Down a lonesome road, off a weathered path, the forest hides a forgotten secret. The woods nearly engulf what lies therein, nature poised to swallow the lingering remnants of those who once lived and died there… and who may yet still lurk its grounds. The creaking husks of empty buildings dot the remnants of a lane, now little more than a haggard trail, which circles a shallow patch of fetid marsh. Years of neglect wrack the fragile structures rising from the overgrowth, yet the place stubbornly persists, outside of time, ever decaying but refusing to vanish.
A blight stains the earth there, calling to undesirables and the shunned since time before remembering. Sickly animals who seem strangely aware wander at its fringes, while people with nowhere else to go, or those trying to escape something, find their way there. Time and again, the place became a small village of outcasts trying to eke out their existence, only for the foulness of the place to darken whatever shadows lurked in their hearts, or twisting some aspect of nature, and consuming whoever had fallen into its grasp in a tide of madness and ruin. Then the place would sleep again, 'til more wayward souls found the scraps left by those who came before, rebuilding atop the same cursed foundations. Those few which took note of the ones who sought to inhabit those woods, only to never emerge again, began to speak of it in hushed tones, the word “Haunt” being fearfully whispered.
On and on the cycle persists, each new process of corruption strengthening the curse which lays upon the land. Each new collapse yielding a horror strong enough to leave a lasting mark upon the place, lingering through the years. And when the sun begins to flee from the sky earlier and earlier each evening, when the nights extend their grasp, growing colder and longer… the atrocities of the past echo stronger, reaching from beyond time and the grave to grasp hungrily at the realm of the living. Beckoning in those who dare to approach, the Haunt greedily welcomes those who'd think to brave its realm, but once you enter its reach… you may never truly leave.
-Legend of the Scorch-
A potent curse lays upon blackened shards of ruined walls, which rise from the weed-choked ashes of a house consumed by flame. Time and again, inhabitants drawn to the place will seek to rebuild upon the same seared earth. Within the blackened soil seethes the will of a wrathful soul, a pariah even among outcasts. Driven to the village by accusations of witchcraft, the young lady found only brief respite amongst other shunned souls. The desperate inhabitants had sins of their own, and the notion that they might somehow buy salvation by condemning a witch began to circulate in hushed tones. The girl thought to flee, but Winter had set its icy teeth into the land. By the time she realized the wilderness was the less dangerous option, it was too late.
Rather than try to drag her out, the villagers simply set fire to the house and surrounded it with readied pitchforks, trapping her within. She never gave them the satisfaction of screaming or trying to run, instead bellowing out a dread malediction, the roar of the flames seeming to strengthen her voice. Swearing upon her own innocence, she promised that the flames which consumed her would never fade until they'd tasted true guilt. The fire blazed with frightful intensity, spreading to a nearby stall and taking a horse with it, the poor creature's cries lasting only a second before the consuming fire choked off its wail. When only a few cinders remained of the house, they sifted through the ashes to bury whatever remained of her, but found not one charred bone. The ashes never seemed to diminish, and the earth remained unnaturally warm, snow unable to gather on the spot, steaming into vapor after any flake touched the ground there.
The summer following her death was oppressively hot. Sweltering, dry heat that drained the vitality of the people. The plague of heat seemed to be radiating from the ashen grave, the ground still charred and lifeless, and any plants near the edges of the scorched patch were roasted brown and brittle. Compounding the torment of the heat, any water from the meager springs or hauled up from the stoutest wells had all gone sour. Tinged red and viscous, none could bring themselves to say it plainly, but all saw it for what it was, the water of the earth having turned to blood. Eventually the people could only lay sprawled in the heat, gasping for breath, hoping for some end to the searing hell. It seemed their wish had been granted when storm clouds finally gathered. Mustering themselves to their feet with renewed hope, they stepped outside to catch the water in whatever vessels were handy, waiting for it to fall. And waiting. And waiting.
Hours passed, night approaching, and yet despite the distant sparks of lightning and rolls of thunder, and the billowing clouds overhead, no succor fell from the sky. As the last thin ray of the sun vanished below the horizon, a deafening, blinding bolt of lighting blasted the scorched grave, igniting the bone-dry tinder surrounding the patch. The flames spread with terrible swiftness, like water from a broken dam, rushing through the brittle undergrowth and devouring the village in a hellish roar. The villagers could not even scream, the breath wrenched from their lungs by the consuming flames. Only when naught but charred bones remained did the clouds finally release a deluge of rain, quenching the inferno, leaving a blackened, desolate expanse.
In time the woods returned, nourished by the ashes, and once again the land beckoned to lost souls. Finding solid foundations from the former structures, they rebuilt atop them, including the site of the girl's dying curse, which still bore strangely ashen soil and unusual warmth. Even if the hex upon her killers had been satisfied, her anger echoed within the fouled earth itself, persisting beyond years to visit itself on any who tried to dwell upon the spot. Sparks will readily leap from the hearth, wires will seem to fray of their own accord, and children will be drawn to play with fire. However it plays out, the results are unwavering, Time and again the house is engulfed in flames like a dread phoenix to devour those who dwell within, before returning to ashen slumber once more, adding to the host of spirits bound to its scorched earth, trapped within the ruined husk which stands dolefully in the wilderness.
-Legend of the Nightmare-
As tales of the Haunt grew through the years, it naturally became a point of fascination for curious youths. Their elders had all seen or heard enough in their lives to not doubt that it was a place left alone by any who valued their well-being. Yet such is the impetuous folly of youth to drift to the forbidden like moths to a flame. The children took to daring each other to creep as close to the grounds as possible, and stand there for as long as they could bear it, becoming a manner of unofficial right of passage. Still, some sought to up the ante, daring their fellows to more fearful extremes.
One such dare, leveled at a particular young boy, was to wander into the heart of the then-vacant woods, and spend the night alone. He and the group who were putting him up to it crept out shortly after dark, walking for miles to reach the Haunt, his apprehension growing as they egged him on. When at last they stood outside the foreboding rim of the forest, he'd lost any desire to go in, but the shame of turning back and chickening out forced him onward. Taking one shaking step after another into the woods, he crept forward, following the weedy remnants of a path. Looking to simply go in far enough to be out sight from his peers, he glanced around for any tree large enough to duck behind and try to ride out the night. Finding one suitably large, with a little hollow to hide in, he knelt down to clear away the litter of the forest floor.
Brushing aside old leaves, twigs, and pine needles, his hand brushed something smooth and round. Picking it up, he held it under one of the thin rays of moonlight offering any illumination… and stared into the hollow sockets of a yellowing skull. With a shriek he dropped the macabre discovery and ran in a blind panic, tearing through branches that tore at his clothes and stung his face, realizing too late he didn't know which way he was running. Skidding to a halt, he looked around frantically for anything resembling a safe hiding place, and found a weathered old row boat. Ducking into it, he curled up, hugging his knees to his chest and shivering in terror. As minutes ticked agonizingly by, his nerves began to steady. Questions raced in his mind about how he'd find his way back out again, but he assured himself that the kids who'd come with him had surely raced home at the sound of his scream, that they'd be back with a search party by morning, if not sooner. “When I wake up, everything will be alright,” he told himself, and eventually, he even grew calm enough to slip into a dream.
When he opened his eyes again, it was still dark, though he felt he must have been asleep for a very long time. Cautiously he peeked out from under his makeshift refuge, and looked around for any signs of help. What he saw sent a fresh chill up his spine and he suppressed a low moan of dread. Laying in stark clarity under a cold patch of moonlight was a headless corpse. It seemed to be dressed in loose, colorful clothing, and as a faint wisp of bewilderment began to dull the cold grip of panic, a face suddenly flopped in front of him. The leering, pale, garishly decorated face of a clown flashing a manic grin at him while laughing wildly, nearly drowning out the boy's cry of shock. As suddenly as it appeared, it began rolling away from him, revealing itself to be a disembodied head. Rolling turned to bouncing, and then it began to float, drifting away while gibbering madly. As it drifted past the headless corpse, the body suddenly sat upright, stood, and began to chase after the head, a second, echoing laugh drifting through the woods as it chased after the cackling cranium. Shutting his eyes tight again, the boy fought to steady his breath, telling himself he must still be dreaming, that when he woke up, everything would be alright.
Gradually his eyes drifted open once more. It was still clearly night, though it felt as though he'd been asleep for ages. Carefully glancing out into the night, hoping to see familiar faces searching for him, he shivered at what greeted him instead. Broken bits of furniture were strewn about, and jagged bits of ruined walls jutted up from the fallen leaves, while a lamp laying on its side cast a yellowed patch of light in the gloom. Suddenly the sound of running footsteps across the crinkling forest floor echoed around him, as a panting, terrified woman in white raced into view, only to trip over a root. Clutching her ankle, she looked up and screamed, pleading with a hulking form that stalked into the hidden boy's line of sight. The huge figure lifted up a sizable axe, and brought it down upon the woman's head, sending a hideous red splash across the lamp, turning the light a hellish crimson. Bringing the axe up only to bring it down again, a second splatter of gore went flying, this time reaching the boat under which the boy hid, dripping through onto him. Stifling a scream he hid his face in his hands and tried to breathe quietly, telling himself that when he woke up, everything would be alright.
It was impossible to say how long he'd been telling himself this, forgetting each horrid dream as a new terror rose in its place, but his salvation never came. Now the clearing in which he'd sought refuge has become a waking nightmare fueled by the terror of a boy lost to the Haunt. A place where multiple horrors from its tormented past converge, fragments of former landmarks and tragedies blending together, feeding and strengthened by a child's endless, fearful dreams.
-Legend of the Meat House-
There was once a lone woodsman, seeking nothing more than solitude. To live off the land and keep to himself was all he wanted. When he heard of woods supposedly cursed, shunned by all goodly people, he merely saw it as the ultimate opportunity to be alone, for who else would go there? For a time, he was content, surrounded only by the forest, and leaving it only on rare occasion for those supplies he couldn't fashion or harvest for himself. Word began to spread, however, of the man living in the forest and seemingly thriving. To his consternation, more wayward souls gradually took up residence amidst the woods, taking his presence as proof of its habitability.
At first they only settled far out of sight or sound from his shack, and he could pretend they weren't even there, until he went to wander the trails and would encounter them clumsily treading over the wildlife trails he would hunt by. Then they began moving in ever closer, more of them gatherinf in the woods, until he could scarcely shut them out of his attention. He thought of leaving, but he'd been there before any of them, they were his woods. Trying to make the best of things and turn an annoyance into an advantage, he used his skill at hunting and dressing game to make a modest business, providing the meat for the tiny village. For a time the humble amusements and luxuries were enough to help him forget about the rest of the village, but it was not to last. Bit by bit, his frustration with a lack of quiet and isolation began to wear on him.
It came to a breaking point when a pair of youths vandalized his home, throwing eggs at his home because he'd told them to stay out of his earshot, one of them managing to break a thin window. The butcher didn't scream, didn't even go to their parents. He calmly righted his house, as an idea began to form. The following day, when the two children went venturing into the surrounding woods, they never noticed the lurking shadow stalking them from just out of sight. Straying farther and farther from the village, until they were beyond the hearing of anyone else, a near-silent, muted whistle was the only warning before an arrow found its mark, felling one of the youths. As the other ran, crying out for help, a second arrow was loosed, tearing through the throat and silencing pleas none would ever hear.
The disappearance of the two children weighed upon the villagers, and a search party was made to find them, turning up no trace. Yet days turned to weeks, and daily life had to continue, the people taking what joys they could from the simple things. Quickly becoming the talk of the small population, the smoked sausages the butcher had for sale on day were remarked upon for their singular sweetness. When pressed, the butcher said it was a special blend of meat, venison and a few other select inclusions which he claimed were a trade secret. When the small supply was gone, they begged him to make more, and as he turned his back to the counter to slam a cleaver through a shank of flesh on the block, a crooked smile crossed his lips as he promised he'd have more in due time.
More people gradually began to go missing, and talk began to circulate of the land's past tragedies and whether they should flee before greater calamity struck. All the while the butcher continued to produce an assortment of succulent sausages and steaks, the likes of which the village had never tasted before. The butcher wondered how long it would take them to catch on, how long until there'd be scrutinizing glances and more urgent questions, yet they never came. One day, however, he vanished, his disappearance punctuated quite dramatically by a number of human skulls, marred by cleaver marks, left upon the doorsteps of their respective homes. When the people put the pieces together, their horror and sickness could find no outlet, for the now-obvious perpetrator had slipped away like a shade.
The disappearances didn't stop, despite the butcher's own. Anyone venturing too far into the woods never returned, and the menace stalking the villagers only seemed to grow bolder. Eventually they were no longer safe even walking from one house to another, being taken in the blink of an eye. By winter, only a handful of them remained, and they too gradually fell to starvation, the cold, or the shadow of the butcher which prevented them from finding food or firewood. The last living one could only breathe weakly, sick from hunger and shaking from cold, as a figure finally revealed itself, wearing a gore-stained apron and striding forward with a rusted cleaver.
When the thaw came, the village was silent once more, broken only by the phantasmal, drifting sounds of sharpening knives and blades carving through flesh when one dared to wander too close to the ramshackle remnants of a lonely shack.
-Legend of Hobo Village and the Dollhouse-
All but the most desperate or foolish knew to steer clear of the haunt, but pressing circumstances can make desperate fools of anyone. At the turn of the last century, stories among groups of vagrant wanderers with nowhere else to go drew some to a certain patch of woods. Deep-rooted stories about horror and tragedy passed down for generations found themselves at odds with a recent, idyllic tale about a kindly woman who'd taken up residence in the long shunned forest. Like a ray of sunlight piercing the gloom, she supposedly offered refuge to homeless souls.
One such man decided it was worth chancing, not having many prospects anyway. He found the place easily enough, though the few people he'd asked directions from seemed either reluctant to tell him. Arriving at the woods, he thought perhaps the whole thing was a joke, passing by nothing but ruined shacks as he moved deeper into the woods. Then he saw a cluster of tents set up outside the fence of a strangely quaint little cottage, in contrast to the disrepair he'd seen along the way. Half-remembered fairy tales flickered through his mind, and a sense of unease tinged his hopes. A few people, men and women seemingly drawn by the same rumors as himself, were busying themselves with repairs or clearing the undergrowth. Seeing him approaching, one of them came to greet him and introduce him to the lady of the house. He was led through the picturesque little gate up to the house, his guide knocking on the door. A few moments later, a well-dressed, stately woman answered, welcoming him in as his guide went back to mending the fence.
The cottage was small, but well-kept, though the dominating feature was a curious abundance of dolls. Old dolls, new dolls, hand-crafted dolls from overseas, simple corn husk dolls, even several mannequin-like life-sized dolls with shockingly vibrant eyes. They visibly unnerved the man, and the woman seemed to notice, laughing with a hand over her mouth. Dolls, especially unique ones, were a passion of hers, she explained, but understood that not everyone shared her interest. Eager to push the dolls out of his mind, the man inquired why she lived so far removed from everything, and why she was apparently a benefactor to those down on their luck. She chuckled charmingly again and said she came from wealth but had a taste for solitude, and with the silly tales scaring most people away, she reasoned these woods made a suitably quiet getaway. At least, until a growing number of vagabonds began wandering into the woods, but she just didn't have the heart to turn them away. So she offered them food and clothing in exchange for helping around her woodland home, and to the most helpful, she'd make arrangements with the family business to find them more formal employ, those chosen being able to leave the forest with their heads held high, knowing a new life waited for them. Offering him the same chance, she said that he could find some sturdy overalls in a chest by the front door, and that the trail further on had become overgrown.
The clothes in the chest seemed worn but solidly mended, and after throwing on the relatively-new, clean garments, he set to work hacking back the vines and saplings that choked the trail. Still he couldn't shake the gaze of those dolls, the odd gleam of their eyes coming back to him over and over as he worked. Eventually evening came, and he felt more exhausted than the work alone would account for. Gathering with the others around a large kettle of soup being cooked amidst the meager village, he was glad to have a hot meal in his stomach. Glancing around at the other faces, he noticed that the person who'd first greeted him was absent. Someone else informed him that his acquaintance had been “called up”, the lady having found a job for him, and that spending a night in the guest room was a traditional sendoff before heading out first thing the next morning. This did nothing to assuage the man's growing unease, and he glanced up at a silhouette apparently gazing back down at them.
That night he had fitful dreams, the strangeness of the place troubling his mind, and the gaze of those strange dolls haunting him as he slept. Seeing that silhouette again, staring down at him with those eyes, he bolted up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep, a distant thumping he couldn't place adding to his insomnia. Laying awake on a cot, he figured he'd say farewell to the fellow who'd greeted him as he was leaving. As morning came and wore on though, he saw no one leave the house. After forcing down a breakfast he had little appetite for, he joined the others as the woman listed off things that needed doing. Through the open front door of her house, he thought he saw the sleeve of the same shirt the now-absent man had been wearing yesterday, dangling out of the clothes chest. He said nothing, but it seemed perhaps the woman had caught his gaze and gauged his thoughts, for though she smiled at him her eyes held a scrutinizing glint, even telling him pointedly that he was welcome to his friend's old clothes, since he'd received a new suit before leaving. He muttered some polite acknowledgment before busying himself, and could feel the woman's eyes on his back as he left. He resolved to slip away that night, but as he returned from his days work on the trail, the woman was there to greet him and insisted he come inside to discuss a job opportunity for one of his unique background. He had no clue what she was on about, but couldn't think of a way to slip gracefully away, and reluctantly went inside.
She locked the door behind him, her benign facade slipping away, regarding him with a cold, yet begrudgingly impressed smirk. He presented quite the potential headache, she said, seeing all the incongruities so clearly. All the others were just so happy to have food and warm clothes with the promise of more, that they fell in line and believed whatever they were told. Not him though. For that, there was only one thing to be done, she said, her voice growing icy as her hand stretched for a nearby drawer. As he moved to intercept her hand, she instead whirled around and blew some manner of powder into his face from her other hand, and before he could register his shock, he began to black out. Awakening after an indeterminable span, he slowly became aware of a pounding in his skull, then realized it was not wholly the effects of the drug. Looking around the room with fogged eyes, he saw a moving figure nearby, and straining to focus, his vision began to clear, revealing a sight that made him scream through the gag tied around his mouth, muffling his cry.
There, lashed to a bed, was a woman whose limbs seemed merged with porcelain, as though the material had been poured around her arms and legs then fired solid, the shiny white slabs of fine china wrapped around her forearms, biceps, calves, and thighs, while gnarled, scarred lumps of flesh bulged sickeningly at the joints. And her face, a painted mask of porcelain fused to her skull, the dainty features of a doll contrasting with the bloodshot, wild eyes which stared forward in mad desperation. The tortured thing strained against its bonds in semi-rhythmic jolts, trying to free itself, or perhaps merely slam its head to end its own suffering. Then the man noticed another presence, and saw the lady standing in the doorway. It was a sloppy job, she admitted. Always looking to add to her collection, the examples downstairs being her first successful forays into a new source of materials. Pretty, but lacking something. So lifelike, yet unmoving, but what if she could make a truly living doll? So far success eluded her, with only one surviving at all, and she did nothing but thrash like a thing possessed. Still, she turned out better than the latest attempt, she added, gesturing to what was left of the man who'd vanished the night before, now an unspeakable mess of mangled flesh and jagged porcelain. Ah well, she continued nonchalantly, as her latest captive moaned piteously and struggled against his bonds. She'd have plenty of opportunity to correct her technique, considering all the raw materials just waiting in line to be taken care of…
Whatever became of the woman is uncertain, whether the hopeful souls who labored for her discovered her secret and visited a grisly fate upon her, or if she poisoned their stew one night before they could find out, leaving them to die miserably, their spirits still clinging to their shattered hopes. As for her creations, some say they yet linger. Hideous things lurching through the darkened, derelict cottage, leering through broken windows at any who find there way to the dollhouse.
-Legend of the Jail-
Not all those who ventured to the woods were those with nowhere else to go. Once, a man saw potential, securing the rights to a plot of land no one else wanted anything to do with, and attempted to bend it to his purpose. Building a sizable jail there, neatly tucked away from the world, the self-made Warden thought to capitalize on the woods' remote location and ill reputation by housing criminals there for a price, quietly taking grim amusement in the irony. A shunned land storied for attracting vagrants and outcasts now put to use by outsiders who had people they wanted to be rid of, all while he reaped the bounty.
Little surprise then, that an amassment of convicted souls, brought together by one man's profiteering, would compound with the latent curse of the land. It started small, with prisoners becoming especially unruly, guards responding with excessive force, and tempers in general becoming more volatile. Nothing that couldn't be chalked-up to the miserable conditions for the captives and their keepers, the Warden cutting corners to maximize his gains, all while lording over his so-called kingdom. Indeed, as time wore on it was the Warden who showed the most peculiarity, ordering ever more opulent luxuries for himself, while the conditions for the prisoners grew worse.
The Warden's decadence grew more outlandish, and he ordered a series of ramshackle cells and fenced corridors constructed outside, forcing the prisoners to scurry through the tangled pathways like rats for his amusement. Not content with this, a grisly execution stage was assembled, and the Warden instituted theatrical displays of capital punishment for any who stepped out of line, the deaths of the condemned enacted in full view of the inmates' pens. Despite the potency of the prisoners' rage, the Warden kept them so poorly fed that they hadn't the strength to resist. Indeed, between starvation and exposure the inmates began to drop like flies, while the calloused Warden gained on the back of their misery. Lying about the state of the inmates who no longer lived, the Warden continued to collect payment for housing them, while making plans to have another batch brought in, increasing his profits as well as providing more entertainment. Eventually the last of the first group of prisoners collapsed dead from exhaustion and want as he was forced to shamble through the mazes.
That night, the pens went wild with rattling, the fences shaking as though every man who'd once been held by them were shaking the walls with all the strength that was robbed from them in life. The rattling grew to a frightful crescendo and it seemed as though they would shake themselves apart completely, when at the stroke of Midnight all went abruptly still, not even an echo lingering past the mark. A few moments later, and the sudden, eerie quiet was torn asunder once more by the sound of an angry stampede surging like a gale of wind towards the Warden's lavish chambers, coming in at once through the windows and doors, blasting them apart, and wrenching the terrified man from his bed, bearing him aloft on countless unseen hands as he screamed.
Some say he was dragged into the guillotine he had constructed, while some say he was thrown into the pens to slowly starve as the prisoners had. Still others suggest he was strapped into the electric chair and fried, great flashes from the sparking contraption flickering through the fences as he shuddered and twitched. His scorched body fused to the chair, and kept his spirit anchored in torment beyond death by the vengeful spirits of the inmates, who still rattle and scream within the pens, bound to the site of their living torment.
-Legend of the Cemetery-
That a graveyard laying within such a tormented place would be rife with restless souls should come as little surprise. Loose soil in moldering graves stirs when all should be still, and icy wisps flit between the crumbling tombstones. The creaking doors of musty crypts swing on their hinges with long, rusty groans, pushed and pulled by the night wind, while abandoned coffins stand rotting, awaiting a burial that will never come. Tucked away near the back of the charnel garden, nearly engulfed by creeping plants, sits a dilapidated trailer. Windows broken in, door a mangled wreck, interior torn apart by the elements. The evidence of some struggle nearly lost amidst the work of time and decay.
Not every shunned person who found their way there was alive when they got arrived. In ages past, it was used as a dumping ground for plague victims, so that their taint would remain as far from the living as possible, and throughout the years, murderous individuals have used it to hide the evidence of their crimes. It was a relatively recent event which proved a tipping point, when a foul miasma on the wind was noted by neighboring residents miles away. Action was demanded, and official exploration led to the gruesome discovery of a dozen dead bodies, in varying states of decay, simply left butchered on the ground in a horrifying display amidst weathered tombstones. Aside from the recently-murdered corpses, the grounds were littered with alarming numbers of bones, some jutting from the ground, others simple scattered upon the surface. While their investigations would ultimately yield little in the way of answers, it was decided that a groundskeeper be appointed to discourage the place from ever being used as a human dumping ground again.
And so a man was tempted to the job, the seeming ease of keeping an old graveyard tidy and chasing off intruders for a surprisingly generous pay seemed like a dream come true. Moving a small trailer into the far corner of the plot, he settled in to the role easily. Certain old-timers warned him against it, citing the old stories that had been handed down for generations, but he shrugged them all off. It was the 20th century, and tales of curses and ghosts were just ridiculous old fables. That the land had been uninhabited for so long was meaningless, he said, when plenty of other patches of land were still wild, or had been reclaimed by nature despite former habitation. Scoffing at even the most dire warnings to find somewhere else to be during certain nights in Autumn, he remained steadfast as the nights grew long and cold.
One night in October, he sat watching TV when static began to blur the reception. Getting up with an annoyed grunt, he thumped the set, which briefly cleared the picture. It lasted hardly a second, but he paused before trying again, taken aback by what he thought he saw on the screen, something that didn't fit with anything he'd been viewing. Giving it another thump, the image came back, lasting just long enough for him to be sure of some details. He saw what looked like a mass of organs hanging from a fleshy, red cavity, draped over gray stone, before the image returned to static for several seconds longer, then clearing up abruptly and returning to the nightly news. Shaking off the strange occurrence, he chalked it up to a conflicting signal from some late-night horror movie that his imagination had embellished in an attempt to fill in the details. Satisfied with that explanation, he decided to call it a night, switching off the TV and heading for bed. The next day, as he was making the rounds, he noticed what looked like rusty stains on several of the time-worn gravestones. Recalling the strange image from the night before, he shuddered, but pushed it out of his mind. The tombstones were old, it was no surprise they'd be discolored, and even if the stain was lingering evidence from the murders, so what? That and the jumbled signal on the TV were just a coincidence, fueled by the foolish stories of those old codgers.
Trying to push a sense of unease out of his mind from his mind that night, he watched some old black and white comedy, when the screen went to static again. Growing irate, frustration overrode, or at least masked, his fear, and he once more moved to give the TV a smack. As he raised his hand to strike, the static cleared, only the image lingering on the screen wasn't what he'd been watching. A dark image filled the screen, the light so low he had trouble making out the details. Trying to discern what it was, he gradually realized it was a closeup of someone's face, and focusing mostly on the eyes, though they were closed. Just as he mumbled his bewilderment under his breath, the eyes on the screen shot open, bloodshot and gleaming. He yelped, falling backward gasping for breath as his eyes remained locked on the unnerving stare glaring at him from the glow of the television. His prior anger flared once more, and he got to his feet, grabbing a baseball bat and readying to smash in the screen, when it flickered, the image shifting to a view of a trailer. Staring at the image in disbelief, he realized he could see himself through the window of the trailer on the screen. Turning his head slowly to look out the window, he noted that the same movement was echoed by himself on the screen. Seeing nothing outside the window for the darkness of night, he gripped the bat tighter and took one long, swift step towards the trailer door, kicking it open and stepping out into the night with a defiant yell.
Striding several heavy steps out the door which he slammed behind him, he demanded whoever was doing this to show themselves, to step out and face him, or else get the hell out of his woods before he found them himself. Nothing returned his echoing call but a silent, cold wind, rustling a few lingering leaves on the trees, which rattled against the brittle twigs. Still breathing heavily, he turned back to the trailer, only to see a disemboweled corpse laying on the ground between it and himself. Too stunned to even scream, he simply stood, dumbstruck for what felt like minutes, before the corpse began to shift itself, rising unnaturally like a puppet being pulled up by strings. Whirling around, panic urging him to run, he faced several more bodies in similar condition, draped over tombstones like strewn garments, before they too began to rise. At the same time, the earth all around him seemed to grow horribly fluid, suddenly shifting as though something were swimming beneath it, before a host of rotting limbs and naked skulls began to push up through the soil. Tattered flesh and clacking bones began stalking towards him. Turning around to stare point-blank at the first corpse that had crept up behind him, he slammed the bat into the side of its head and darted for the door of his trailer, which now refused to open, stuck closed from the slam he'd given it, as a cold, moldy hand clasped onto his shoulder…
Eventually when the man's sparse presence was missed in the nearest town, someone went out to check on him, finding no trace of him. All there was to see beyond the overgrown graves was a wrecked trailer, door caved in and gore staining its ruined bulk.
-Legend of the Lab-
Though most of those drawn to the Haunt were brought there by desperation, among the exceptions was a woman who initially sought understanding. While scientifically-minded and quite skeptical of the supposedly supernatural, the long-standing legend of the shunned woods piqued her morbid curiosity. She didn't believe anything fantastical actually lay within the woods, but there had to be something which fed these tales through the years. Thinking to indulge her fancy by exploring the grounds and braving a night there, she prepared for a camping excursion and set off for the forest, finding foundations that seemed centuries old alongside wooden husks of more recent construction, and a wealth of bizarre leavings like a maze of metal fencing and dozens of weathered dolls. What most arrested her attention though, was a wooden building strewn with lab equipment from various eras, grisly specimens preserved in jars or decayed beyond recognition on dissection trays, and a number of curious journals spanning decades and penned by a succession of authors.
As she read through the pages, she was taken aback by the contents. Meticulously-detailed notes and theorems, covering an array of macabre topics, such as the manipulation and reanimation of dead flesh, the binding of spirits, collecting energies harvested from mortal anguish, and safeguarding oneself from vengeful, unearthly entities. She wanted to dismiss it as lunatic nonsense, as the ravings of some fevered mind, but the contents were laced with a dread persuasiveness. Even if it was all hogwash scrawled by the hand of some overly imaginative or moonstruck individual, they were possessed of remarkable insight and intellect, aware of enough legitimate scientific principles and procedures to give their work a glint of plausibility.
So engrossed in the pages was she, that she only took notice of how many hours had passed when it became too straining to read them in the dimming light of dusk. Looking around, she was surprised at how the time had escaped her, but put her thoughts to preparing for the night, wondering whether she wanted to sleep in the derelict structure or take the time to pitch a tent. Taking a look outside, she then noticed something far more surprising than her losing track of time, as a soft glow seemed to be emanating from further down the path. A chill ran down her spine as the various stories she'd heard, the strange ruins she'd seen with her own eyes, and the contents of those bewildering notebooks, all flitted through her mind. Shaking it off, she resolved to investigate, sure there had to be a sound explanation.
Her footfalls seemed to muffle unnaturally in the uncanny silence which now pervaded the woods, as she grew aware of another sound emanating from the same direction as the light, like a great stirring, of rushing soil. The ground to the side of the path suddenly cleared, revealing an open plot studded with numerous weathered headstones, the earth blanketed in a low, swirling mist. Shining a flashlight into the fog, the vapors cleared from where the beam struck, as if repelled by its light, which revealed that the soil stirred like water, as if by something swimming beneath. Under the light, the loose dirt seemed to boil, and from the frothing earth erupted a slender, skeletal limb, pulling up behind it the rest of a fleshless skeleton which turned its naked, grinning skull to stare at her. As it's jaw went slack in a howl that emanated from no fixed spot, yet echoed all around her, dozens of other corpses in varying states of decay began to emerge.
She ran, her mind reeling from everything she thought she knew being turned on its head as a vision out of a nightmare began to shamble after her fleeing form. Yet survival pressed itself upon her, and she knew the moldering, deathless legion would drag her down to join them if their decaying claws were to reach her. Fragments of the journals' writings came back to her then, and somehow she knew she needed to reach the shack. Despite the lead she thought she had on them, she was suddenly horribly aware of unearthly footfalls behind her, and she dove into the building as it came within reach, shouldering through a rotten door. Gasping on the floor, shaking off rotten shards of wood, she shakily got to her feet and looked behind her. Standing there was the necrotic mob, making no attempt to reach her, though their rotting gazes followed her movements. Shuffling over to a wall, she looked up to where it met the ceiling, and squinting through the dusty gloom she made out a combination of wires and sigils. A warding barrier, as mentioned in the ledgers.
Looking to the open pages of the journals, then back to the unmoving horde, she stuck a hand through the doorway, retracting it swiftly as the throng of corpses lurched forward slightly to grasp for it before it was out of reach again. She gazed into their empty sockets, contemplating everything she'd read, the full import of what it meant if all that the books said was true… and a smile crept to her face. A mad, wild grin as thoughts not only of knowledge, but power, began filling her mind. As a crazed cackle escaped her lips, she'd swear the decaying things outside actually shrank back in fear. From then on, those that ventured too close to the Haunt could hear that hideous laughter in the wind on clear nights, laced with the sounds of electrodes and terrible machinery, of scalpels gliding through flesh, and unearthly moans as the living and dead alike were bent to the foul will of the mad doctor.
-Legend of Spider Cave and the Dock-
At one time a river ran through the shaded woods, and a marsh deep enough to row a boat in filled the low point in the land around which the old trails circled. It even provided modest fishing, and source of water drew in other game nourished a variety of wild edibles. The bounty was enough that the village of outcasts felt as though their fortunes had changed for the better, but such was not to last.
The first trouble came when small animals began turning up on and in the water near the dock. They all seemed curiously starved, being especially gaunt despite the abundance of food and water in the area. While this was prompted some fearful speculation among some, most thought little of it, until a young girl perished in the waters at night, and was found beside the dock the next morning. Her death weighed on them heavily not only for the inherent tragedy, but for the strangeness of her death. None had heard a single sound, and though her window was open, her room was on the second floor, too high to jump down. Most chilling of all was the state of her corpse, utterly emaciated and pale, as if drained of all vitality, and still half on the dock, as though she'd not actually drowned.
Fear grew as only a few days later, a grown man was found in much the same state, withered unnaturally, only one arm in the water as the rest of him lay on the wooden planks of the dock. Upon closer inspection, a pair of pinpricks was found on the back of the man's neck. As those who'd gathered at the grim scene murmured fearfully over what might have caused this, a singularly large spider skittered out of the dead man's gaping mouth and crawled under the dock. Jumping back in a fright, the man's corpse was fearfully pushed into the marsh, and the dock was hacked apart in search of the spider, to no avail.
Crawlspaces were scoured, trees chopped down in a growing berth around peoples' homes, and every spider seen was crushed on sight, yet none of the ones killed resembled the one that had crawled out of that corpse's mouth, and more victims continued to appear. Eventually someone took notice of a mound beside several trees, realizing it had a hollow thump to it, and closer scrutiny revealed a small opening. Widening it with shovels and picks, someone thrust a torch inside, trying to illuminate the interior. For a second, a mass of white, shimmering webbing could be seen, before it took the flame of the torch, and began to burn. Then a tidal wave of skittering horror surged forth, a rush of spiders, some as large as a man's head, screeching and fleeing from the heat, burning as they ran, taking out several of those who'd disturbed the nest before turning to cinders. While the rest fled.
A number of people frantically threw what meager belongings they had into trunks, and were preparing to flee. There was no way of knowing how many of the spiders had escaped, and to stay seemed to promise certain doom. Yet when they went to their doors, they found them either entirely stuck, or opening only to reveal walls of sticky gossamer blocking their paths. Glancing out their windows, they saw large, spindly legs moving past as more silk blotted out the light completely. Those who huddled fearfully in their homes could hear the screams of their neighbors who tried to break through the webbing, or even the very walls of their homes, escaping their cocooned prisons only to meet the fangs of the giant arachnid whose children had been slaughtered...
-Legend of the Clown House-
Clowns. Uttered in the modern day, the word seems more likely to inspire unease than amusement, despite their genesis as entertainers and merrymakers. It's almost tragic, that those who sought to bring laughter would increasingly be seen as unsettling, even nightmarish, until the clown had become a cultural icon of terror. Yet tragedy and terror are the lifeblood of the Haunt.
Not everyone bought into the cult of fear that had grown to surround clowns, a particular woman finding the whole thing silly. She couldn't understand how anyone could find clowns scary when they looked so ridiculous. Perhaps it was fate, or merely unfortunate chance, then, that she would be confronted by others' deep-seated fears one night, when her car sputtered to a halt on a lonely road. Setting off down a gravel path seeking help, she eventually thought she saw someone moving down a faint trail deeper into the woods. Calling out, she followed after them, trying to catch up even as it seemed their pace quickened ahead of hers, until they seemed to vanish. Gasping, she stopped to catch her breath, looking around in the shadowed forest, eventually turning back to follow the trail back to the main road and try another direction. She'd taken only a few steps when a sight brought her to a halt, and made her blood run cold.
Standing in the gloom, slowly emerging into a ray of moonlight, was a clown. A pale face splashed with vibrant markings around the eyes and mouth, an oversized bulbous nose, a shock of unnaturally vibrant hair, and tattered yet garishly-colored clothing. Its face was unreadable at first, its piercing, wide-eyed gaze showing no emotion, until a grin began to creep over its features, lips curling at the corners and parting to show gleaming teeth as pale as its face, seemingly too many for its mouth, which just kept stretching wider than it should have. Then its shoulders began to shake as a mad, tittering cackle began to screech from its maw, and a second later it was charging at her. She spun around and darted, tearing through the undergrowth, veering off the trail, blindly racing to flee that thing, her heart pounding in her chest.
As she ran she thought she saw more of them lurking between the trees, not moving but simply leering from behind gnarled bark with manic grins, phantasmal giggling wisping past her ears. She had to veer left and right to avoid going too near to them, and she began to wonder fearfully if they were herding her somewhere. Her gut sank when she suddenly saw a light ahead, down the only clear path before her. As she got closer she could make out more details, seeing it was a rough structure with a flickering lamp beside the door. Nothing about it made her feel like she was approaching safety, but as she came to a halt before it, she could tell she was no longer being followed. Risking a glance behind her, no clowns were barreling murderously after her, nor looming amidst the forest. Turning back to the door, she wondered if she dared venture inside, knowing that no help was likely to be found within. Yet she also felt she had little choice, sure that the only reason she was alone for the moment was because she was where they wanted her. With an unsteady breath and shaking hand she reached for the door.
Before her fingers could reach the handle, the door began to swing inward, with a low, groan that resonated in the stillness of the woods. Forcing herself to move forward, she stepped inside, the door slamming shut behind her, the echo of it drowning out her shriek, and despite being left in the dark, she sprinted ahead, arms outstretched, banging against the walls as she ran. Dim light flickered into being, as a fixture nearly dropped on her head, before winding itself back up, the distant, drifting sound of laughter accompanying it. She moved past an impossible variety of rooms, the place feeling like a mad funhouse mocking mundane life, as she ran by stacks of board games and a decrepit study, a blast of seltzer hitting her face from somewhere unseen, prompting more of that drifting, ghostly laughter. The scenes grew more surreal, more disturbing, blending into warped, waking fever dream. A bloodied workshop, and saw a clown looming over her with a rusty power saw, the shriek of the blade blending with her own screams. A room with a sewing machine and rolls of human skin, housing a ghoulish clown seamstress working with the ghastly material. A crude hospital room laden with surgical instruments and human gore, and a giggling clown doctor with a tarnished scalpel in his hand.
Screaming as she kept barreling ahead, terror making her vision swim, she crashed into walls and doorways until she tripped and pitched forward, falling into the floor and curling into a huddled ball. All went silent except for her own gasping, and the booming sound of her racing heart. She sat there, in adrenaline-fueled fearful anticipation, waiting for the bite of a blade or something worse. Yet second after agonizingly-long second, nothing happened, dragging out the heart-wracking suspense. When at last she dared to look up, she found herself in near darkness once more, still somewhere indoors, yet she couldn't see any distinctive features. Glancing around, she screamed anew as the clown that had chased her here suddenly kneeled in front of her, inches from her face, its expression unreadable. Clutching her mouth, she shuddered but otherwise remained still, paralyzed by terror.
“You know what's funny?” a chorus of voices asked, some of them rasping, some of them deep, some of them shrill, but none of them coming from the clown. “We used to hate when people would scream.” The clown's eyes were stark white, with only tiny dots for pupils, gazing like a pair of piercing needles. “We'd try so hard to make them laugh, yet more and more they'd just scream.” Slowly its smile returned stretching wide over its face, unnaturally so, revealing far too many thin, glistening teeth. “Isn't that just the silliest thing?” All around her there were suddenly a multitude of looming shapes, pressing inward, as a wave of cackling laughter rose up to overwhelm her screaming.
CLOSED FOR THE SEASON...
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