Prologue: Personal Journal Entry #1
Episode One: The Ripper
Episode Two: Personal Journal Entry#19
Episode Three: The Zombie
Episode Four: Personal Journal Entry#25
Episode Five: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be
Episode Six: Personal Journal Entry#39
Episode Seven: The Vampire
Episode Eight: Personal Journal Entry#52
Episode Nine: The Werewolf
Episode Ten: Personal Journal Entry #83
Episode Eleven: Firefall
Episode Twelve: Personal Journal Entry #106
Episode Thirteen: The Devil’s Platform
Episode Fourteen: Personal Journal Entry #125
Episode Fifteen: Bad Medicine
Episode Sixteen: Personal Journal Entry#156
Episode Seventeen: The Spanish Moss Murders
Episode Eighteen: Personal Journal Entry #161
July 5th: It was time to make my move. I’d spent July 4th doing research, dodging phone calls and trying to formulate a plan of action. It was nice to be able to work in silence now that Cousin Roy was spending most of his nights with his new girlfriend; not only did she have impressive breasts, she also had an even more impressive cable TV package.
Since tall dark and drippy had first showed up near Ketcham Road in Altamont, it was my guess that the Black Door must be somewhere nearby. ‘50Fingers’- the moderator of the FEAROFTRUTH messageboard- was able to help me narrow down my search area to within a two mile radius of Bear Swamp.
All the while I was researching I kept getting emails and phone messages from Elliot Paisley of the “Can I be your sidekick? Huh? Huh? Can I?” variety.
And the answer was “No”; a very passive aggressive “No” but a “No” just the same. Thing is Elliot wasn’t the only one trying to horn in on my act. Jasper Moradi wanted to go monster hunting with me too, but I told him that he had already nearly been killed once this month already and he needed to pace himself.
I got an early start on things for once and geared up with boots, a high powered, police-style skullcracker flashlight and a waterproof case for my freshly charged iPhone. I told my boss and landlady Mrs. Vincenzo that I had to go to the DMV; she’s like a mother to me but there wasn’t anyway in Hell I was going to tell her that I needed the day off to look for magic doors. All that prep work paid off and I reached the parking lot for the Bear Swamp State Forest by noon. There were plenty of other people there; picnickers, fishermen and hikers; I like to think I blended in, just your average everyday nature lover in a straw fedora.
It was the perfect day for a walk in the woods, the sun was shining brightly, there was a gentle breeze in the air and I had a good strong signal on my iPhone. Number three is the one that really mattered, how else was I going to do an orderly grid search of the swamp if I didn’t have a GPS?
Orderly or not the grid search took hours and in those hours every mosquito, chigger and tick found me delicious. I was their traveling buffet, a movable feast as my fellow English majors might remark. As always at moments like this I wondered to myself how I’d ended up with a life like this. I’d gone to college with the hopes of becoming a journalist, whatever that meant in this era when newspaper headlines had been replaced by Tweets and news shows were being overrun with talking heads trying to shout each other down. The vorvolaka had changed all that, once you see the impossible and terrible things that lurk at the edges of the world you can never fully unsee them. You’re tainted.
My luck being what it is I didn’t find the hunter’s cabin until dusk. It was a small, ugly thing, the sort of thing the Unibomber would love to call home. Someone had gone wild with a can of silver spray paint and marked the walls with all kinds of misspelled obscenities; their amusing banality made the Black Door stand out all the more.
“What now?” I said to myself. The Black Door was very black, not in the ‘I see a red door and I want it painted black’ sense, but black in the ‘Holy shit this thing is made from black marble and it’s over a foot thick’ sense. The door had no knob or visible hinges and looked heavy, too heavy for the wood of the cabin to support it as it hung halfway open. I touched the stone, expecting it to be cold to the touch but it was warm and clammy. It set my skin crawling. It got even weirder when I tried to look through the doorway, I couldn’t perceive anything. I knew I was seeing something but somehow between the eye and the brain the image was lost to some kind of… interference?
This was it; the portal to the Ruins of Never, the gateway to the Mires of Nix. There was nothing else to do but step through…
Personal Journal Entry #161
…Even now, over twenty-four hours later in the safety of Jasper’s house I still can’t believe it all myself. It’s sort of like waking up after a bender. You can kind of recall what happened but it’s all too disjointed and dream-like to truly be a memory you can call your own.
Enough stalling, let’s get to it. I stepped through.
Not only did the iPhone lose signal, the camera feature stopped working too, the damn thing kept crashing and rebooting.
There was an oily fog and a dark sky on the other side of the Interference. The trees that surrounded me on all sides were thick and festered with ugly-looking mushrooms. The long fronds that hung from the branches of those trees twisted and swayed despite the lack of a discernible breeze. The knee deep water I found myself in was the temperature of a bathtub and the consistency of bad gravy.
I switched on my baton-like police style skullcracker flashlight, the illumination didn’t go as far as I had expected but I was glad to have it’s reassuring weight in my hand. All hail the mighty Skullcracker!
The Black Door was still behind me, I’d expected to find it just standing suspended in nothing but actually it was part of another hunter’s cabin, a perfect duplicate of the one from ‘my world’.
The door was still open but when I tried to look back the way I had come I still saw that same… interference I had before.
I realized I’d been holding my breath so I exhaled. When I inhaled I started to gag and choke. The air was thin and foul with a coppery aftertaste. I pulled the front collar of my shirt up over my nose, that made it a little better, but only a little.
What was I looking for? The story of course, the facts and the proof. Why was the Swamp Man on his very specific rampage? Why had the Black Door opened? What was this place? There was only one way to find out, I picked a direction and started sloshing.
The going was harder than I had expected, whatever was beneath my feet crumbled and shifted like loose rocks and soil. I was panting by the time I had made it ten yards beyond the Black Door. You ever have those nightmares where you are trying to run and your legs won’t let you? That’s what it was like.
The Mire of Nix; bad for the soul, good for the cardio.
On one hand I didn’t want to get too far away from the door but on the other hand there was so much nightmarish nothingness to explore. I don’t know how far or how long I walked until I finally came upon a structure. It was situated on a stony shoal that rose up out of the marsh. The building was tall, windowless and cathedral-like. For a panicked moment I thought there were bits of wreckage surrounding the structure but as I drew closer I realized what I was seeing were see saws, jungle gyms and sliding boards of all shapes and sizes.
It was a playground, a playground in the middle of a place that just might be a kind of Hell. Were there children here? The thought was an awful one, but it was possible. Jasper’s research had shown that the Black Door could appear anywhere or when, and that any poor fool could unknowingly blunder through it.
You know, fools like me.
An urge to get on one of those swing sets or merry go rounds welled up in me; the sensation was one-half longing and one-half nostalgia. I might have given in to it if the unoccupied playground equipment hadn’t started creaking listlessly to life.
“Aw Hell no.” I said.
Or more correctly tried to say, because the sound that came from my mouth was as twisted and unnatural as the air I was forced to breathe. It was like a flare of static or a muffled screech. The second and third time I tried to speak were no more comprehensible.
And the playground toys were moving faster and faster
That’s enough excitement for one day I thought to myself, Time to go. Exit stage right.
I slogged back the way I had come, not wanting to stop and catch my breath but sometimes simply having to. I reached the door just in time to see something clawing its way through the caul of interference that separated my world from this one.
Swamp man? I wondered, Is that you?
There was nothing to do but backpedal, but instead of heading for the playground of lost souls I banked right. I knew that if it was Swamp Man I had to stay clear of him. Hopefully his being here was just a coincidence, if somehow he knew yours truly had passed through the Black Door then I was dead meat on a stick.
I didn’t run, I shuffled through the soupy, stagnant water trying to make as little noise as possible. I figured I’d do the real running if I saw tall, dark and festering come towards me out of the fog. Fighting was an option too but I’d had yet to test Skullcracker on the field of battle.
A loud snap startled me. If you’ve ever heard a tree branch snap under the weight of fresh snow you know what it sounded like. I hoped it might actually be a branch; the trees here looked like they had leprosy so why not? I stood perfectly still listening for another snap- or a crackle or a pop or anything- but it was quiet again.
Thin aquatic vines tangled around my legs. They were sturdier than department store clothing tags and bit into the skin of my hands like piano wire when I pulled at them. Once I was sure I could move without falling face first into the mire I took another right hand turn hoping I could do an end run around whoever the Hell it was I had seen.
It was another long trek before I saw a second landmark emerge out of the trees and fog. At first I thought it was some kind of giant, misshapen statue. The mire and weeds slurped greedily at me as I moved closer to the shape. When I reached a point where the water was above my navel my flashlight beam revealed the object to be a machine.
It rose up out of the swamp, eight to ten feet tall, a chaos of clockwork gears, oversized valves and shining spindles. It was like Rube Goldberg and HP Lovecraft had a baby.
There was a hitching, grinding sound coming from it, a sound somewhere between my grandmother’s dying breaths and a failed alternator. You could feel sense the machine wanting to roar to life, wanting its parts and pinions to do their work.
Whatever that work might be.
For some reason the poetry of Alan Ginsburg came to mind;
“Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!
Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!”
Could this machine have a name? Could it be Moloch?
Maybe, or on the other hand maybe I’ve finally gone out of my mind.
I’d like to believe that, it sure would make the world a much nicer place.
The flashlight beam showed me why the great machine was still, someone had jammed lengths of bone between the gears. Judging by the size of the Machine and the number of gears it must have been a long term project.
Where had those bones come from? A better question might be how many fools and children had stumbled through the Black Door? There was a loud snap as one of the shards of bone splintered from the constant strain of holding back the machine. The maze of gears and spindles moved forward a fraction of an inch, then locked in place again.
So it wasn’t a tree branch I’d heard breaking after all.
I turned away from the Machine. My foot slipped on the loose sediment and I went down, my head briefly dipped under the slimy water, my arms flailed. I shouted with surprise.
While words have no power in this place shouts and screams seem to do just fine. My surprised cry sounded like the howl of a primate being blasted over a faulty intercom and it was followed by frantic splashing footsteps from off to my left.
Did I run for my life? Hell yes. But the slimy soup of filthy water and clinging weeds slowed me down to the speed of a walk. I could hear pursuit getting closer but whoever, or whatever, was back there seemed to be having the same problems. My pursuer kept shouting, I almost caught a few words in the nonsense babble. Was it my name I was hearing? Or an order to stop? Maybe some cursing?
A loud crack punctuated our chase as another bone shard gave way and the gears of the Machine moved forward just a little bit more. I lost count of the number of times I almost lost my footing only to catch myself at the last moment. I knew that if I hit the water I would be overtaken. I kept moving. I didn’t look back.
Oh, but I wanted to. Who wouldn’t? Better the Devil you know and all that, but I was sure that even the smallest glimpse backwards would doom me.
I sobbed with relief when the cabin and the Black Door revealed themselves out of the fog. My lungs and my limbs were aching but I made myself move faster, I threw myself through the barrier of Interference that marked the boundary between my world and this Ruins of Never…
…it was still dusk on the other side, the normal side, of the Black Door. The sun and clouds were in the same position, it didn’t seem like any time had passed at all. I got to my knees and put all my weight against the cold marble of the Black Door. It closed easily, more easily and quietly than I had expected. Normal air invaded my lungs. I started coughing and couldn’t stop myself until the poisonous atmosphere of the Mire of Nix had been fully expelled.
My iPhone rebooted and started buzzing with missed voice mails and texts. I ignored them and set the device to record. Already the memories of my experience were coming apart as though, to quote that famous cliche, it had all been a dream. My recollections were untrustworthy at best. I remembered splashing and running through a marsh bit now my clothes were perfectly dry.
“Playground. Bones. Moloch,” I spoke into the smartphone, “The swamp. The fog. The Machine.” Not much of an outline I admit but I needed something. I was already planning the blog post you are reading now, and why not? I thought the worst was over, but the Ruins of Never weren’t done with me yet.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
A clawing sound issued from the other side of the Black Door.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
“Oh no no no no.” I pushed myself against the Black Door, ready to hold it shut in case it should start to inch open again. I needn’t have worried, not only did the Black Door not open again, it began to fade.
Not disappear but fade, the thick marble was becoming weatherbeaten wood, hinges and a doorknob bled into existence where there had been none before. While this transformation was going on the scratching had become a pounding but that pounding grew fainter by the second. I cheered at that, I laughed and taunted, “What are you gonna do now Swamp Man?”
“You heard.” The Swamp Man said through his ruined face. He was on my side of the door, he had always been on my side of the door.
“You heard!” His remaining hand clamped around my throat. The ends of his fingertips had burst and growths hung from the exposed bone, “You left me there. To rot.”
Here we go again, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak but what did it matter when the Swamp Man didn’t give a damn about what I had to say?
“Time is wrong there, it bends and twists to will of the Engine of Moloch,” he said.
Moloch. I thought woozily, I knew it!
“When the Priest found me he was not gentle,” the Swamp Man wept from his remaining eye; his tears were brown and reeked of stagnation, “he let the children play with me. They rearranged me again and again. They taught me the Hymn of Nothing.”
There was darkness at the edges of my vision, I could feel my heartbeat pounding in my ears. For some reason all I could think of was how much I wished Jasper was there.
“Now listen,” the Swamp Man said, “listen and know.”
I didn’t realize I was still holding my skullcracker flashlight until it almost slipped from my grasp. I swung it as hard as I could, the blow was clumsy but hard enough to make the bones of the exposed bullet wound in the Swamp Man’s head crunch satisfyingly.
He dropped me.
There was no time to catch my breath, I ran at him again. This swing of the flashlight hit him in the jaw, the next landed on the unscathed other side of his head. The Swamp Man reeled but didn’t fall but my former career as a College football star took care of that with one good tackle.
The Swamp Man went down. He cursed me through his broken jaw, or maybe he was begging or trying to sing that damned Hymn of Nothing. I was beyond caring. I stood over him and brought Skullcracker down again and again until the damn flashlight had more than lived up to its nickname. I didn’t stop until what was left was unrecognizable.
And before you think I just confessed to a murder don’t worry. Within seconds of his demise the Swamp Man rotted into stinking clumps of mud and flesh, and then even that was gone.
Besides, confessing to murders online is what Reddit is for.
Just out of curiosity, I turned back to the hunter’s cabin, it had just an ordinary door now. When I opened that door all I was rewarded with was the sight of beer bottles, food wrapping and used condoms.
What followed was an exhausted victory walk back to my car, somewhere along the trip About halfway back the sun set and I realized that my flashlight had broken after all, I threw deep into the woods with a grunt of disgust. Et tu Skullcracker? The was cloudless sky full of stars; I’d never been so grateful for those little pinpricks of light before. All I wanted to do was take a long hot shower, write up my experiences and then sleep for a week.
I had expected my car to be the only one in the parking lot but there was an Acura right next to mine. A cold weight had settled into my stomach as I looked at the messages that had accumulated on my phone. Most of them were from Elliot Paisley;
[7/5/08 18:35] FIGURED OUT WERE YOU WERE GOING. BEAR SWAMP RIGHT?
[7/5/08 19:21] PARKED BY YOUR CAR. WHICH DIRECTION ARE YOU?
[7/5/08 19:57] I’M NEAR THE POND. WHERE ARE YOU?
[7/5/08 20:15] FOUND BLACK DOOR!
[7/5/08 20:19] NOT KIDDING! IT IS RIGHT HERE!
[7/5/08 20:19] WHAT NOW? CALL ME ASAP!
[7/5/08 20:21] WHERE ARE YOU? IT’S OPEN!
[7/5/08 20:21] GOING IN TO LOOK AROUND.
I thought of the things the Swamp Man had said;
“Didn’t you hear the clawing at the Black Door?”
“You made a sacrifice of me.”
“You should have known…”
“…I waited so long in the Mires of Nix.”
“Time is wrong there, it bends and twists…”
“They rearranged me again and again…”
“Oh God… Oh Fuck.” I heard you scratching at the Black Door Elliot, I just didn’t know it was you.
For what it was worth I did go back into the woods; I searched for over three hours but couldn’t find the hunters cabin again.
But even if I had how would it have mattered? Even now Elliot Paisley is falling backwards through time and when the Ruins of Never finish with him they’ll spit him back out through the Black Door five weeks ago.
Five weeks ago.
It was almost one in the morning when I showed up at Jasper’s doorstep. I honestly couldn’t think of anywhere else to go; I needed to tell an actual physical person what happened, what I had done. If I didn’t I was sure I was going to do the world a favor and end myself.
Jasper listened, let me drink all his bourbon and when I was done he let me cry on his shoulder. He told me it wasn’t my fault, that I couldn’t have known. That didn’t make me feel any better.
What did make me feel better was when I kissed him. I can’t tell which of us was more surprised that it happened but surprise gave way to excitement and, well, the walls of my strict heterosexual lifestyle came crashing down.
So now here I am at Jasper’s place. It is two in the afternoon and Mrs. Vincenzo is probably worried sick and docking my pay, but I don’t really want to face the outside world yet. Jasper’s still asleep and I’d like nothing more than to join him in bed, to snooze the day away.
But every time I close my eyes I hear the scratching at the Black Door.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.