Found in a basement of an abandoned sanitarium, the infamous “jack-in-the-box” is said to be nothing less than the mythical “Pandora’s Box.” According to the small, handwritten note that accompanied the item, the box can only be opened by a child, and thus its trapping of gaudy paint and the addition of a wind-up handle. The last time the box was opened, again, according to the note, the Corpse Flower Plague was sprung upon the world (Some even conjecture that “Jack Plague” was freed into the world through the opening of the box, and that it was him, rather than merely the box, that set the Corpse Flower Plague upon the world).
Should man ever be so foolish as to look beyond the borders of his own mind, past the rusting gates of waking, he will find himself abandoned beneath the shadow of an old and terrible dream. I know because I have been there, to the Great Unconscious.
Over the years, my time in the Great Unconscious has shown me many terrible wonders: I have strolled through the fog-eaten hillsides of Somniis; I have felt the cool abandon of the Never Ending Woods; I have even seen the great and terrible Nod—the fabled, “City Under the Bed.” You, of course, have never heard of these places (and if you have, they have most certainly been hidden in the deepest trenches of your sub-conscious), but I assure you they are real.
Perhaps more terrifying than the places I’ve visited are the things that reside within them. They are home to the “Wakeless”—things born from the corpses of dead dreams, and then shaped, like clay, into mankind’s most hideous nightmares. They seek us out in our sleep, you see, and nourish themselves upon our screams until there is nothing left of us but an empty husk, wherein they pour themselves. It is how they come into our world, as living nightmares fighting against the tides of waking, hiding beneath the skin of dead dreamers.
But the Wakeless don’t always arrive in this world wearing the skins of stolen dreamers. The flesh, you see, can only accommodate so much nightmare, and sometimes the biological geometries of these creatures cannot be contained by our simplistic, human shape. Now, to that end, there have been whispers concerning a number of unfortunate women who’ve claimed to have become pregnant after experiencing strange and unwholesome dreams. The doctors, and their minions in the academic world, have, of course, foolishly labeled these cases as a form psychological neurosis. And yes, it is true—there are no physiological signs of said pregnancy; but believe me, these poor, poor women are host to something both quite real, and quite awful. For the things gestating inside those human wombs, on the other side of sleep, are not human at all, but are the implanted seeds of nightmare that will flower into hideous shapes that only the blackest sleep of lunatics can invoke. These are the progeny of the Wakeless and sleeping humanity—nightmared horrors sewed into sleeping wombs, wombs belonging to women who will be thankful to die before they can hear the terrible birth cries of their awful children. And it is by this horrid means that the wickedest of nightmares can be conjured of earthly flesh and bone.
You will read this and think me mad, of course. But madness is, at least in this case, only disguised revelation. But believe me or not, the truth will be upon you soon enough, and you will see for yourself what nightmares can hatch from stolen skin and wicked wombs.
Reports of the “Skeleton Kids” appeared on the first Halloween after the Great Darkness. After a long night of trick-or-treating, several families were reported missing. Eventually following up on these reports, authorities found the missing residents’ homes to be the site of some truly baffling deaths: Police found nearly gelatinous corpses splayed out in the floor, each one still containing all of its organs, but absolutely no bones. Witnesses stated …that it didn’t appear the victims had even been cut open, but had somehow been relieved of all of their bones, leaving behind the victim’s wholly intact epidermis and internal organs. In many similar cases, witnesses have stated seeing an entourage of costumed children, all of whom wore skeletal masks, approach the victim’s residence only to leave moments later. While this is quite common on Halloween night, witnesses additionally reported hearing a dry “rattling” sound emanating from the departing children’s candy bags.
After the initial sightings, similar stories have been reported across North America every Halloween. Each case contains the same details– houses full of emptied out human husks, and darkly costumed children accompanied by the rattling of stolen bones.
Kathleen Roth was a mere 23 years old when she became Alden’s favorite beautician. Despite living in a rural sector of Minnesota, Kathleen managed to bring big city style to small town people. She was so good that her talents made her not only Alden’s go-to stylist, but earned her enough money to open her own beauty parlor. 24 years later she had a successful business, a loving husband, and two beautiful children. Life was good for Kathleen.
It was a cold, winter day when Kathleen’s generosity started her on a dark and terrible trajectory. Seeing what looked to be a large, homeless man residing just outside the mouth of a darkened alley way, she handed the man twenty dollars and directions to a nearby shelter. The man seemed thankful, but Kathleen noticed a quality about him, a sense that his appreciation was not for the money, but something far deeper, far more complex than a simple monetary offering. Kathleen tried to shake off the feeling, and went about her way.
Upon meeting Mrs. Roth, The Family Man knew he had met a person who could see beyond the world. He could tell the moment she handed him money; he could see that she sensed, ever so briefly, the brewing dreams behind his eyes, and their propensity to spill out and color the world. The Family Man knew he had found his next victim.
Over the course of a few days, the Family Man lived in Mrs. Roth’s shadow, watching. Over and over he watched as she transformed her clients, defying, in her own small way, the influences of the dead world. It was clear that Mrs. Roth was a child of dreams, despite her not knowing it.
Upon closing his eyes one night, the Family Man found himself standing amongst clouds of billowing mist, which he thought, for a moment, might be the exhaled breath of some unseen behemoth. But despite this, he decided to venture forward. After walking for some time, the Family Man saw a long line of people standing in front of an old and rusted-out shack. The place’s contours lacked structure and definition, and seemed to messily adjoin with the surrounding fog, giving it a rather macabre (but beautiful) vermillion hue. As he traveled to the front of the line, he noticed that its occupants all shared the same featureless expressions; it was as if they weren’t people at all, but rather the segments of some undead centipede—animated, but undistinguishable things, all moving in unison, but with no sign of individual life. But it wasn’t until he reached the interior of the rusted-out building that he understood why they were all waiting. There, in the middle of a singular, corroding room, stood Mrs. Roth. With the arrival of each dreary inhabitant from that never ending line, Mrs. Roth would greet them in the most fantastical way: the strange woman would dig her fingers deep into her chest, and as if her skin were but curtains to be opened, she would part her flesh to reveal a darkly glamorous mirror. But it was what the mirror reflected that was truly inspiring—there, beneath folds of torn human flesh, reflected not the image of a man or woman, but of a beautifully monstrous thing. The Family Man watched as lines of languishing ghouls were shown, through the reflecting viscera of Mrs. Roth, their more magnificent, nightmarish selves. It was only when the Family Man attempted to peer at his own inner self through the looking glass that he was abruptly dragged back into the dreary world of worry and waking.
On the morning of February 17th, Mrs. Kathleen Roth’s dismembered body was found in her own beauty parlor. Her body had been mutilated and “re-configured” into the shape of a large, daemonic mirror.
If I’d only seen her smile, I would have known her. I would have remembered how her smile lived beyond her lips, and how the raw sugar of its red glow always put the taste of honey into my mouth. But, here, in the wreck of memory and dream, she was in full sight. And she was receding into the shadows of the forest behind her, leaving Marvin alone and kneeling in the mud.
As she merged into the darkness the woods, I heard her speak to him. She said, “The end is yours to keep, now. Cherish him, my son.”
She called him “son,” and yet I knew this man was no brother of mine. He was something else, but I had no idea what.
Her eyes blossomed at the touch of the shadows, as if, like the moon, they were meant to be viewed exclusively from a position of darkness. Without thinking I plunged deeper into Marvin’s memory, hoping to catch a final look at my vanishing mother. But she was gone, and my sadness knelt down beside the sobbing memory of Marvin’s misery.
I needed to know more, and so I looked everywhere for another memory that might be afloat somewhere in the dream. I ran back to the ruined camper, looking for an entrance to another memory. I flung a cupboard door open and watched the space beyond stretch out to become a dark hole, leading somewhere. I tore away the old dream to get to the newer one beneath. as I clamored into the hole, struggling over the corpses that I quickly realized were all but choking the small space, I heard something crashing behind me. I picked up my pace and crawled through the narrow, earthy passage.
Again, the tunnel yielded a room. This time it was a closet. I was looking down into the dark space from a small heating vent. That’s when I heard the whimpering of a child. Of course, it was Marvin. This time he spoke to me.
“You think she’s your mother, Don’t you?” said the miniature Marvin, standing on his tiptoes, whispering into the vent within which I listened. “In that case, I should tell you— “
Something exploded into the tunnel behind me.
Marvin-the-child giggled at the monstrous interruption, and then said, “You’re going to have to bleed for this one, I think.”
A titan hand wrapped around my ankles and pulled me from the tunnel. The transition from crawling to dangling was almost instantaneous, as the hand quickly moved from my ankle to my throat. The grip was unbelievably strong. Again, my father held me in his grip.
“WHERE ARE YOU CRAWLING AWAY TO, WHELP?!”
My father was aglow with wrath and the blood of his most recent opponent. The previous dream-memory had ignited beneath my father’s burning rage, and only the closet door remained, smoldering, and covered in scratches made by the tiniest of fingernails.
“Release me, father,” I said, despite the superhuman pressure being applied to my dream of a neck. My father held me up to the fires that served as his eyes. It had been sometime since I had cause to look upon my father for so long, and with such scrutiny; I searched his nearly indecipherable expression for some sign of an underlying motive for stripping me of my quarry. My request was met with greater pressure, as my father’s fingers were passing each other as they knotted behind my head. He left me no choice. My right fist collided with his jaw, and my left hand moved to release my neck from his immense hand.
He did not move, nor did he speak, but only squeezed tighter. The fire from his eyes was burning across my face as he held me closer. I could see my sisters standing behind him, their smiles gone. Now both of my hands were trying his individual fingers. They were unbendable, and they squeezed tighter. My father’s eyes poured fire into my brain, and I could feel certain memories crisping and curling within the inferno. I tried to open my eyes against his own, to dowse his fires in my silence, but all I could do was gasp. The Deadworld was opening up, and I could feel waking sensations move into my fingertips as my father’s grip began to crush me out of sleep.
Beyond the burning dream, within the blackened ruins of so many deadened memories, I could see Marvin, his body renewed in stitches and staples, and aiming a whisper in my direction. Before I heard my dream-of-a-neck snap like a dry stick, I heard the hushed words of the man-monster.
“Serpents are far deadlier than wolves, my friend…and your bed is teeming with them.”
When I awoke, the sun was bleeding into the retreating night, and my throat still vibrated with a phantom pressure that refused to submit to waking. I replaced my sisters to their sleeping places and made my way to the nearest town.
While I had my sights set on Tom Hush and Doctor David Link, my mind was pinned to the dream of my mother, and only to a slightly lesser extent, the whispered words of Marvin the lunatic. But even under the hot light of the sun I could feel the burning gaze of my father, watching. So I put down the dream-memory and waited for the sun to fall away, as I had no intention of entering the next city within broad daylight.
The entrance to the place was littered with the lingering machinations from the Great Darkness, although these remnants were treated with far more respect than what you might expect to encounter from other cities. With perhaps the exception of Autumn City, few metropolitan areas exploited the history of the Great Darkness with the enthusiasm of the City of Nighthead.
The glassed-in monuments to madness were legion, and breathtaking. Some of the buildings located within the city’s downtown area even incorporated various Darkness relics into their construction, allowing nightmares, now outlined in glass and concrete, to stand beneath the sun, and beyond the sleep of reason. To be honest, there were several other cities I could have traveled to for the information I sought, but it was the lure of solid darkness that brought me to Nighthead.
I made my way through the cobblestoned streets, around nightmares frozen in municipal stone, and into the finest shelters for shadows available within city limits. At last, after I stepped out from the darkness of an alleyway, I found a newspaper that had been left to the wind.
The headline read: Antlered corpse found mutilated upon stone alter.
The entity known as “Tom Hush” can be traced back to various ancient cultures and mythologies. In ancient Greece, for instance, the god known as “Harpocrates”—the god of silence and secrets—may have been one of Tom Hush’s earliest incarnations. However, there is evidence that the bizarre legend of Tom Hush goes even further back, and that his origins are much more esoteric than what was previously believed. For example, scholars often theorize Harpocrates was the product of the Greek’s misinterpretation of the ancient Egyptian god, Horus (who is often depicted with his finger placed just below his lips, and thus the inference of silence), but new evidence suggests that the inception of Harpocrates may have been due to the influence of an ancient Egyptian cult that worshiped a strange pantheon of god-like creatures called the “March of Silence” (this information was gathered from a plethora of recently discovered papyri recovered from underground crypts of several Egyptian pyramids). This cult’s ideologies were rumored to have survived in the form of a subversive group of Grecian eccentrics, who had written various tomes and letters regarding this ‘Silent’ pantheon. Of special note, one of these deities was known as “Gersheta,” a god of silence and dark secrets—a theme consistent with both the Grecian god Harpocrates, and of course, Tom Hush. Authorities on the matter now believe a small portion of this underground sect broke off and eventually found a way to assimilate the “Gersheta” deity into mainstream Grecian lore, giving birth to Harpocrates (While Harpocrates was the Grecian god of secrets, it should be known that the original sect of Grecian converts believed in Gersheta [as well as the rest of the “March of Silence” pantheon] who was a more malicious entity that presided over silence and dark secrets).
But Egypt and Greece were not the only ones who had described this bizarre lineup of silence-themed entities. Strangely, evidence of a similar pantheon was found in the records and verbal traditions of multiple tribes located as far south as Kenya, Angola, Zimbabwe and even South Africa. Although these entities possessed different names, these deities were almost identical to those discovered in Egypt, with each entity presiding over a particular facet of silence and secrecy—some presided over the silence of forgotten things, while others ruled over the silence of forgotten places and names. In fact, various anthropologists have been able to uncover several traditions that were used by indigenous, ancient peoples to stave off the influences of this mysteries collective of dark beings. One such ritual involved, and still does in some remote regions of South Africa, the burial of the dead during the “Season of Silence”—a three-month period where-in both the living and the dead are susceptible to the guiles of these mysterious deities, many of whom are thought to strike only during periods of prolonged silence (or the utterance of malevolent secrets). One ancient tribe even placed rattles and handcrafted bells into the bodies of the deceased so as to prevent their invasion by the dark and silent entities, during the quiet of death; while another tribe chose to ordain a group of “noise-keepers”—a group of diligent tribesman who were tasked with singing songs during the silence of the night, disallowing the arrival of the “Silent Walkers.”
Of particular relevance to the myth of Tom Hush, one particular ancient people’s ritual required that an individual purge themselves of any dark secrets or motives during the “silent season,” as it was believed that “Sirimab,” the god of evil secrets and malevolent silence, was able to possess your body and carry out wicked deeds. Importantly, various drawings of this entity in these regions depict a gaunt, humanoid-like figure with a head piled high with jutting antlers, which is, of course, very similar to Tom Hush’s more modern incarnation.
Since the discovery of this bizarre pantheon of creatures, anthropologists have isolated a number of analogous entities distributed across a multitude of other cultures and religions, including many Anglo-Saxon societies. And, like in Egypt and Africa, the deity representing dark and evil secrets was often depicted wearing a robe and a crown of twisting antlers.
While it is unknown how the March of Silence Mythology (MSM) was propagated throughout the years and across cultures, the legend of Tom Hush alighted within mainstream European society in the mid 18th century. In 1753, a series of ritualistic murders shocked London, as many of the victims were found mutilated upon a giant, antlered alter in the middle of the woods. When the perpetrator was eventually apprehended, he was found wearing a mask of bone and an accompanying headdress of deer antlers. The man claimed to be duplicating the features of the entity that possessed him, a demonic creature that called itself, “Tom Hush.” The day before he was executed at the gallows, he fearfully informed authorities that Tom Hush was an “eater of dark secrets,” and that “Tom Hush lives in the dark secrecy of others.” After the notorious killer was executed, the story of Tom Hush spread to become a sort of urban legend. Often times, parents would use him as a kind of nursery bogey, telling their children that if they were harboring any bad secrets from their parents that Tom Hush would find them and steal their souls. The antlered being was also often blamed for unexplained murders or missing persons, as well as killings perpetrated by people who seemed to show no violent inclinations before the crime (not dissimilar from stories told of the Wendigo, itself an antlered and malevolent being).
While Tom Hush is certainly no longer considered a causative factor when considering the motive of murderers, stories still abound concerning the malevolent influence of Tom Hush, the great secret-eater who walks within rooms and hallways filled with soft silence, and who eats his way out of the mind that has stored one too many dark secrets. In fact, since the Great Darkness of 1999, Tom Hush has undergone a sort of resurgence, as many people have reverted to spiritualism and superstition to explain the events of the Darkness. In time, the world may yet see the re-emergence of Tom Hush in all of his glory, along with his dark peers, “The March of Silence.”
To the small town of Greywitch, evil is not a thing, but a place. Only a few miles away from this humble village’s borders there lives a darkness, a darkness that dwells in the bent shadows of whisper filled houses, twisted forestry, and crimson bestrewn dirt. Some have described the place as a “Garden of Shadows”—an area of such fertile blackness that it’s soils are said to nourish the very land it sits upon, with the stuff of ancient, buried evils. Some have even claimed that it is the terminus of a secret and wicked pilgrimage; whereas others say that it is an unholy Mecca to which all of the night’s children are drawn. But to the people of Greywitch, who have lived side by side the demonic town for generations, its evils can easily be summed by the simple utterance of its name: Devil’s Clay.
While the people of Greywitch tend to be a quiet and secretive folk, several stories have managed to creep outside it’s borders. One of the stranger tales was supplied by Bell Haleness, a former third grade school instructor at Greywitch elementary, who claimed to have been visited by a particularly odd person on their dark journey to Devil’s Clay. The following account is in her own words:
“It was about sun-up and I was tending to my roses in the yard. Roses are fussy things, you know. I had just turned around to fetch my watering can, when all of a sudden, as if from the thin air itself, appeared this little man – a dwarf, really. He was standing about head level with my lemonade table in the side yard, and the gables behind him must have been, gosh, at least twice his height. He was wearing the most outlandish outfit I ever did see—a black, white and red formal suit, and above his tiny white face was situated a big black top hat, the kind you might be expected to wear to a ball, or some other fancy get-together. He also had a bunch of dead flowers tucked into the breast pocket of his neat little coat. He kept looking up at the sun, and with no small bit of agitation. And let me tell you, he made an awful face when the sun struck his pale little cheeks under that big funny hat of his. But before I could send him away he handed me a little white and silver decorated card, that read: Hello, my name is Master Yekelljinns, and I require shelter before I get on to my new home—the next city past. Perhaps you could accommodate me for a single day? He seemed to sense my disapproval, not to mention he was starting to put quite a fright on me, and then, as if to waylay what was going to be an unhelpful answer, he stuck out his little white-gloved hand and poured out a shiny stream of gold coins! Now, I’m not one to be bribed, mind you, but there seemed to be no real harm in his staying only the one single day. But, when I opened the front door to show the little thing to one of my guest rooms, he pointed to my horse stables and then gestured to the coins in my hands. Well, I guess I just couldn’t see past all those pretty coins, and besides, I couldn’t imagine what such a little fellow could do to my big strong stallions. So, after a little thinkin’, I went and waved him into the stables, and off he went. I was gone for a great deal of that day, as I was off checking to see if those coins were really worth anything. I left Gregor, my big ol’ yellow-dog, in the house—just in case that little man should try something sly. It was about nightfall when I got back, and Gregor was howling up a storm. Aside from all of the noise he was making, he was just as fine as fine could be. But, when I went out to check my stables, and to see if the little man was still there, all I found were empty stalls. I looked in places the horses should have been, where they might have gone, and where no horse could be, and all for nothing. But I was so busy looking for horses that I missed this weird writing scrawled across the top of the door to my house. It was written in a language I’d never seen before, and it was drawn in what looked to be some kind of brownish honey. It even smelled sweet. Then, just before I opened the door to go inside and call somebody about what had happened, I thought I heard a horse whinnying high above me. When I turned around I heard this loud thud in the grass near my flower garden. When I looked, I saw that it was a horse shoe, buried more than halfway into the ground—like it had fallen a real long way. And on top of that, it was covered in frost! And in the middle of July, for heaven’s sake! In the end, I didn’t really press the matter very far. The reason being was that those coins the little man had given me turned out to be worth a fortune. And don’t you think I’m not full of shame about the whole thing, either. I’m still ripe with grief over what might have happened to those poor creatures! And another thing–those coins, well, they turned out to be real old money from a long way back in Roman times. It was the same story with that weird writing on my door, as it was in some kind of special Latin used by the Romans. It said:
“Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life, both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken.”
George Porter, down there at the museum, told me it was a quote from the Bible. I’m not sure why the little man wrote what he did, or if he even wrote it at all, but it sure is a mighty peculiar thing to be writing on a person’s door.”