September 29, 2015

Servant of Evil

The living love to hunt the dead. Every night, ghost hunters in green night vision turn our television screens into paranormal recreation. But how do the ghosts feel when they’re filmed and cataloged for our enjoyment? Do the ghosts ever turn the tables and hunt the living?

Pastor Steve has served troubled youth in the Philadelphia area for fifteen years. In that time he has experienced his own share of anxiety and pain and, in his capacity as counselor, borne the burden of others. But the events of June 1997, made that burden almost too much for one man to bear.

“We used to have a camp up around Schwenksville,” Pastor Steve writes. “About an hour out of Philadelphia.”

Pastor Steve’s mission held a yearly summer camp for youth from Philadelphia. “We had about thirty kids all around 12 or 13,” Pastor Steve tells me. Normally, the campers slept in modest cabins. On one night, however, they would hike out through the back woods and old apple orchards where they would build a fire and sleep out under the stars in sleeping bags.

“It was one of our favorite activities,” Pastor Steve told me. “The other counselors and I would tell campfire stories to scare the kids off to sleep.” For that summer night in 1997, however, no one would get much sleep.

“It was about one in the morning when one of the other counselors woke me up,” Steve recalls. “There was a camper missing.”

A 12 year old girl could not be found in her sleeping bag nor in the immediate woods. For Pastor Steve, losing a camper under his charge was the worst nightmare he could imagine. “If she were hurt,” Steve tells me, “I could never forgive myself.”

Pastor Steve woke the entire camp and he, the counselors, and all the other campers began searching through the woods and the orchards. They fanned out with lanterns and flashlights calling the little girl’s name, Jesse. Ten minutes turned into 30, then an hour of fruitless searching.

“I knew the more time that passed, the smaller the chance we could find her,” Steve recalls. “Then, suddenly, there she was walking out of the orchard like she had been there all along.”

Jesse was safe but not unharmed. She was hysterical and sobbing uncontrollably. Her feet were dirty and her clothes were covered in pine needles and leaves as if she had been running through the woods. Most ominously of all, she had three long scratches down her arm that left her pajama top in tatters.

“We got everyone back to the main camp and got the sheriff out there,” Steve recalls. “They got her calmed down so she could tell her story.”

What Jesse told the sheriff was frightening and implausible: the little girl claimed that a monster had grabbed her from her sleeping bag and dragged her through the woods to an old farmhouse. There it had tried to put her in the cellar before she managed to get away.

No one believed her. Either because she was a young girl or because she was a city kid in the woods for the first time. “The woods were searched, but no farmhouse was found,” Pastor Steve tells me, “and the whole thing was chalked up to a kid who got herself lost in the woods at night.”

The camp shut down for the summer and the overnight hikes were cancelled indefinitely. But in the back of his mind, Jesse’s story had always stayed with Steve, haunting his memory of his time at the summer camp.

But, as it turns out, that wasn't the end of the story. The end would come thirteen years later when Pastor Steve finally learned the true events of that night for the first time.

“Jesse emailed me out of the blue,” Pastor Steve recalled. “Tracked me down from the ministry's website. She said she had wanted to unburden herself for many years and now was finally able to talk about her experience.”

Jesse’s story began when she awoke to the sound of muffled screams. Her eyes opened and she looked looked up to see the passing silhouettes of trees against the moonlit sky. She was being carried through the woods at night and the screams she heard were her own.

Jesse was laying across the arms of a man who quickly making his way through the woods. There was no light so Jesse couldn’t see his face very clearly, but she wondered how he could see enough to navigate. The only thing she could make out were wisps of white hair around his head.

Her screams seemed far away, like they didn’t belong to her and she was only a witness to this paralyzing terror. Was she dreaming, she wondered? The coldness of the night and sickening dusty smell of the man made her think otherwise.

The man suddenly stopped. Jesse was crying now. There was a great shadow – a house – and the man pushed the creaking door open with his shoulder. Did she fight back? She remembers her hands pulling at the doorframe, gouging deep furrows in the rotted wood.

Inside the old house, the air was close and thick with the smell of mold and earth. There was a light but Jesse couldn’t tell where it was coming from. If she could, she would put out the light and go back in the darkness because then she wouldn’t have to see the face of the man who was still carrying her.

Gray skin stretched over a brittle skull; a sunken nose; broken yellow teeth inside a ragged, gaping mouth; black holes instead of eyes; a lifeless visage absent of spirit. What terrified Jesse most about his face, it seemed, were the things that it lacked.

His ruined face made no expression to her renewed screams. The man made his way through shadowy hallways until he came to a door. He nudged it again with his shoulder and the door slowly swung wide.

Jesse struggled her body to turn and look. It was the cellar and at the bottom of the rickety steps, a yawning darkness swirled. At once it seemed to Jesse that the darkness before her was the real threat and thing that held her was not so much its accomplice as a slave to its evil.

Many things happened at once. Several figures began to coalesce in the darkness below her. Jesse’s revelation that the thing that carried her was, in a certain way, powerless gave her the confidence she needed to try to escape. She kicked hard against the doorframe and the man spun around so quickly he dropped Jesse to the foor.

Jesse hit the dusty boards and was immediately on her feet. The man slowly turned his head and Jesse met his empty eyeless gaze. His hand shot out and Jesse saw the skeletal claw that had carried her in its icy grip. It closed around her arm and the man began dragging her toward the cellar door.

As he did, a sickly orange light began to grow inside the darkness beyond, and Jesse saw a face, then many faces, in the terrible blackness. Fiery eyes and twisted, coal-black horns – but before she could see more, Jesse pulled free of the man and ran screaming out the door.

Pastor Steve didn’t know how to process this story. On one hand, his faith taught him that evil existed in the world; on the other, does the story of a child told years later prove anything? “I needed to know if there was someway to prove it,” Pastor Steve said.

Soon after he received Jesse’s email, Pastor Steve went back to the campsite grounds. He hiked the woods around the old overnight spot and made a disturbing discovery.

“You can find lots of old houses out here,” Pastor Steve recalls. “But they’re mostly just foundations and bits of debris, not a standing house like Jesse described.”

Pastor Steve stumbled upon the remains of one such house. All that was left was the cracked stone foundation and a collapsed chimney. No sign of a cellar. But Pastor Steve did find some old bits of wood, one piece in particular that could have been part of the old house’s door. On the face were four small grooves about the size and spacing that a small child’s hand would make.

Is it proof that Jesse was indeed attacked that fateful night? And was her kidnapper alive or a ghost? A zombie? Whatever it was, it seemed that it only served a more diabolic power, one that demanded a sacrifice of innocence from its spectral servant. Whatever these creatures were, we can be thankful that somehow their evil was not strong enough to triumph over the spirit of one determined girl.  

October 30, 2014

Shadow of the Hunter

Walking the forests of Western Pennsylvania might provide you with a glimpse of a long-tailed weasel or a plump groundhog. You might spot a coyote or a black bear if you’re lucky (or unlucky). Of course, you are likely to see some white-tailed deer as their numbers continue to skyrocket.

What you wouldn’t expect to see in those serene surroundings is the face of a monster. And you wouldn’t expect to find that the prey the monster is stalking could be you.

That’s exactly what happened to Matt, a retired engineer living in Pennsylvania. Matt’s property borders a large stretch of old growth forest, the perfect place to take Sunny, Matt’s Irish Setter, for a romp or a stroll.
That’s where Matt was one early Fall morning in 2008, Sunny by his side, when he encountered something that shouldn't exist.

“I take a walk in there at least once a day,” Matt told me, “when my knee isn’t acting up.” There was a trail that the pair followed, but Sunny often led Matt through the undergrowth chasing after the occasional squirrel.

“Sunny was an old dog,” Matt explains, “but he was a hunting dog, and his instincts were still sharp.” On that particular day, Sunny was full of energy and investigated every sound or hint of movement in the darkling woods.

Matt and Sunny were about halfway along their circuit when a sudden rustling caught their attention. A few yards into the undergrowth, something sent dry leaves flying through the air before it darted out and across the trail.

“It was just a rabbit,” Matt tells me, “but it got Sunny so worked up that he just took off like a bolt.”

Sunny barked excitedly as he shot through groundcover. The rabbit flitted from bush to bush, looking for a suitable hiding spot. Every time, however, Sunny followed and the chase resumed.

Matt wasn’t doing a great job at keeping up with Sunny, but he could hear his dog bounding over the dried leaves. Sunny was going far into the woods now, farther than he ever had before.

“Sunny was leading me down to a hollow,” Matt tells me. “I hadn’t been that way before and I was starting to worry about getting out.”

Mist still clung to the ground at the hollow’s bottom, and Matt could see Sunny as the dog’s silhouette sliced through the fog.

“I stopped to catch my breath when I heard a rustling almost right in front of me,” Matt explains. Suddenly, the rabbit shot out of the mist and toward Matt.

“Sunny must have lost the trail and passed the rabbit,” Matt tells me. “So, it was me that chased it out of its last hiding spot.”

At the time, Matt didn’t have the time to react, only watch as the rabbit darted toward him. It seemed to hesitate as it realized Matt was there and it subtly changed course, swinging to the left of Matt.

As it did, the rabbit suddenly and inexplicably disappeared. “That’s the only way to describe it,” Matt tells me. “It was just gone.”

What happened was hard to explain because it happened so fast. One moment the rabbit was flashing over the leaves; the next it was gone, snatched out of the air by a hidden and patient hunter. “What grabbed it was black and hairy and about Sunny’s size,” Matt explains.

Like a trap going off, the predator exploded from the undergrowth, its long hairy legs closing in on its helpless prey and pinning it to the ground before either Matt or the rabbit could register what was happening. Matt watched as oversized fangs sank deep into the rabbit’s side and he was watched in turn by eight glassy black eyes.

“It was a spider,” Matt tells me. “A spider as big as a dog.”

After the rabbit stopped moving from shock or from poison, the giant spider slowly backed away into the shadows, seemingly keeping its eyes on Matt the whole time. “I think it backed up into a hole under a tree or something,” Matt explains. “I think that was where it was waiting.”

Matt didn’t move as he wondered whether or not the scene he had just witnessed was real. Could something like that – something so monstrous – really live here, survive here without anyone’s knowledge? Suddenly, the fog parted and Sunny came bounding up to Matt. “I almost had a heart attack there and then,” Matt said. ‘I don’t think Sunny had any idea what had happened.”

Sunny followed Matt back to the trail and back to their home. Matt was quite shaken by the mysterious encounter and has refused to return to the forest. Sunny, however, whines whenever their walks take them to the sidewalk around the neighborhood and not the path to the forest.

“I wonder if dogs don’t pick up their scent for some reason,” Matt tells me, referring to the strange spider he encountered in the woods. “Could be why they stayed hidden all this time. Or it could be that I imagined the whole thing.”

But what if Matt’s not wrong, what if spiders of monstrous size stalk the peaceful forests of Pennsylvania? We could easily dismiss such reports if they came from any other forest, but this particular stretch of wilderness is known to produce horrors exactly as Matt describes.

Unbeknownst to Matt, the forest bordered by his property is known locally as Broome’s Quarter and, the legend goes, it is haunted, not by one monster, but by thirteen. All thirteen are said to be the monstrous children of a long-dead witch named Mother Meade. Do her children still live there? Are the trees and shadows of western Pennsylvania stalked by a monster lying in wait for its prey?

Only more accounts of these incredible creatures will help answer that question.

Read more about Mother Meade and her children here.

October 1, 2014

Google Bus From Beyond

The following account was sent to me three months ago by a young man known to me only as Ramon. His story is fantastic and horrific; I, however, cannot testify as to its veracity. Despite my attempts to reach him, I have not had contact with Ramon since his first email. I reprint it here in full.

“I do a lot of freelance work for a weekly in San Francisco. As you may have heard, one of the big stories right now is the shuttle buses that take tech workers from SF to Silicon Valley for companies like Facebook and Google. Residents complain about the buses blocking traffic and idling in city bus stops. It’s really a story about gentrification and income inequality, and everybody loves to dump on the techies, too.

This stuff has been covered to death in San Francisco, so I wanted to find a different angle. I thought if I talked to some of the shuttle drivers, I could sell an editor on a story about a difference in culture and income between the riders and the drivers.

It sounded a lot easier than it was. When I approached the shuttle companies, they wouldn't even talk to me. At first I thought they were trying to avoid publicity, but now I know the real reason.
I considered staking out the bus stops in the city, but I really wanted to talk to the drivers alone, without the tech workers around. To do that, I needed to know where the buses went, I needed to know their route, I needed to follow them home.

It wasn’t hard to get on the trail of these buses; Interstate 280 is full of them. My plan was to follow the last of the buses up from the valley to San Francisco, catch the drivers after they make their drop offs in the city.

So, one early summer evening I sat in my car on Page Mill Road just off of 280 and, around 7 PM, I pulled into the evening traffic behind a large white bus. You can always pick out the tech buses because, unlike those gaudy tourist buses, the tech buses are plain white and black with no markings at all.

We pulled onto 280 and started the crawl north to San Francisco. The sun was just going down and, with the light behind the bus, I could almost make out the silhouettes of the passengers inside, their heads bowed in concentration of their numinous screens.

It wasn’t long before the traffic began to thin and soon, it was just me in my little Camry and the sleek white bus prowling the lanes like a killer whale. As we got about halfway to the city, the bus moved to the exit lane and I thought for a moment it was going to pull over.

It was just before the junction for 92. This stretch of road is pretty barren, but I knew there was a rest stop coming up somewhere. If the bus was stopping there, it would be a great chance to talk to the driver. Suddenly, the bus was exiting the freeway and I was following close behind.

Then I did something and I’m still not sure why I did it.  I turned off my headlights. I know it was pretty dangerous, but I just had this feeling that something was about to happen. I kept my distance behind the bus.

The exit road curved up and away. It didn’t look like a rest stop at all. The bus climbed up and up and I never saw the usual parking lot or buildings for restrooms or even any other cars.

I had never seen this exit before. My best guess at the time was it was one of the scenic vista exits that they have around there; a place to stop and check out the view of the bay. But what would a commuter bus be doing there?  We drove for a few more minutes on the unlit road. The bus never slowed down.

I wasn’t sure I could keep following the bus because there weren’t any lights on the road. The only light I had to go by was what came off the bus itself. The bus turned a corner, however, and it suddenly seemed that the night turned to day.

I pulled off the road and slammed on the brakes. In front of me was a parking lot, a huge parking lot lit up with banks and banks of stadium lights, surrounded by a high chain link fence. The entire lot was filled with buses identical to the bus I had just followed. I watched as that bus pulled into the lot through the open gate.

It drove through without stopping, disappearing behind rows of similar buses. I didn’t see a guard or intercom or anything at the gate. I knew this was my best chance to get up close to these buses and talk to their drivers.

I marched straight through the gate and stopped. The lot was like a still picture, it was lit up, alive, but nothing moved, nothing made a sound. I couldn’t even hear the bus I had followed in; it had joined its brethren and become a part of the picture.

I followed the path that the bus had taken as best I could. The other buses had arranged themselves in rows at odd angles, making it difficult to make out where the other bus had gone. The whole place was deserted and quiet except for the sound of my sneakers against the gleaming black asphalt.

I knew I might never find my bus, but I wondered what could have happened to the passengers and the driver. Was there something else here in the parking lot as well? If I couldn’t get an interview, I would settle for some pictures of the inside of a bus. My editor would buy that.

I approached the nearest bus in a state of agitated caution. Not being versed in the laws regarding unattended vehicles in California, I didn’t know if I was breaking a law or not. I reached for the door with trepidation, but before I touched the cold steel of the handle, the door sprung open of its own dreadful volition.

The driver’s seat was empty. I called out a timid greeting, but the darkness beyond the yawning cavity did not respond. Curious, I placed a tentative step on the black plastic step and raised myself up to peer beyond the towering passenger seats.

The seats were unoccupied and darkness seemed to rule the empty bus. I paused in frustration, not knowing if photographs of an empty bus were enough to excite my editor. Then, in the darkness, I heard what I thought was a whisper drifting over the brightly-colored fabric of the sepulchral bus seats.

It seemed to come from somewhere far away, yet it could only have originated from inside the cavernous bus, if not in front of me, then on the unseen second floor. I took another cautious step into the darkling aisle and approached the staircase that wound above.

The sibilant whispering grew louder and I thought I could discern within it the peculiar rhythms of a ritual chant, like something I had heard the swarthy Palo Altans call to their idol-capped screens. I turned away from the steps as I perceived at their summit the coalescing of a strange form loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from our own.

I ran from the bus in a rush of delirium, my thoughts a jumble of nameless plasticity. I staggered in my madness among the bone-white buses until I could locate the lonely gate from whence I made my escape from the parking lot.

In my feverish agitation, I fled past the spot where I had left my car and up until I summited the hillside. I found myself overlooking the hellish lot and its fleet of monstrous implications. I could see now for the first time that the buses were arranged in a very curious pattern not unlike the frightful elder signs that the crazed Menlo Park idolaters use in their blasphemous rites. The revelation of the profane symbol sent my thoughts careening on the edge of non-Euclidean angles.

And in my reverie, I felt as if I was carried far from this benighted shore to a strange, nethermost space so distant, so forsaken, it was hard to say whether it had ever really existed. And there beyond the vagaries of time and space, in a chamber unlit, there was something that moved, something boundless in its cruel hunger, something that saw me and knew me! It whispered its blasphemy to me, in maddening murmurs, it muttered its madness! It was the center of infinity, the boundless place where all things, known and unknown – the information – were collected and entombed; the place where one could seek and uncover all the secret knowledge of the universe. All one had to do was search! And it seemed that this place was reaching out and touching our plane of existence, collecting all that was known, draining dry our very thoughts and adding them unceremoniously to the black spirals of infinity that swarmed in the occult gulfs outside of time.

I awoke in the driver’s seat of my Camry. My clothes were disheveled and I smelled terrible. The sun was rising. No fleet of hellbound busses met its light. No perverse parking lot stretched to the reaches of furthest space. I was alone on a hill overlooking a highway.

I present my account to you in the hope that someone, somewhere will be able to make sense of it, or at least, find some small grain of comfort in the confirmation that the struggles of this world are transitory, that something strange and terrible is waiting for us in the dark. Remember: what was driven may be parked, and what was idle may drive again.”

October 25, 2013

The Halloween House

The following story is found in The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts by J. Allen Randolph, published in London in 1969:

Of the many strange encounters I have had over the years, there is one that stands out to me as a testimony to the oft-forgotten human side of the supernatural, the normal, as it were, of the paranormal. When I was a student at university, I was acquainted with an elderly, eccentric professor. I should stop now and say that there were, in fact, any number of elderly, eccentric professors at university, but the strangeness of Professor James stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Professor James taught anthropology at Yale University in the United States. He had studied with some of the greats like Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski, and Lévi-Strauss. But James was a standout in that crowd for the extreme lengths that he would go to prove his theories. His specialty was European folklore from the Iron Age to the Early Modern. He was especially interested in its material culture.

Professor James took a special liking to me I think because I grew up in Britain, site of some of his specialized research. In those days, it was not uncommon for professors to dine with their students, and Professor James had invited me to his home for just such an occasion. I should mention that the date in question was October the 31st, All Hallows’ Eve, or as they call it these days, Halloween Night.

As I approached the wide front porch of Professor James’s old Victorian home, I stepped over a curious line of white powder that snaked across the stately lawn. Professor James met me at the door in a state of extreme agitation. I was quickly hustled inside to an empty house. It was then that I learned that I was to be the only guest that evening. He had even dismissed his man for the night.

I was rather dismayed as Professor James could monologue at length on the subject of Roman charms and Celtic tomb mounds and it was so much easier to escape when one had an accomplice. Even so, I sat in the chair offered and girded myself for an enlightening, if not lively, evening.

Professor James stood at the great fireplace hanging his head. The flickering shadows on his face carved lines of worry and even fear. The fire’s soft sputtering was the only sound. After some time he turned to face me.

“Do you know what day it is, Randolph?” he asked me.

“Of course, sir,” I replied. “It’s the last day of October, the 31st.”

“Do you know what happens on the last day of October, Randolph?”

Back home in England, the modern Halloween tradition was not widespread, but I had been in the states long enough to know about the practice of guising-up and asking for treats.

“It’s the night when the youngsters dress up and ask about for sweets,” I answered.

“Yes,” he said. “But it’s also the night when the world of the dead coincides, as it were, with the world of the living. Do you think that’s true, Randolph?”

“No, sir, I do not,” was my reply but I admit I was lying because even then I had already seen some strange things in my short life.

“Maybe it’s a metaphor, Randolph,” he said. “Some days, I wish it were. Tonight the dead live again, the meek become the powerful, the king goes begging in the streets, and,” he paused and turned away from me, “all debts must be paid.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this statement; it was rather dramatic for Professor James. I didn’t have time to respond as I was whisked away to the dining room for a surprisingly truncated dinner of ham sandwiches and nearly cold soup.

James sat and watched as I dined. In his hand he fingered a trifle, a small coin that caught the dim light. He saw me looking at it. “Do you know what this is, Randolph?” he asked me.

“I must confess that I do not, sir. A lucky coin perhaps?”

“A good guess. You always were a most perceptive student.” Professor James held the coin up to the light. “It’s called a touch piece. It’s a kind of sympathetic magic, in it operates on the basis of its association with something else. This particular piece was once owned by Emperor Vespasian.”

“Good heavens, sir!” I nearly spit in my soup. “Vespasian’s amulets are a myth; they’ve never been found!”

James put the coin in the pocket of his smoking jacket. “Never reported to have been found.” He smiled coldly and stood. “Nevertheless, its power to protect its bearer is quite real.”

I quickly finished my soup under Professor James’s quiet stare. He led me back to the study and we settled into a pair of overstuffed chairs. The fire crackled, sending shadows across the walls. James stared into the flames and asked “Do you believe in witchcraft, Randolph?”

“There are some interesting –” I began but was quickly cut off.

“Necromancy, conjuring, sorcery, Randolph. The power that turns the wheel of the universe. Magic.” James quickly rose and pointed to the window. “There, you see?” he asked. A thin, scruffy flower hung suspended in the curtain. “The wild rose, it repels evil, just like the line of salt that encircles the house. You saw it, no doubt.”

Professor James retrieved a small stone from the mantle. “This stone was painted by the ancient Picts and infused with a power.” He pointed to a larger rock that rested on the hearth. “This is a fragment of a Punic betyl that once protected the great temple at ruined Carthage.” He glanced my way with a wild smile. “It may not have been a complete success.”

I returned the smile and tried to interject but James was already off on another subject. “Do you know the Merseburg Incantations? Eiris sazun idisi, sazun hera duoder; suma hapt heptidun, suma heri lezidun! Do you think it will work?”

I was beginning to suspect that James was more unhinged than usual, and that it was now my responsibility to see that he didn’t hurt himself. Is that why he had asked me to come, I wondered? James struck a match and lit a small bowl. A sickly sweet incense permeated the air.

“It’s kyphi from ancient Egypt,” he told me. “Used to placate the dead and their pagan masters. I also have a small pot of mummia, ground from the bones of ancient Egyptian mummies, although I am not sure it will be of use to me.”

Professor James patted his coat pocket. “I have here the bone of a black cat. I have it on good authority that it is a powerful mojo, but I have my doubts.”

He opened a small box on a side table and picked up a thin, curved rod with great reverence. “And this is my prize, this is a 2,000-year-old ivory wand dedicated to Hecate Chthonia, mother of witches.” I could see the fine lines of airy script delicately carved along the yellowing surface.

Suddenly, we heard the sound of a quick knock on the front door. Professor James jumped and nearly dropped his beloved witching wand. Seeing his fear, I rose to answer it, but the professor caught my sleeve. “Do not answer the door tonight,” he commanded.

“But, sir,” I began, “it’s only the local children asking for their sweets. Must we disappoint them?”

James’s eyes screwed together in disbelief. “Children? They are most decidedly not children, although they may wish that you think them harmless.” My befuddled stare impelled him to add: “The door is made from the wood of a rowan tree; it cannot be breached by the forces of darkness.”

I knew that the poor professor was having what we call a breakdown, but being a student, it was not at all clear from whence I would derive the authority to intervene. I was, as they say now, along for the ride.

James was now waving his wand and reciting something in Old English: “Sitte ge, sīgewīf, sīgað tō eorðan, næfre ge wilde tō wuda fleogan.”

I could hear more knocking now, not from the front door, but from the back of the house.

“Beō ge swā gemindige, mīnes gōdes, swā bið manna gehwilc, metes and ēðeles.”

Now they were knocking on the windows and I knew that Professor James was right: they were not children. Something sinister was afoot. Amidst the rattling and knocking, James fingered the old Roman touch piece and waved the ivory wand in the kyphi smoke. He cut a figure both mad and wild, an ancient wizard born of standing stones and dragon’s blood.

I went to check the doors, to make certain whomever was attacking the house was not breaking in. I found the ground floor to be secure and as I returned to the study, both the knocking and the professor’s chanting suddenly ceased. I found Professor James slumped in his chair, his hand clutched to his chest. He was not breathing.

I raced to the telephone and told the operator to send a stretcher. I knew it was probably too late for old Professor James, that whatever it was that was after him had succeeded in finding him. I wondered if I had somehow let him down, if in my ignorance of the ancient practices, I had inadvertently let the door open for evil.

In retrospect, I can say that it has been my experience that men do not ward off evil by trying to keep it outside, that evil exists already inside of all of us, that we are in fact, the source of much of the evil that plagues the world, and the best that we as weak and imperfect humans might be able to do is keep the evil in our hearts locked up securely inside.

In postscript I must add that as I waited for assistance to arrive, I spied something on the floor in front of Professor James. It was the touch piece that had belonged to Vespasian. A priceless artifact, if it could be authenticated, or merely a trinket. A fool’s burden in either case. There was a knock on the door.

It was not a knock like before. This was a quiet rap, a child’s knock. Without fear, I opened the door and there on the step stood a child of no more than nine or ten. He was dressed in a ragged red suit and to his face had been applied a red pigment and on his head he wore a crown of paper horns.

He held out a limp brown sack. “Trick or treat,” the little Devil said.

“Neither,” I responded and tossed the ancient touch piece into his bag. “Happy Halloween.”
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