decay—the cheeks, emaciated to the bone—the skin, of an ashen hue—and the lips, thinning. Why, the appearance of my skull was, to a degree, visible. The more I looked my reflection in the eye, the more I saw.
Once downstairs, I felt the day begin at a slothful pace. However, by nightfall, I was approached by a servant who said to me the one whom he cared for was dying. His words gave me the impression that the reaper had come once again. And how gleeful this made me! By nine o’ clock p.m., I rode out on my hearse to the house in which the man was dying. The dwelling was unlike any home I had been to: it stood upon a hill beyond town. The masonry of the charming Gothic structure had been strangled in ivy, and the unlit, gaping windows seemed to overlook my hearse. Once under the porte-cochére, I jolted the grand door knockers. I waited until the servant greeted and allowed me to come forth and enter. The foyer was poorly illuminated by well-waned candles.
The servant insisted that we hurry onward and asked that I follow him up the stairway. As I followed, I felt an increase in anxiety. This dread continued as the servant opened the door to the bedchamber. Upon entering, I could feel the apprehension swelling in my soul. I gazed upon the bed that stood before me—and on it lay the recently deceased body with a white shroud covering it from head to toe. As I walked over to the bedside, the servant left the room in a sudden manner. When the door shut, the nervousness became greater than before. I looked over at the body once more—it never moved—but of course it never moved. Not that I would have expected it to do otherwise! I continued to eye the covered cadaver for quite some time. What was it that I was imagining I would see? “Are you sure you have nothing to say?” I asked. The body remained unresponsive. I grasped both ends of the sheet, and paused a second. The disquiet endured—the coldness slithered through my nerves—and the dread became insufferable. In an instant, I lifted the covering. It was dead—unmistakably dead. I was almost certain that it was not going to tell me anything—but to make sure of this, I whispered into its ear, “You are free express your thoughts. I shall listen—for I am a rather patient listener.”
Still, and quite predictably, there was nothing. As I gazed upon the body further, it was suddenly mummified—as if it had been in the house for ages. I blinked, for I was certain it was fresh. I called out to the servant, but the house was now entirely empty, unlit, and silent—as if everything I had seen were not so moments ago. Was the servant real? Did he truly come to me? These thoughts were all too discomforting, and so I left with the body, fresh or not. When I arrived at the cemetery, I found a maple. “What a charming place to bury one,” I said to myself, halting the horses. Stepping down from the hearse, I marched over to the back and dragged the coffin to the tree. For about an hour and a half, I excavated the grave. It would be shallow, but deep enough for the coffin, nevertheless. Finally, when it was time to say goodbye to my patron, I said while pushing the coffin into the grave, “Sleep well, my dear friend.” After this, I tossed the earth back in.
But the corpse implored to be released—it scratched at the lid—shrieking! Immediately, I threw aside my shovel, and with all of my might, threw the lid from the coffin. But to my disbelief, it was unmoving, and, and, and—dead.
It was preposterous and appalling! How could it be? How could this cadaver make such a distressing commotion? What was happening? I could not bear to hear another sound as dismaying as that—the poor soul could not be buried. But where would I keep him? Had The Dark Sickness turned against me, or was it a mere trial? None of my questions could be answered, but the only reasonable thought was to bring the stiff to my home. While carrying the body to my hearse, I heard many more screams coming from the graves all over the graveyard. The scratching and clawing were deafening—all of the occupants of the cemetery wanted out—but what was I to do? There was not enough time. “No, please!” I begged. “Stop it!” I yelled. “Enough with this agonizing absurdity!” All at once, the unhallowed noises ceased and the silence returned. I gazed around, overcome with shock—and shortly after, began laughing to myself. Perhaps this laughter was purely delirium. But my trepidation was gone. And thus, I retreated to my mortuary. The unimaginable horror that went on that night at the cemetery was nearly too much. However, and at length, I understood what occurred.
The Dark Sickness did not forsake me—nor was it a trial. The wretched event helped me gather much wisdom. At last, it was all very clear to me—the words spoken by the corpse who began this very journey: “All we are, my friend, is merely a reminder of the past. Now, what does your insight say about this place, and your work?” He was not referring to my occupation of being a mortician when he enquired about my work: he was rather implying what it was that I had to do. “You must open your eyes, good sir. Among the earth are many mysteries and secrets—buried, concealed and long forgotten. They are far beyond the realm of the living’s simplistic comprehension. Now then, do you understand?” I understood—I understood everything—The Dark Sickness was truthful. My real spirit had shed its temporal coat and I was free. I was now the person I had always been.
Standing before a mirror in my bedchamber’s corner, I gazed at my reflection. What I saw was a changed man: my skin was of a pallid and thin texture—my nose, now only two triangular cavities—my ears had shrunken inwards—my mouth, of a slender proportion—and my eyes, black and hollow; my irises were the only portion visible, and they retained a golden radiance. My fingers seemed to have extended, but it was all an illusion, for my skin had withered, causing my bones to become very observable.
There was much work to be done; the misfortunate souls imprisoned deep inside their graves needed to be free—and all along, my purpose had been to release them. I wondered how I could have been so foolish all these years—burying the deprived corpses in a prison beneath the earth. But I could indeed make amends with the dead. I was now able to do good. And that is exactly what I did the forthcoming nightfall at the cemetery.
Impaling the nose of my shovel into the earth, I knew my quest for redemption only then began. When I unearthed the first corpse, he greeted me with a ghastly grin. I pulled my new fiend out and carried him over to the hearse’s seat. “I shall return tomorrow,” I called out. Later that night, I took my new fiend into the attic. While positioning him in a chair, I could not help but marvel at his skeletal smile—it brought much happiness into a bleak world. Carefully, I placed a melting candlestick in his fingers. The wax slowly trickled down and permanently melded his hand to it.
Then, there came an ingenious idea—it all made sense: the bones that I had exhumed could next be used. After ascending the ladder and snatching the sack, I returned to my fiend. I thereafter measured his arms and legs. Thus, my craftsmanship blossomed. With a rope, the bones were tied to my fiend’s arms and legs. I then stabbed the collarbone into one of the shoulders and placed the skull atop his head like a crown. The jawbone was sewn beneath his own jaw and pieces of the ribcage were impaled into his chest; it was a beautiful sight. When I finished adorning my fiend with the decorations only fit for a king, I was yet again inspired.
A bat was fluttering throughout the attic, when abruptly, it soared by me. I reached out and felt its light wings—and oh! visions of different and extraordinary creations swarmed into my mind—the bat’s velvety wings propelled the conception of what it was that I could craft next. I sketched an image that was borne from the depths of my supreme imagination. Around eleven o’ clock p.m. the next evening, I set out to the cemetery—for I knew that many of the fiends would wish to help me if I disinterred them. When the deed was finished, I had uncovered a total of three coffins. My fiends all jested with me while riding back to the mortuary. In the attic, and in the candlelight, I knotted a rope around each of their gaunt ankles—and one by one, they hung upside-down. Upon my table were the instruments that I would use to begin crafting.
In the center was carefully lain the paper that I had drawn upon. I studied it for a while, and then examined my fiends. After my brilliant plan was set into place, I began. There were countless screams and shrieks, but I could not stop. Limbs were cut—bones were pulled out—pieces were sewn on—mummified flesh was peeled—I became so immersed in the magnificent things that I did. After many nights of endless work, my admirable masterpiece had been completed. Hanging like a bat, this imaginative creature brought forth such charm.
Yet unexpectedly, someone pounded at my mortuary’s front door.
I could hear the sound from all the way up in my attic. Reluctant, I descended each stairway, and then welcomed my new patron with pretentiousness. He became aghast at the sight of me and fled. This I found humor in—much humor. Shutting the door, I chuckled and shook my head. They were all fools—and foolish fools at that!
Undoubtedly, I had been occupied with this new obsession—I was up beyond midnight, but as the pendulum clock tolled one a.m., I knew that I had to retire. Indeed, there were many nights since I had adequately slept. As the hours wore on, my slumber remained rather peaceful until several dreams became nightmares. The worrying visions that occurred seemed endless—however, they all had a purpose: in the horrific dreams, there was a violent pounding on the main entrance in the foyer. When I went down to open the doors, I was taken by a force and locked away in a pitch-black room. All of the other dreaded details became faint, but I could still recollect the merciless sensations that they gave me.
These dreams were the forewarning of the future—The Dark Sickness gave the revelations to me because everyone was becoming suspicious. I was certain rumors of my work had spread like a remorseless plague. When would they condemn me (if a word such as ‘condemn’ would be appropriate for the imminent injustice)? Nothing had been assured and only time would tell. Nevertheless, I was indeed prepared for the public’s reproach—and thus prepared my escape. My plan was to crawl out of my window, and thence, I would silently hurry away into the gloom. Of course, I loathed the idea of leaving behind my fiends, but what other choice was I rendered? They certainly could not accompany me while I fled from the enraged citizens. Indeed, the time soon came to say my farewells—and that is exactly what I did during the evening that the pathetic townspeople came to my doorsteps.
It was around eleven o’ clock p.m. when I heard several imposing knocks against my doors. As I listened, my instinctive reaction was a laugh—how foolish could they have believed me to be? I shook my head in vexation. Hurrying upstairs to say goodbye to my loving fiends, I listened further to the knockings—and afterwards, I vanished. I chuckled to myself once again as I leapt out of my window and into the cold night. Through the shadows of the trees and the dismal ravines, I wandered to where I was ordained to be; my soul was called from beyond and I was to carry forth my marvelous legacy which began at the place that I shall forever call home: The Winston Manor Mortuary.
Gruesome Discovery At Winston Manor
On the evening of November 13th, 1896, officers of the police forced their way into The Winston Manor Mortuary in Hemlock, Vermont. The desecration of several burial places at the cemetery outside of town led investigators to the mortuary’s doorsteps. The main suspect was none other than the mortician himself, [NAME EXPUNGED], who was allegedly seen riding out on his hearse towards the cemetery prior to the night of the investigation. Many citizens had reported witnessing dim lights flickering from the attic’s window and hearing unbearable shrieks during the late evening. Indeed, it is horrendous to envision what could have possibly gone on inside the old funeral home. However, what they discovered inside was beyond the darkest corner of anyone’s imagination. Officers knocked countless times before forcing the doors open. Upon entering the lifeless halls of the mortuary, they assumed nothing was amiss. That is, until they made their way up into the attic. When they entered, they were greeted by corpses that had been severely disfigured. Their arms were twisted backwards, torturously curving to the hipbones; their jaws had been stretched wide, nearly to the point of separation; and many of the cadavers were heartlessly adorned in bones. In some instances, broken ribs had been impaled into the bodies’ chests.
Another unsettling fact about the investigation is that some of the corpses were suspended upside-down from the ceiling. Crafted from peeled skin and sharpened bones were what appeared to be bat-like wings deeply sewn into the shoulders of the desiccated bodies. One can only wonder how someone could possess such morbid creativity. Detectives say that they were certain something of a rather bizarre nature was occurring inside Winston Manor, but they could not have been prepared for the horrid decorations strewed all over the attic. And as if the circumstances could not have been any stranger, perhaps the most bewildering aspect of the case is what authorities found in [NAME EXPUNGED]’s office. Locked away inside a chest were many letters received by a mysterious correspondent. Full details of the letters have been withheld from the public. Nonetheless, one officer did state that whatever had been written within the letters was “pure nonsense”. As for [NAME EXPUNGED], he has disappeared. There is no known information on where he is hiding as of this time. Please contact Hemlock Police if you have any knowledge regarding his whereabouts.
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