English Eerie – Review & Play Reports

Rural Horror at its Finest

You may recall that for the month of October I ran an event for my Discord server where people were tasked with writing spooky stories using the English Eerie role-playing system. Here I’ll be giving my thoughts on the game and sharing the various stories that were created.

Review

While this review will primarily focus on the paid second edition of the game, a majority of the thoughts extend to the first edition which is freely available. You can find both versions linked respectively above. Let’s do a quick overview of the differences though:

  • Paid VS FreeWhile the second edition is a paid product, you also get more.
  • Scenarios – You also get 10 scenarios as opposed to the 5 in the first edition. While there are repeats brought over, the increased variety is appreciated for continued play and varied stories.
  • Group Play – The last big difference are the rules for group play. A game like this seems ideal for verbal storytelling around a campfire, hence the inspiration for my event, and these rules are a simple, yet appreciated edition.

Beyond that, any other changes are in formatting and bringing further clarity to the already simple rules. The game is very easy to understand, and you’ll be able to dive right into the game almost immediately after reading the rules. Initially the page count may seem intimidating, but I assure you that it’s a fast read and a bulk of the length comes from the scenario outlines.

Here’s what you’ll need to play English Eerie:

  • One of the game’s editions, mostly for the scenario and its corresponding tables.
  • A deck of cards, or their special branded story deck. I don’t recommend the latter, cards are more than fine. You will only be using 19 cards from the deck.
  • A ten-sided die (or online dice roller).
  • Some kind of tokens or way to track you “Spirit” and “Resolve”, resources which determine the flow of the story, and ultimately, its conclusion.
  • A way to record your tale. The game suggests a physical journal.
  • Optionally, you may want a separate paper for you “character sheet”, which is just a quick overview of your character and the scenario chosen.

A bulk of the game comes from your imagination, with a few inputs coming from the various tables found within your chosen scenario. Of course, most of the tables are completely optional, meant only to supplement your imagination. I found these to actually be pretty useful, having ignored a the tables once since I had a more fitting outcome then the suggested one.

Playing the game is fairly simple. You draw a card, consult the chart, and then describe the outcome. You may occasionally roll a die which introduces a bit of unpredictability into the story, building in consequence which can be built further upon as you continue.

Every two cards drawn in this fashion represents one day in the life of your character as increasingly strange things occur to them. The last day being fully represented by the final card, and ultimately deciding the fate of your character. Much like Ten Candles, English Eerie is not a game where “winning” is the goal. It’s all about telling a good story.

Through play you may spend resolve to make the dice rolls easier and your spirit will dwindle as your character falls victim to whatever madness you subject them to. It’s a clever system that allows for fairly fast play, even allowing for your numbers to reach zero without abruptly ending the experience.

The final product is a competent story at worst. Due to the charts and card draw, there is a natural sense of rising tension and payoff that comes about. Length is also well accommodated as it is easy to be brief, but also just as welcomed by the game to write a more extended story. As you’ll see in the provided play reports, some of us wrote near novella length stories while others stuck to just a few simple journal entries.

I’m happy to say I can fully endorse this product, either version. You’ll find yourself quite satisfied with English Eerie if you enjoy writing based games, and if you want to spring for the second edition, especially if you think orating a spooky tale in a group sounds like a good idea, it won’t disappoint.


Before I get to the play reports, a quick reminder that if you enjoy my work and want to support cool things like this, please consider making a donation by clicking one of the following buttons. Thanks for reading, and please enjoy the spooky stories!

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Play Reports

Here are a collection of 3 play reports which I received permission to share here. I’ll provide a brief introduction and link to the story on their respective websites, so please give them a look. The exception being my own story, which I will provide in full as the final story.

Mechanical Anime Reviews – The Lost Rive Love

Scott’s story is on the shorter side of things, but I am still impressed with its quality. He’s not as experienced when it comes to creative writing, and that does reflect in the final product, but he still managed to create a dramatic story centered on love and cosmic horror. I had a fun time reading it, and you probably will too.

Shoujo’s Thoughts & Ramblings – The Beast on the Moor

Would you believe me if I told you that this story was actually born out of a mistake? Shoujo made an error while playing initially but managed to power through it and complete this epic 21, single-spaced page story in ONE DAY. In her own words, it’s been an inspiring accomplishment that has given her the confidence to pursue writing more stories like this one in the future. Furthermore, this was a story outside her creative comfort zone (romance). For that reason alone, it’s very much worth the look, that’s just impressive!

My Story – Detox

Gemma Means well, I know that, but why did I have to get swept up in her latest flight of fancy? She had come to me excited about some trip into the Yorkshire Dales about a week before our Summer break. We are both Students at Oxford University, and as a result there’s a lot of pressure coming at us both, so these little breaks we take together make all the difference. Usually, we take turns recommending various activities but this time I can clearly remember how Gemma had deftly convinced me to allow her to surprise me by making a recommendation out of order.

“Jonathan, you look absolutely exhausted!” Slumped over my laptop, madly hitting away at the keys on the keyboard as I rushed to complete one of several final projects before the long awaited break would come. I didn’t even have to look up from my work to know that this bombastic voice belonged to my lifelong friend Gemma. I continued to type, I knew she’d keep talking without my input.

“I know you’re busy…” She paused with, what I presumed, to be a coy smile as she politely waited for me to shift in irritation at this inane attempt at pleasantries before continuing. “I also know that it’s your turn to choose what we do for the upcoming break but knowing you, you haven’t even had a chance to plan anything yet. Well, am I right?”

Of course she was correct in this assumption. Not surprising since Gemma had always been particularly good at reading me. Really, it’s pretty ironic given how naive she is. She’s always getting caught up by passing fads, going with the crowd, unlike me. I’ve never been one to really care about those things. However, this makes Gemma rather popular compared to myself, a socially awkward twenty-something who can barely hold a conversation with anyone who isn’t Gemma. It’s kind of amazing she’s stuck by me all this time, but I digress. If an answer isn’t given soon she’ll force me to stop working, something I simply can’t afford right now.

With a soft sigh I gave her a swift response, “As always, you are correct. So I take it you have some plan yourself then?” It didn’t really matter what the response was, I was so engrossed in my work. I knew she’d ask to plan our trip, and in that moment, it was futile to put up any resistance. To me, it didn’t matter much what she had planned, being together was really all that mattered anyway. However, I did catch bits and pieces of the conversation.

“As you know, I’ve been interested in exploring my more spiritual side…” Gemma continued, but I mostly tuned out this exposition. How many times has she lectured me about mediation and nature now? She even changed her major to theology recently. I guess she’s serious about this but I don’t particularly find it interesting myself. Something caught my attention though, “…so I was thinking we’d take a retreat to the Yorkshire Dales. Serene natural beauty, fresh air, and no technology! A perfect way to relax, and by the looks of it, you could use a good detox.”

My hesitation at the mention of “no technology” was enough for her to jump at the opportunity to convince me further. I probably didn’t look that great given how exhausted I’ve been. I haven’t shaved in weeks, and I’ve more-or-less been cooped up in this dimly lit room, the only real light coming from the hazy screen, the windows long-shuttered.

“I mean look at you!” Gemma continued her one-sided conversation with concern in her voice, “I know 2017 is a time of convenience but I can tell you haven’t even left this room since who knows when.” It wasn’t exactly hard to figure this out, food boxes lay about my lodging. If it weren’t for the fact that she checked up on me once or twice a week in person, or maybe because she knows me so well, I probably wouldn’t have much contact with the outside world to begin with beyond the odd delivery person.

She pressed the issue further, “So you’ll go along with this trip, right? At least do it for me, I’m worried about you. Plus, you might just find yourself out there. You could do with connecting with your more spiritual side every now and again, it’s not normal to be so obsessed with technology…” Her voice trailed off at that last bit, probably because she was worried she might have taken things a bit too far with that last part. I knew she was being a little selfish with this request, but her concern for my well-being was very real, that much was obvious.

“If I say yes, will you leave me alone? I really can’t afford to stop working on this.” I took a moment to look away from the screen, the clicking and clacking of keys came to a brief halt. “I’ll even agree to the whole ‘no technology’ thing.” I gave a short pause, looking myself over, “I could probably use it anyway.” I gave a weak smile, and then turned back to my work. It didn’t matter what she said after that, I knew she’d send me the details on my phone and pester me about it off-and-on until the break finally came.

From the outside looking in, our relationship probably looked like that of a mother and child. Gemma, despite being a bit spacey and easily caught up in things, has always been extremely responsible, especially when it comes to me. Her tallness only acts to contrast my shortness, which really gives me a more child-like appearance alongside her. Well, if it weren’t for my facial hair and baritone voice at least, then it’s pretty obvious that I am just on the shorter end of the spectrum but very much an adult. That’s as far as things go between us though, just childhood friends who have stayed close. Nothing so unusual.

So here we are, the day of the trip, our schoolwork behind us and nothing but relaxation ahead! The Yorkshire Dales, the middle of nowhere in a wooded area surrounded by rolling green pastures and pristine waterfalls. A cacophony of nature, the brightness of the sun, all things I have been without for quite some time now. To be honest, this alone already made me uncomfortable enough to start fidgeting, but I was even more surprised by how literal Gemma had been about the whole “detox” part of the trip. Before us was a sign that read, “THE DEN” in a soothing blue. Beneath it there was a tagline about digital detox and returning to nature. Just what exactly have I signed up for?

We made our approach to the camp and headed to the reception area. That’s where we met George. Immediately, it was pretty obvious that this man was more than a little eccentric. He dressed in these strange, flowing robes that had various depictions of wildlife and plants you’d find in the area. Still, there was a warm, almost inviting aura to the man. If you looked past his strange attire, he looked like a well kept man in his late forties. A lush beard, the color of a rich wood, long hair tied up neatly in a bun, and soft features. His hazel eyes smiled at us as we entered the compound.

“You must be Jonathan and Gemma! I am the owner of THE DEN, George, a place where I can help guide you back to nature, to connect with yourself all while letting go of the barrage of technology and the daily stresses that come with it.” I could feel a genuine enthusiasm in his words despite the obviously canned introduction. Suddenly, he embraced each of us without warning, his slender frame deceptive as his grip was quite tight.

“What are you doing?!?” I shouted in confused horror, if there’s one thing I hate more than anything, it’s being touched without my consent. Really, I’d say it’s a downright fear. Had this “George” person not been so disarming up until this point I would have never allowed him to get this close. Visibly shaken, I continued, “Do you treat everyone like this? Don’t you think you should ask before you just touch someone like that? Gemma, I’ve changed my mind, let’s just go back. I’ll cover whatever the costs were-” I stopped myself, this unexpected event put me in a frenzied state and I knew immediately that I had hurt Gemma.

“I’m so sorry.” George had backed off during my episode and was now prostrated on the ground before us. “I had not intended to make you feel so unwelcome, please allow me to make it up to you by upgrading your stay with us here and giving you a generous discount. I know that you will find this experience invaluable so please, I beg of you to reconsider.”

“Come on Jonathan, I know you’ve never liked being touched ever since we were children, but it’s not like George knew any better. He meant no harm, and besides, this trip is really important to me…” Gemma wore a look of anger mixed with confused sadness as she tried to properly express herself, “Can’t we at least give it a few days? You really need this, so please, for me?” She left it as a question, as if I had a choice.

“R-right…” I found myself back to my more timid self. I may not be the most socially adept individual, but even I could see I had fucked up. “Sorry about that… I didn’t mean… Er, I mean to say, it’s alright. We’ll stay, after all the trouble-”

“Great!” Gemma exclaimed in excitement.

“Excellent!” George sprang up in an instant, “Then please follow me to your lodgings.” Without any hesitation, he turned with the expectation that we would follow.

We quickly situated with the light amount of luggage we had brought along. However, I wasn’t planning on having our things examined so thoroughly, and I also didn’t exactly take the whole “no technology” thing seriously. Honestly, I just thought to bring my phone in case of emergencies, but I also didn’t really pay any attention to the full extent of what this trip would entail.

“Hmmm, and what is this Sir?” Who I thought to be a young woman, previously introduced to us by George, under the name of Brianna Gable, or something like that, looked at me with disapproving blue eyes. His slender frame and long blonde hair made him look like a fashion model, except none of them would ever be caught dead wearing the provided robes here. They exuded “nature”, but weren’t exactly flattering with their dull earthy tones. The somewhat gruff voice that came from this feminine frame was, to say the least, unsettling. “First you embarrass George, and now this?”

“H-how did-” I couldn’t even eek out my meager response before he continued his tirade.

“Hmph, I know everything that George is up to. I am his beloved protege after all, he’s taught me everything there is to know! That’s why I cannot stand ideally by as you so flagrantly disrespect him!” Brianna had worked himself up to the point of almost panting, his breath threatening to betray him as he attempted to regain composure. “You don’t have any other contraband on you? Please, do be honest, and don’t worry, your ‘precious’ devices will be returned to you after the retreat is over.” The mocking tone in his voice wasn’t missed, and once again, I could tell I had wounded Gemma. I had no choice but to comply.

Doing my best to avert my eyes from both parties, I gingerly offered a reply, “I only brought that in case of an emergency, it’s not like I-”

Once again I found myself interrupted as George reappeared, as if out of thin air, two leather bound journals in hand. “Now Brianna, be easy on our guests. It’s normal for folks who come here for our detox to stash away a device or two, you should know this by now.” George then proceeded to hand us each a journal while motioning to Brianna, indicating that he should leave with my phone.

“Of course, I apologize for my ill behavior honorable guests. Now please, excuse me.” You could tell Brianna said this to us through a forced smile, giving a small bow before quickly exiting. He likely didn’t want to lose face in front of his master, or whatever their relationship was.

George continued, “Don’t mind her, she’s sensitive about these things, my teachings really saved her at a young age.”

I pretty quickly put the dots together, it must have been rough growing under her circumstances. Out here, there’s probably not a lot of judgement, and of course, nobody is spreading nasty remarks online. I can sympathize, but it still doesn’t excuse her behavior.

“Back to the matter at hand, take these. I find that it helps our guests cope with the lack of technology and reflect on the experience here. I know from experience just how hard it can be for one to unplug so abruptly, and through my own trial and error, I found that writing made for an excellent outlet.” He smiled, leaving his gaze on me as he said these words. It was clear he was directing this speech at me, and while I was once again in the wrong, I couldn’t help but feel there was more to this look.

Shifting my stance as I could no longer tolerate his seemingly piercing stare, I managed a short reply, “Thanks.” I then turned my attention to the journals as he continued to tell us more about the schedule for the upcoming days. To be honest, I wasn’t listening, I knew that Gemma would drag me around regardless, so instead I examined the journal closely.

It clearly wasn’t a commercial product, someone had made this thing. The journal’s covering appeared old and warn, but there was a newness in its construction that lead me to believe that it must have been assembled recently. It had a coarse feel to it that I wasn’t a big fan of, but it wouldn’t bother me if I set it on one of the provided desks. It’s not like I’d be writing all that much to begin with, if at all. To my surprise, the paper was made by hand as well. Some kind of animal hide? I had read about this sort of thing online before, but hadn’t actually seen something like this in person.

“…any questions?” My attention was recaptured as George finished outlining all the details of the retreat. I merely shook my head while Gemma asked a few things, but they were hardly of any consequence. I drank in the room’s atmosphere.

The walls were made of a sturdy, but plain looking wood. Dark in hue, they contrasted the brighter wooden floors. I’m no wood expert, but I could tell they were different materials, likely harvested locally. Our particular cabin had two twin sized beds brandishing sheets in the same earthy tones as the unsightly robes everyone seemed to wear here, well save from George who wore a different kind of garish garb. There was a humble set of windows that granted a picturesque view of the surrounding area, obviously placed with purpose away from the other buildings in the camp. Beneath these sat the writing desks and chairs. There was a small bathroom with a shower attached to the room in the far corner as well.

It was a plain room, furnished sparsely. The only real color brought in by some cheery desk lamps and a small brick fireplace. I couldn’t help but notice just how different it was to my own room which was perpetually messy, memorabilia plastering the walls, with stacks of various anime and manga meticulously placed around my desk. A total one-eighty, maybe this is something that can do me some good? Still, there was a nagging feeling, like something was off…

I’m sure it’s just my imagination. I’ve never done well in new places, and with all these strangers about, it’s been a long day to say the least. Gemma could sense my unease as well. It wasn’t long before we were alone again.

Teasing her turquoise colored hair that she had recently cut down for this trip specifically, she looked at me with an apologetic expression, “I know today’s been a lot, and I’m sure the full extent of this trip was a bit of surprise…” She paused carefully considering her next words, but also giving me room to reply.

“You could say that again.” I let out a small laugh that seemed to dispel the tension that I hadn’t realized was building up. “It’s fine though, really, I think this might do me some good Gemma.”

Letting out a sigh of relief she laughed alongside me. “That’s good to hear then, I seriously thought you were going to hate me for pulling a stunt like this, it’s not exactly like I was upfront with all the details. I know you probably hardly gave them a look, but I left a lot of stuff out.” She stuck her tongue out at me with an impish look, “I knew you’d never go along with this otherwise.”

I was too tired to turn this into a fight, it’s true I was a bit irritated about being deceived, but now that I was here that feeling seemed to want to melt away. “Really, it’s fine.” A short reply was best here, besides I wanted to ask about something else, so I quickly changed the subject. “What do you think about George? Seems like a self-proclaimed guru who means well but, is he legit?”

“Don’t worry, I did my homework.” She playfully shrugged off my concerns. “This place came highly recommended, and the people who have been helping me attune with my spiritual side all swore by it.” With that she rolled herself out over the bed, taking up as much space as possible before stretching her limbs upward, slamming them down with a satisfying thud.

“You mean those friends you made recently in your theology classes?” I didn’t really care, but I remember she mentioned them before.

“Yup, the very same.” She answered casually.

I let a few moments pass before I got up from my chair by the desk after filling out the journal for today. I had more to say than I realized, actually needed to get it out apparently. Again, I couldn’t help but feel this place really was a good idea for me, but that nagging just wouldn’t go away. I sat myself down on my own bed across from Gemma.

“Brianna seemed…” I searched for the correct wording, trying not to come off as insulting, “…interesting, right?” I ultimately settled on these words, but I knew I misspoke when Gemma sat up and gave me a quizzical look.

“What makes you say that?” Her emerald eyes now sharply focused on mine. “It’s not like you’ve never seen a trans person before, I never took you as one to judge-”

“No, it’s not that!” I quickly brought my hands up and shook them to deny her insinuations, “It’s just that, didn’t she seem weirdly defensive of George earlier?”

“Ah, so that’s what you meant.” She gave me another sly smile as she returned to a more relaxed position, “No, not particularly. She seems like a very lovely person who obviously cares about the work George is doing here.” It didn’t pass me by that she emphasized the “she”, just in case.

“Right, right… she’s probably just invested in the work being done here.” I said that, careful to express that I understood her true intent behind those words, but I still had my doubts. Oh well, it’s not like ruminating on this further would do me any good. “Say, should we turn in for the night?”

“You read my mind, besides, we’re going to have to get up early tomorrow. Remember, George said breakfast is at 5 A.M. and we don’t want to miss that!” She said that last part while rubbing her somewhat chubby belly, this girl has always had a thing for breakfast in particular.

I laughed at her antics as if it were some reflex, “We can’t miss that.” Of course, I wasn’t thrilled about waking up so early but this was something I actually did anticipate. So with that, I turned off the lights and quickly fell asleep. It was a peaceful rest, one I didn’t realize I so desperately needed. With that our first day here at THE DEN came to a close.

Day 2

I decided to properly number these days and write about them after the fact. Not sure who these words are really for, but George was right, they help me process things better and keep myself distracted from the lack of technology here. I’ve been feeling the desire to type away at some code, play a video game, really anything online. Never knew I was so hooked until today, guess being out here really showed me that. Gemma was right, I needed this. Anyway, to summarize today’s events:

If it weren’t for my resolve to make the most of this retreat, the day’s start would have absolutely put a damper on things… literally! Jokes aside, a dreadful downpour hit the camp, refusing to let up. Normally I would have had trouble waking myself at such an early hour but the pounding of the driving rain and bouts of thunder stirred me a few hours early. Thankfully I was able to rest well in spite of that.

Otherwise this was an uneventful first morning. We ate our breakfast, did some mediation, and largely stayed in doors. I can’t say I’m fully relaxed here, there’s that gnawing sense of unease that permeates the air, but it may just be that I’m not used to being in this kind of environment.

There really aren’t a lot of people around here, which I guess is the point. Rather, I mean the camp itself. There are only a handful of other people here for a detox retreat, the rest is staff, and even then there’s not that many, maybe thirty or so people in total? It’s amazing they are able to maintain the land and keep such a tight ship.

Oh, I nearly forgot! I did have a close call today on my way back to the cabin. As I mentioned, the rain still has yet to let up, which is why it’s not surprising that a large tree branch narrowly missed me on my way here! Thankfully the sickening snap of the branch and a shout from another member of the retreat gave me ample warning to avoid being severely injured, or even worse. Gemma joked that nature must have been trying to get revenge on me for staying holed up inside so much. I laughed it off, but it was kind of a nasty joke to make. I think I’ll simply stay inside for now, Gemma said she wanted to go off and do something or another so I didn’t protest. Right now I’d rather be left to myself anyway, I don’t want to say anything I’d regret, we are going to be alone on this trip together for some time and if things got awkward now, it’d be Hell.

Day 3

Part of the requirements of this retreat, as I soon found out, was that each of the guests here are required to assist with meal preparations on assigned days. As fate would have it, today is the day, and Gemma conveniently failed to mention it last night before we turned in. As such I’m starting my day in a sour mood, but at least the rain finally stopped.

“Hey Jonathan, you can scribble away in that notebook of yours later. I’m glad you are taking to George’s advice, but we’re going to be late for meal prep if we don’t head out now.” Gemma was bouncing with impatience by the door frame, “Let’s gooooooooo!” she whined as she saw I wasn’t getting up.

“I’m coming, I’m coming.” There really wasn’t a big need to rush, and we both knew it. The meals here are pretty light in the morning, with the main course being a late-afternoon meal. Really she just wanted to eat breakfast, an assumption I completely nailed after asking.

It wasn’t long after that we finally arrived to the food cabin. It’s a slightly larger building than the ones used for housing. This one is outfitted with a kitchen and a few other amenities that necessitate the space. There’s also an outdoor dining space that might be considered a patio by some, but really it’s just a roofed outcropping attached to the building’s side.

Today we were having mushroom soup for breakfast, it’s not exactly my meal of choice but getting it ready is a fairly simple process. The night before a batch was made and all that’s left for Gemma and I to do is heat it up over the wood-fueled stove. Then we serve it before eating the meal ourselves. Pretty easy, even if it meant getting up earlier than normal.

In a rare event I saw Brianna before us, she was in the kitchen doing something. “Hey, there!” Gemma called out cheerfully, oblivious to the fact that I clearly didn’t want to speak to her.

Somewhat startled Brianna’s body jumped upward from its hunched position before turning to look at us. It was pretty easy to see that she had not expected anyone to be in here at this time. “A fine morning to you two, I see that you are early for the meal preparation. You gave me quite a scare just now you know.”

“Hehe, sorry about that,” Gemma gave one of her signature impish grins, “you know what they say, better to be early than late!”

“Well you aren’t wrong.” Brianna gave a terse reply.

“What were you doing in here anyway?” Before I had even realized it, I had blurted out those words. I knew it was a mistake almost immediately.

“That’s none of your business!” Turning beat red, Brianna exploded at me in a bout of anger. I guess I hit a nerve. “George depends on me to ensure that everything is in order, I have to check out supplies and do routine inspections daily-”

“Whoa, no need to freak out Bri” Gemma cut off this rant, trying to be nonchalant about her use of a nickname. “Jonathan didn’t mean any harm in asking, we were just as surprised as you were to see you here.”

Under my breath I muttered, “Yeah, you’re usually glued to George’s hip…” Thankfully that went unnoticed.

Clearing her throat and pulling herself together Brianna replied, “You’re right, please accept my sincerest apologies. I shall leave you two to the daily duties here then.” With that she turned and left, but not without peeking back to make sure we were actually doing the work.

“Uh, that was weird…” I absently said out loud.

“You can say that again, Brianna must be one stressed out woman. Though you know what they say, behind every man is an even greater woman!” Gemma gave me a little wink before bumping me with her butt causing me to crash into some supplies.

“Ug, what was that for?” I looked at her with annoyance as I rubbed my now bruised side.

“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to send you flying like that.” Gemma rushed over to make sure I wasn’t seriously hurt. She stuck her tongue out playfully after confirming I was OK and then extended a hand to me.

“I’m fine…” I grumbled, reaching for her hand. Before I grabbed it though, I noticed something on the floor behind the place that Brianna had been standing a few minutes prior.

Noticing my pause Gemma teased, “Earth to Jonathan, you didn’t hit your head did you? Come on, grab my hand already.”

I didn’t respond, retracting my hand I turned over to reach for the bag I could see knocked loose from it’s spot behind the shelves. “Hey…” I put the bag up for her to see, “look at this.”

Gingerly taking the bag from my hands she hesitantly undid the bit of rope that sealed the rough burlap material, keeping it’s contents safe from the elements. “Huh, it’s just some mushrooms.” She said with a sigh of relief. “You really had me going there!”

“Let me see.” Sure enough, that’s all it was. Inside were several little white mushroom caps, maybe 5 centimeters wide. They have been dried and collected here, but why were they hidden away like that? No, that’s not right, Brianna probably just dropped these behind the shelves when we started her. That’s a far more logical conclusion to come to, after all, they look similar to the ones in our soup.

After we both satisfied our curiosity, Gemma placed the mushrooms back roughly where she thought they should go, careful to keep them sealed as we originally found them. Neither of us love mushrooms, so we didn’t sneak any. I don’t know about Gemma, but I for one don’t want to piss off Brianna anymore than I have either.

Day 3 – Continued

I honestly would have forgotten all about the mushrooms, but that’s when it happened. I’m being extra careful now. One of the other people here, some loner named Zack Salt, a dude in his thirties, real foul mouth. I don’t really know him, and after this, don’t really want to. Oh right, the incident, he said he found a human skull when he went for a walk in the woods. It was buried in the ground, though not well. The rain must have revealed it, that’s what it sounds like anyway.

Needless to say, everyone is a bit on edge. George said not to panic, apparently it’s not too uncommon for bodies to be discovered in the more remote parts of the wooded area around here. Even so, why is this so common? The staff here were too relaxed. I asked Gemma about it tonight but she said I’m acting paranoid. Maybe she’s right, but I can’t shake the feeling that something more is going on here.

I am going to try and force myself to get some sleep, I don’t want to worry Gemma, and if something is going on, I don’t want anyone to find out that I suspect that’s the case. I’m already a bit of an unusual person, I know that, so I think I can mask my nervousness given this revelation with my usual behavior. Here’s hoping at least.

Day 4

This morning I thought I’d try and put my mind at ease by visiting the small library they have here in THE DEN. One of the activities scheduled for this morning is self-reflection and we are allowed to read during that time. Some of the staff were also reading in the space as well, I guess even they follow the schedule when they aren’t working. Makes sense I guess.

I passed the time thumbing through a few nature books and a Bible. Turns out, there wasn’t much of a selection beyond what was practical for living out here. However, I noticed something odd, one of the staff members had gotten up in a hurry after being interrupted by another staffer, and left their book behind. I went over to retrieve it, with the thought to return it, when I noticed this unusual writing within its pages.

The cover read:  “The Bringing of Rains”. It was bound much like our journals are, but this was a noticeably older book, the pages were fairly warn. I thought my tired mind must be playing tricks on me, so I looked more closely at the pages, it was just as incomprehensible. I think it might be some kind of code, it doesn’t appear to be another language. I should be able to decipher it, but it’s going to take time. I’ve hidden the book away inside my pillow case, keeping it a secret from Gemma. For now, I don’t want her to get involved. Especially not after tonight’s events.

Brianna wouldn’t take her eyes off me, she was watching my every move. I can tell she’s suspicious of me, but I just did my best to act naturally… well for me at least. I think I managed to pass her scrutiny, at least she didn’t try to talk to me, it’s always been a displeasure to talk to her and I really would rather do without being yelled at again.

Day 5

Zack, if you remember him from awhile back, well he was on cooking duty today. As a solo member it’s a decent amount of work, even if there aren’t a lot of us, so I’m not surprised an accident occurred. He was in the woodshed when he was apparently locked in. If it weren’t for his loud swearing, he probably wouldn’t have been found until the next morning, if at all.

The shed is a decent distance away from anything, you have to walk into the woodlands to reach it. Most of the time staff brings the wood down to the relevant buildings, so there’s hardly ever a reason to go up there. He said he ran out of supply while cooking and went to fetch some more.

He’s a loner, and the food was done, so at first nobody really thought anything of it. I mean, it’s not the first time he’s been absent during a meal. If it weren’t for his screaming, we wouldn’t have bothered to investigate it. Everyone seems to think this was an honest mistake, even Zach, but me, I’m not so sure.

That’s why I did a little investigating. As far as I can tell, it’s a normal woodshed, but there’s one key issue: there’s no lock on the door at all. I hadn’t noticed that this morning, but I do remember the door being stuck when we found Zack. That means there are three possibilities:

  1. Zack was lying. To be honest, this seems unlikely. He might be loud and rude, but he doesn’t seem like someone who’d go out of their way for attention like this. All day folks wouldn’t leave him alone and it was clearly bothering him, he looked pretty rundown by the end of the day.
  2. A staff member saw the door open and shut it without checking inside. The woodshed is just big enough that this is plausible, but that doesn’t address the issue of the door not locking. I can say it’s a fact that the door sticks, which is how we found it, but that doesn’t explain why Zack had trouble getting out. He clearly works out and is a sizable man, he should have been able to break the door down easily either with his own strength or the axe inside. He wasn’t in there for too long though, so maybe he just didn’t think of that, but this doesn’t sit right with me.
  3. Somebody obstructed the door from the outside, and removed the obstruction before we all showed up. The following were absent when we first entered the food cabin:  George, Brianna, one of the other members who was sick in bed, and another of the staff. Otherwise, we were all accounted for. It seems unlikely that another retreat goer would lie about their partner’s illness, that means it must be one of the staff here. Given recent events, I’d put my money on Brianna, but George has seemed off lately too.

I’ll need to be careful investigating this further, especially with the last thing I found in the shed. Buried in the back, behind a woodpile I found a machete. There’s no reason for one to be here, but most damning of all is that it had clearly been coated in a red substance. Could just be rust, but something’s telling me it was likely something else…

Day 6

I awoke to a terrible scream from the nearby wood. Was it a man’s scream, or a woman’s? I don’t know. It was quite late, maybe 2 A.M. when I heard it and I was in an initial haze as I came to consciousness. I scanned the window and even woke Gemma up. Apparently she didn’t hear anything. Was it just my imagination? I shouldn’t doubt myself any longer, something is definitively wrong here. Why doesn’t anyone else notice it? I tried going back to sleep, but I could feel eyes watching me from the darkness just beyond the window.

I overheard one of the other members of the retreat gossiping about how one of them supposedly saw George head into the woods last night with a machete. They are an older couple, so there’s room to doubt, but I can’t help but conjure the image of the machete in the woodshed, and coupled with the eerie scream from last night, it’s just too much to be coincidence.

Day 7

Brianna decided to confront me this morning. I’ll do my best to recount the exchange as accurately as possible here, she did so in private. Pulling me aside after breakfast, there was a clear look of disgust in her eyes. At first I was scared, not just because she touched me out of nowhere, but because she might have figured out that I was onto her.

“I don’t much care for the way you have been looking at George, I can tell you are sending him bad vibes. What’s more, is you’ve been poking around everywhere, even skipping out on scheduled activities.” Brianna sounded like she was ready to give me a good lashing.

She was right though, I had started to get careless in my investigations. I had been sneaking away to work out the cipher for the book I found earlier along with my previous escapades. As for the looks, I couldn’t help but give both George AND Brianna questioned glances. I’ve been far from discrete.

As I tried to think of a response, she continued laying into me with an onslaught of words, “Don’t tell me you decided to stop taking the programme seriously? You had been following George’s brilliant teachings so well before. First that Zack fellow, then you-”

At the mention of Zack I felt emboldened and decided to retort with a question of my own. “What about Zack exactly?” I could tell I had taken the verbal initiative away from Brianna, she seemed shocked by my sudden boldness.

“Tsk…” Something tells me I struck pay dirt with that question by Brianna’s displeased look, “He left after the incident, gone! All that promise about changing his ways and then he just leaves. He rarely did the group activities to begin with, barely listened to George’s radiant wisdom, and then he has the nerve to just leave, and over such a tiny mishap!”

I let Brianna rave and rant a bit, I had learned something valuable that she unwittingly had just told me. I already suspected something had happened to Zack, this all but confirmed it. I’ll need to be extra careful, it seems this is just a routine scolding, but next time I may not be so lucky.

“I understand Brianna.” I force a smile, looking her dead in the eye. “I’ll get serious about the retreat again, I’ve just been feeling so antsy being removed from everything. I thought I was getting used to it, but maybe it was just a relapse on my end? I’m truly sorry.” I tried to sound as sincere as possible. I just wanted her to leave. I was already thrown a bit by her touching me, now I’m alone with her, if this goes on much longer I’ll breakdown, and that would be game over.

“Hmph! Well as long as you understand the error of your ways I suppose I can let you off with just a warning this time, but know I’ll be keeping a close eye on you Sir.” With a smug expression, Brianna turned to leave with enough force to throw her long hair right into my face as if that were some final insult against me.

I had no time to be angry though, I could feel time running out for us. Gemma and I needed to get out of here, but I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to convince her. At best, my evidence is circumstantial, and I know she’ll just be mad if I even attempt to broach the subject. Tomorrow I’ll think of something.

Day 8

My cellphone! Why didn’t I think of it sooner, I could call the police and get help with that. Then I wouldn’t have to even get Gemma involved. I’m close to solving the cipher on the book too, so I’d even have proof of whatever’s going on here by time they showed up.

I considered about asking a staff member about my phone, but thought better of it. I know that would just put Brianna back on my case, and after yesterday, I really need to keep a low profile. This place isn’t very big, so there’s only so many places it could be. My guess would be an the office part of the reception hall or George’s personal quarters. Here’s hoping it’s in the office.

I made up some excuse during our free time that I wanted to get an informational brochure, mentioning I had seen some earlier, so that I might bring one home to a friend. Naturally, Brianna was excited about this and sent me off exactly where I wanted:  the office in reception. She even gave me a key to get in, it wasn’t being manned at the moment since we weren’t expecting guests and they don’t keep a phone line apparently.

I’ll only have a short time to pull this off so I need to act fast. I was able to grab a brochure after a few seconds of being there, but the phone situation was a bit trickier. Eventually I found what I was looking for in one of the desks, a drawer with my phone. Not just mine though, countless others, and they all had one thing in common:  each and every one of them was broken beyond any hope of ever working again.

My heart sank, I nearly broke down there, but I knew I had to steal myself or risk being found out. There’s not much time left, I can’t keep this hidden for very much longer, and Gemma, she’s in danger, I know for sure now. I’ll have to risk a move come morning, it’s too late today to try anything more.

Day 9

Shit… shit, shit, shit, shit! This isn’t happening! Gemma is horribly ill… Fuck! We won’t be able to escape now, she’s in no condition to be moving around. It started after breakfast, she was feeling nauseous and now she’s been throwing up in the bathroom ever since. Food poisoning maybe? We had a salad for our breakfast today with jam covered bread, an egg, and juice. I was being a bit cheeky and dumped my mushrooms into her salad when she wasn’t looking.

That’s it! She must have eaten a bad mushroom, but if that’s the case… they must already know. We aren’t safe, and Gemma can be moved. I don’t know how we’ll get out of this but I have got to think fast. I don’t know if Brianna, George, or the whole damned camp is after us now, but there’s no question that somebody tried to incapacitate me, for all I know, even murder me.

Given the situation, I’ll hold up here for the rest of the day. If Gemma improves, we’ll make a run for it tomorrow, if not I may just have to take my chances on my own. I’m sorry Gemma, I don’t want to leave you behind, but there may be no other way.

Day 10

At this point this journal is a record of what happened to me, just in case. Maybe it’ll bring these sick fucks down, even if I have to die to do it. I’m determined to get out of here though, I won’t be beat without a fight. I have no idea who can be trusted, and am barely able to think straight. Last night Gemma didn’t improve. They’re here-

I sprang up from my desk and hurried to the door, I knew I had to answer. George was on the other side, his once friendly features now gave off an entirely different feeling, one of malice and pure evil. It was enough to cause anyone to be overwhelmed with fear, and that’s when I broke down.

“Jonathan, are you alright?” George knelt down placing his hands on my shoulders, trying to check my condition.

“Don’t you dare fucking touch me!” My body shook with uncontrollable fear and anger as I let out the raspy words. “Gemma has been sick all evening, you caused this, you…” Quickly my words and thoughts became garbled, I knew I wasn’t making much sense, and all the while George just smiled at me as if he understood my plight.

“Rest easy now, I’ll see that you two are taken care of. All you had to do was say that Gemma was sick, we’ll bring her medicine, you just lay here and rest.” George said these words softly, as if speaking to a lost child. There was no hint of deception or malice in his voice, but I knew, deep inside, that there was no way I could trust him.

Forcing my body over to the bed, I waited for George to leave. Once I was sure that he did, I sprang up, took both books, and ran. I’m sorry Gemma, I have to leave this place. I have to get out of here. And with that, night descended onto the forest.

Day 11

It wasn’t long before I regained what little was left of my tattered senses. I could hear people chanting, a bright light filling the dry summer air as a sickening smoke drifted in my direction. What lay before me was a horrible sight, a large wicker effigy blazing like like a demonic spirit against the starlit sky. I could see people being brought to the effigy, but worst of all, I could hear them screaming as they burned alive.

I couldn’t tell who was being put inside, or for what purpose, but one thing was certain, the camp was at the center of it all. I was already near exhaustion, but I continued to run. Running further and further away from the sight I had just seen, but the image was already burned into my retina, I had learned the truth, but I had acted far too late.

Tears streaming down my face, the wind stung as the hot tears ceased to stop. Gemma was likely dead, and I had left her there. I had managed to bring proof of what occurred, my journal and the weird book, but I should have acted sooner, no I could have, but I was scared. No, that’s not right, I was too confident that everything was solvable by myself, I didn’t even try. Gemma might have been mad at me, but at least she’d still be alive!

These thoughts continued to plague me as I blindly made my way into a sleepy village who’s name I did not know. I threw myself against the first door I saw until I was finally answered. An elderly couple, who no doubt were shocked at my behavior.

It took some doing, but I was finally able to calm down enough to explain the situation. I told them everything that happened and begged them to call the authorities, showed my proof, everything. Once I was done, I cried until my throat was raw, my vision blurry, and eventually, sleep took me as the flames dimmed in the fireplace nearby.

Epilogue

I had been asleep for over a day and the couple who had taken me in were worried. However, when I woke up, seemingly fine, they reluctantly allowed me to leave on the next train. I couldn’t stay there, it’s not that I didn’t trust them, I simply don’t trust anyone. The ride home I was a complete wreck, visions of the past few days haunted me at every moment.

It wasn’t long before the authorities contacted me. In fact, I was even brought in for questioning on multiple occasions. The journals I had managed to bring with me were made from human flesh, the one I had worked so diligently to decipher spoke of a bizarre ritual involving human sacrifice, but none of that surprised me. No, there was only one thing that came as a shock to me.

“Mr. Carter, I’m sorry to have to ask you to tell me that horrible story again. There are just a few things that need clearing up on our end, so please bear with us.” The officer spoke, he sounded so distant to me, but I knew he meant no harm in that, he likely wanted this to be over and I could hardly blame him.

“I-i-t’s alright.” I manage to stammer this out, I still have troubles talking to people normally, and after everything my phobias of strangers has worsened considerably.

“My name is Detective Smith, we spoke on the phone before. If you need anything or want to take a break during this interview you let me know.” He did his best to put on a smile and sound kind, but I could tell he didn’t mean a word of it. Likely he could sense my unease, and just wanted me to relax, nothing more, but who knows what his true motives could be?

I simply nodded, nervously darting my eyes around the room, careful not to look into his. I had spoken to Detective Smith once over the phone, but his presence in person was overwhelming.

“We went to the location you gave us, and while we were able to locate THE DEN, there was no evidence of anyone being there-”

“That can’t be!” I exclaimed in horror, cutting the detective off before he was able to finish his sentence. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, th-they were there!” I must have sounded like a mad man, desperately trying to explain some intangible horror.

“Calm down Mr. Carter.” Entering a frenzy was not uncommon for me these days, at least when it came to this particular subject, and Smith knew this. “You didn’t let me finish, the cult you uncovered managed to relocate but we’ll soon know their identities thanks to your descriptions. It’s only a matter of time before we catch their leader and the whole thing comes crashing down. Besides, there was ample evidence of their deeds.”

This did not put my mind at ease. Rationally, I knew he was probably right, but there was always the thought that they had gotten away with this before, so what was stopping them from doing so again?

“W-why t-tell me this?” I stammered, rocking myself slowly back and forth in the office chair in the police meeting room. I knew I probably wouldn’t like the answer.

“We have some photos, just point out the people you recognize here. After that, you’re free to go, we won’t bother you again.” Smith gave a genuine smile for once, it seemed he was telling the truth.

Jonathan was then shown several photos, some of people he didn’t recognize, but several contained members of the cult he narrowly escaped from. He identified the obvious people first, George and Brianna, but also several workers he remembered milling about over his few days there. That’s when one picture caught his attention, as he slowly turned the page in the photo book he had been asked to look over. That’s when his barely existent composure was instantly lost.

Smith had to call in several officers to get Jonathan to calm down, and even then, he was hardly in any state to continue. All he would do was mummer in fear, rocking as he clutched his head, as if having seen a ghost.

“It couldn’t be her. They are telling me lies! She’s dead.

Smith lit a cigarette and shook his head, letting out a puff of smoke with a somber sigh. He felt sorry for Mr. Carter. He picked up the photo that had caused the breakdown, a young girl, maybe only five years old beamed back at the detective with an innocent expression. Behind him stood a younger, but familiar face, the girl’s father. A note was scribbled on the back which he turned to read, as if to lay any suspicion to rest:

Gemma Watson and her presumed father George Watson 1999.

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