Speculative Horror Mystery

"The Oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." H.P. Lovecraft.

My grandson found this book in the woods and brought it to me. I’m 90 years old and still remember how to read and write (New American English). It’s taking me longer than I expected to translate because it is handwritten in cursive, a very old form of writing and old English. I’m sending a copy of what I've written so far to the New American Smithsonian. Regards, Marie Bradford May 2, 2098:

Page One

A b c d E f g h I j k l m n O p q r s t U v w x y z

This is the alphabet for American English

Our numbers are 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Or 1 11 111 1111 1111/

Page 2 (there are pages missing. The journal starts here:)

I opened my eyes but feared I was blind, only instead of seeing black, everything was white, as if I was submerged in warm snow. I couldn’t move. An acidic, sweet smell made me want to wretch, but no room for that, and the thought brought on fear and heart-squeezing panic.

I heard muffled sounds like I had cotton-filled ears. The sound gradually grew louder, and I recognized a sort of chant. No, not a chant, my name over and over, Raj! Raj! Raj! RAJ! RAJ!.

I sucked in a small amount of remaining air, then shouted or screamed. I hadn’t the strength or energy to form words. I tried to move. My hands were pinned behind me and forced against the small of my back.

TERROR crept in, then took over, and I struggled. Was I in a hospital? In a soft body cast? Is this why I can’t move? Maybe a new kind of MRI machine that held one still. But those wouldn’t hamper my breathing.

I heard my name again as something thudded against me, against my face! Who called my name? The voices were familiar. I screamed as loud as I could, and all the whiteness turned black.

“Raj?” Then I heard the voice again. Dax’s voice came through a tiny opening over my face. I sucked a deep breath of fresh, sweet air. Thank God.

“Take it slow, buddy. We’ve got you almost out of there. Don’t talk. We’re all working on freeing you.”

Out of where? I wondered. Surgical dressings? Mummy wrappings? A warm snow avalanche? What the hell was going on? I still couldn’t move. Oh shit, was I paralyzed? The opening around my face grew larger, and the diamond-studded night sky filled my vision.

“Stay still, Raj. Breathe in, hold it, let it out. You know the drill. You’ll be fine. I’m here for ya’ sugar.” Sparrow’s soft Mississippi words soothed me only slightly. “Blink once for yes, two for no. Does anything hurt, Raj?”


“Your head?”


“Your neck?”


“Your shoulders or back?

“Blink, Blink.”

"Anywhere else?"

“I don’t see any blood,” Russ added in his autistic bluntness.

“Good. just be still for a few more minutes. This stuff is really tough. Close your eyes in case bits break off. We’ll tell you as soon as you’re out.”

I thought about the time an artist friend made a plaster cast of my face. She’d stuck a plastic drinking straw in my nostrils and mouth and covered my face with Vaseline to protect my skin because plaster gets hot while setting. But the mask lifted off easily and cleanly, so this isn't plaster.

“Raj? It’s Sparrow. We’re all working to get you out, but stay still because our knives might break through and cut you.”

I couldn't move if my life depended on it. Maybe it did. My mind raced from where am I? to How did I get here? What is here? WTF!?

“Raj concentrate on your breathing. You’re going to be fine. Just breathe with me: In one, two, three – hold one, two, three – out one two three. Good, keep doing it.

“We got him,” Dax said, help me pull!"

Pull? Was I being born into some alternate reality?"

I wasn’t pulled out. I was pealed. Large sections of the white ‘stuff,’ like Styrofoam, fell away from me, and I was free! I didn’t move, not sure of what was happening.

Sparrow asked, “Can you stand, Raj? We’ll make sure you don’t fall.

I stood, but unfortunately, a massive evacuation of vomit, piss, and shit blew from every orifice, and I heard a collective “OH!”

“Here, guys. Lay him on this blanket, and we’ll carry him to camp. We need to get out of here!” said Dax. “

I felt like a corpse being carried from a crime scene.

Blackness again.

I came too, and it was still night, or so I thought. Wren sat by my side, and I remembered what a mess I'd been and felt my face flush. How mortifying! Now I felt clean and smelled of Sparrow’s African Black Soap. It’s traditionally made in Africa. Sparrow’s Auntie makes it for her, the real deal that she rarely shares. I slept again.

Wren sat beside me when I woke. I was confused and began to stand up, but couldn’t and sat again. She put her arms around me.

“Shhhh. You’re okay. I’m here, baby.”

I leaned against a large tree wearing and looked down. I wore my boxers and Russ’s “Queen” concert t-shirt. It was his treasure, given to him by his grandmother, who was a huge fan of Freddie Mercury. He called it his ‘lucky shirt" and comforted him when he was upset. I realized I must have nearly died for him to part with it, much less let anyone wear it.

“Here, take a sip of tea,” said Wren

My mouth felt so dry. I grabbed the cup and drank it down in one gulp. I’m lucky that she never serves hot or iced tea, insisting on room temperature.

“Whoa there, Cowboy! I’ll bring you more in a little while.”

“It’s good. I’m so thirsty.”

“ It’s chamomile, lemon mint, and parsley. It will help your innards heal. I added some honey. I’ll bring you more if you promise to sip, not guzzle.”

I nodded. Her teas always proved helpful, but some smelled like a mix of swamp water and rotting flesh.

“Wow, Raj! Look at you all dressed and among the living!” I heard Dax’s voice as he stood in silhouette against the campfire.

“Wow, are we at Burning Man?” I gestured toward thehuge central fire and then noticed that smaller fires formed a ring around the camp at about every four feet.

“What's going on?” I felt that tight panic squeeze my chest.

"I’ll let Wren tell you. She’s better at explaining things."

“You coward," Wren teased and sat facing me, then took my hand.

“You’ve been out for a long time. We’ve made camp here."

“Why are all the surrounding campfires? Are we in a tourist campground?” I knew many camps or RV parks had small spaces so close together it feels like camping in Walmart’s parking lot on black Friday.

“We made a few extra fires around us to ward off any . .. um. . .”

"Like the old elephant joke?"

"Yep, haven't seen one so far!"

She hesitated and said, “Yeah, bears. Or ya’ know . . .”

“No, I don’t know! There aren't bears here!”

She patted my arm, and my neck and head throbbed. “Better safe than sorry.”

Either Wren’s tea or my physical state sent me softly into that good night of sleep.

I awoke, and billowing Maxfield Parish clouds announced the morning as a bright yellow glow peeked over the mountaintops. I sat up straight and yelled, “What the fuck?” my mind filled with confusion and dread. Mountains? “What the hell? Mountains?” I croaked from my dry throat as I leaned against the tree behind me.

Dax, Sparrow, and Russ ran to me.

“I know you're confused, Raj. We tried to explain it last night, but you conked out on us again.

Ok, do you remember anything about our trip Raj?” Sparrow asked.

"What kind of trip?"

They laughed. "No, not drugs. You know better than that!" said Wren

“ I only remember bits and pieces, but it’s all jumbled,” I said.

Wren patted my arm, “We walked the main trail for several miles. Then you ran ahead and told us that you’d found the two boulders, something we’d normally pass by. You stepped through the small space between them and pointed ahead, “There’s the X!” You were so excited because of the pink map. You insisted we walk through them and follow. We followed. Heavy wild roses formed a wall on either side of the boulders, so we all had to squeeze through the opening between them. You and your long thin body made it easy for you, but some of us had a hard time squeezing through.

"Wendy, what the hell are you talking about?"

Wendy held up her hand, “ Just listen. We walked for twenty minutes and came to a clearing next to this lake," she pointed to it, which isn't on Russ's map, by the way. I’m glad Russ brought a paper one and all of his many non-electronic gadgets. None of ours work here. We were all tired, so we pitched camp here. Something woke Dax, and you weren’t in your tent. He looked for you, then turned back and got us up to help him.

“This is where it gets weird. Our headlamps caught something white, dangling and swaying from a large tree branch. We were almost able to see your human form inside. Sparrow and Russ ran to the camp and brought their saws and more flashlights. Russ grabbed bear spray and a couple of flares for protection.

Dax heard a muffled ‘sound’ and wasn’t sure it was you. Then you screamed, and we freaked. Russ surprised us by also screaming, like he does, mimicking you.

I nodded and looked over at Russ, who smiled his sheepish smile back at me. He’s an excellent woodsman and ‘shroomer and spent most of his time camping or living in the woods as a child. He rarely speaks unless to himself or mimics someone.

Wren continued, “Russ scampered up that tree, stretched out on the limb you hung from, and cut you loose. You were like a big white pinata! Sorry, not funny. You were about eight feet from the ground, and Russ yelled, “Catch.” We caught you then cut, sawed, and hacked the outer portion off. The surrounding stuff was very, very strong.

Dax said, shit! It was so hard to cut through!"

We shuddered and wished he'd stayed silent this time.

"We all worked faster and harder! What if it comes back? What if whatever did this comes back. So, you know the rest. That bump on your neck must be where the . . .... whatever… stung or bit you, which is probably why you were so sick for so long. Sparrow keeps a comfrey leaf poultice over it, so there hasn't been any damage or infection. If it was a giant spider, it’s a good thing you stayed alive. Most of them inject their prey and wait for it to die before eating it."

"Well, that's comforting,” I said.

Then Russ spoke again, “Spider silk is strong.”

Russ said, "Yeah!"

Russ’s words hit me like a gut punch. What did happen? A gigantic spider?" “Fuck!" I began shaking again.

Dax put an arm around my vibrating shoulders. “Dude, spiders are timid. You must have walked into the web for her to get you. Try not to think about it. There's been no sign of one, and we're not sure what it was. Raj, do you remember the map with the boulders and the big X made from fallen trees?

“No. What map?”

He handed me a pink paper folded into fours. I opened a crudely drawn map of the main trail, two circles, and the large X behind it. I turned it over and read the “PIG ROAST” info on the back. “So, is it a map to a pig roast? That's nasty?”

“I don’t think so. Turn the paper over. Do you remember it or the old man who gave it to you?”

“No, Why?”

“Well, when we walked along the 'official hiking trail,' Russ gathered pine cones. We thought it was strange but didn’t ask. When we began walking on your boulder path, which took a lot of pleading to convince Russ to follow us through, Russ told us to wait. He started gathering pine cones, using his shirt, holding it out, and filling it. He motioned for us to do the same thing, so we did. You know how he is. There was no talking him out of it. After we followed you through the boulder opening, he began placing pine a pinecone in the middle of our narrow path, about every ten steps, marking our path so we’d be able to follow them back. We did the same with ours until they were gone. After that, Russ got obsessed, so we collected rocks or sticks and a few more cones, which are as big as footballs! When we ran out of nature's items, we donated bracelets, useless bits, and bobs from our key rings.


Russ really wanted to return to the main trail and ran back. We couldn't stop him unless we tied him to a tree! But he returned in a flash, very upset.

He back to us, yelling, " GONE! ALL GONE!” We followed him while he used his flashlight because the canopy of our little path was quite dim. All the markers were gone!

Russ kept saying, “Three hundred steps,” over and over, and we’re sure he‘d counted his steps from the boulders.

Dax continued the tale.

"In the middle of the first night, I had to take a leak and noticed you were out of the tent and assumed you were pissing too. Do you remember?"

“” No, Jesus."

Next, Sparrow told me to look around and said. "I know plants and all aren’t your thing. But tell me what you see?"

I did and recognized yew trees and pines, but the ferns growing around us were an odd shape with sharp tips and fronds larger than ever I’d seen and so dark green they looked black. I stood, feeling stronger, and walked toward the pond. The grasses in the shallow areas were red with black edges. I'd never seen those on all my outdoor trips! I felt something plop onto the toe of my boot, and I jumped back. A bullfrog the size of a puppy just sat there! It was bright aqua but looked harmless, so I stared down at it. It stayed put and looked up at me and made a sound. In my frazzled imagination said, “something, in an unfamiliar language, two words, “Gruhgo grat” and hopped back into the water."

(this is as far as I’ve translated, there is much more, but I’m old and slow. I do wonder what happened to these people and will have my grandson research them.)

March 18, 2023 03:46

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Tricia Cundiff
00:20 Mar 23, 2023

A great start to a longer story, sounds like something that might be a good pull on the Vella program through Kindle (am I allowed to say that on here???). I would be interested in the storyline and 'pay' for the next chapter offered.


00:33 Mar 23, 2023

Crickies! I've been working on the next chapters, and really having fun with it. I listen to a lot of David Paulides Missing 411 and have his books, which is what got me started on this story. I just put the second 1200 words through Grammarly and then ProWrite, and they disagree on a number of suggestions, and that is so confusing. Your supportive comments are SO perfectly timed! thank you - I don't know anything about writing for Vella (?) or Kindle! I also said it, so maybe were' both in trouble. thank you!


15:28 Mar 24, 2023

Are you still interested? I just posted the second part - that's kind of the first part - lol. Or should I try Vella? I'm terrible at marketing, thanks for the info.


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Irene Duchess
02:53 Mar 20, 2023

this was a really fun story, Patricia. definitely kept me reading... and reading... and reading... :D do you know if you'll try a part 2 or add to the story sometime else? if so, I look forward to reading it!


18:34 Mar 21, 2023

Yes! Im using "Speak now." to write more. thank you so much for your support! I feel like I'm spinning my wheels!!


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Viga Boland
12:33 Mar 19, 2023

This was a last minute submission wasn’t it, Patricia.i kept watching for your submission to come in during the week, but unfortunately, my brother-in-law passed away on March 14, and my mind hasn’t really been in gear since. I’m only now starting to get around to reading everyone’s stories. I’m glad I didn’t try to even take one on this past week. That said, kudos to you! You sucked me into this story so hard I couldn’t stop reading! I was lost in the wonders of your imagination and wondering how the heck you do it! I thoroughly enjoyed th...


18:13 Mar 19, 2023

I'm so sorry for your loss (those are empty words, I know) but hugs. You're right - I almost didn't submit it - I got carried away and ended up with 4500 words! I'm going to keep working on it because I have more ideas! I keep messing stuff up because I over-edit, cut and past, and take Prowriter too seriously - lol. thank you again for your support and kind words. xo


Viga Boland
18:36 Mar 19, 2023

My pleasure Patricia. Anytime. BTW, I have removed myself from the judging panel. Came to the conclusion I’d rather spend Reedsy time writing and supporting others through comments. I also was becoming uncomfortable with fact that so many whom I’m “judging” can out-write my efforts anyday LOL. Who am I to judge those who have won or been shortlisted when I’ve never been either? 🤔🙄


18:51 Mar 19, 2023

I understand your decision. I just started = partly because the other judges all look so young that I think they dismiss anything that doesn't reflect anything before 1990. I might be wrong, but I felt I should jump in and give all submissions a chance. Some that I've read are awful! I don't know, like you said, who am I to judge and I feel terrible when I dismiss one - hugs. xo


Viga Boland
19:50 Mar 19, 2023

Yep. Know the feeling. But even with my degree in English, and years of teaching, published work, (both self and other published), and decades of book reviewing, I still don’t feel I can come close to so many other gifted writers on here, including you, so I’ve bowed out gracefully with my shaky sel-esteem intact.


20:21 Mar 19, 2023

I feel like you do A LOT - especially during a depressive episode or illness. I feel so 'unworthy' painting when there are so many, many artists way better and I. However, writing and painting are a sort of therapy for me, so I do my best and think about so many writers (thomas hardy,stephen king, and tons more) who would have = but didn't. Just make it fun, no pressure and don't compare yourself to anyone else. OMG if that story is true - you need a vacation or twelve. xoxo


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Wendy Kaminski
01:55 Mar 19, 2023

This is really engrossing, Patricia! I was definitely getting into the story, and I hope you will do more at some point. Love the premise, too, which I had completely forgotten until the end. :)


18:16 Mar 19, 2023

Thank you! I got carried away and ended up wirh 4500 words and had to pare it down at the last minute (Friday 11:15pm!) so, I actually had to chop the ending off - but it wasn't any more of an ending than what you read, I'm hoping to turn it into a novel! Thank you so much! xo


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Delbert Griffith
22:26 Mar 24, 2023

Fun, engaging, engrossing. You've got a good tale here, Patricia. I'd love to hear more about this in an expanded format. Cheers, my friend.


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