's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" In the House of the Lord "

Submitted by Lord of Rye

The red land shimmers silently in the heat of the day. Call it what you will: The Red Land, Badlands, The Arc, The Garden. Even the mocking title “The Land of Song”. It deserves the fear that it creates. It is a vile kind of blessing. Our tables never lack for meat, and starvation is not the main cause of death. But when you stare into it, it stares back. With many more eyes.

It’s no mirage. My village is placed near the edge of this swathe of land. We live on the northern side. It occupies the rain shadow of two large mountains, with a small pass in between. Its bulk stretches from those mountains all of the way to the western sea, in a large north-south ellipse. The thinnest part is near the sea, where most of the settlements are and where most of the trade passes through. Villages stretch along the edge of the arc to the north and to the south. They thin out as one moves farther in either direction.

That’s what my home has been doing. Thinning out. A gradual trickle of people has been leaving, and now it is too empty to sustain itself. A bad autumn harvest convinced the last of us to leave. So now there are two options: to the south or to the east. Most people have decided to go south, but a few young boys have decided to seek fortune in the Red Land. We know that there are few villages out there, which are all relatively prosperous: they have all of the food and water they could want. There are also the loners who wander between villages, giving a helping hand. They are welcomed with the gratitude of seeing something human-shaped come over the horizon. A careful man or woman could have a good life out there in the plane. An even more careful one could become rich.

So here I stood at the edge of The Red Land. I was not alone: some other boys had come too. Three others and I stood at the divide between the natural trunks and the strange obelisks. We had pooled our knowledge, which was very small, and made a pact to stick together. We would all support each other until we could get to a village. We stood at the edge of our knowledge. In front of us, there were some dark black humps, rising out of the ground. A field of them stretched on before us: we had to pass by a large number of them to get through. They had some kind of multi-jointed arm wrapped over or around them, which had a large, egg-shaped object as large as our heads at one end. Dylan, a short and stocky boy, made the first try to get through. He began to move towards the things cautiously. As he got within a couple meters of the things, they started to uncoil. The limbs of many joints straightened out and the heads reared off the ground. The boy began to move faster, in order to outrun the creatures. The nearest ones seemed to catch sight of him, and ones farther away started to wake as well. 10 or 15 meter limbs began to silently tense up, ready to strike like a snake about to jump. Aware of the increasing danger, he began to run. The first two struck at him, but missed, hitting the ground with audible thuds. He was not so lucky the third time. A swift strike from a fist that had begun to move faster when he started running caught him in the chest. We heard a grunt, and the adolescent was launched backwards. Dylan landed on his back, but his pack cushioned his fall slightly.

Dylan tried to stand up, and collapsed. His face had gone pale and he coughed mightily a couple times. He was in serious pain, but did not seem severely injured. All of us had some medical training, so we tried to examine him. After a few minutes, he was able to help us out. He had a few bruised ribs and possibly a bruised tailbone. Thankfully, the blow hit him over a wide area and spread out over his entire chest. Most of the blow had gone into pushing him back, and not into him. If he had been on the ground, of course, he would have died instantly.

We waited for Dylan to recover. This took about an hour, and he still ached, but he was able to walk and function. Then we went over what we learned. We knew that the things reacted to movement. We also knew that running through them would just get us killed. Dylan postulated that they reacted faster when the target was moving faster: the arm that hit him moved a lot faster than the others because his greater movement speed seemed more of a threat. Another, smaller boy, Sydney, said that this was probably how they fed themselves. They pounded whatever they caught into the ground and fed off of it through roots. So, the best way to make it through the forest of arms was to walk slowly. For our first ordeal, it was easy and did not cost us too much. We had originally chosen to start in the afternoon, so it was beginning to get dark. We camped out there in our bedrolls and waited for morning.

Morning came. A fog had rolled over the area, and we could see maybe a quarter of a mile. We had no idea how thick or long the forest was. Because of the fog, it would be very hard to tell. Hopefully it would thin out later in the day. Dylan came up with the bright idea of roping ourselves together. That way, we would all move at roughly the same speed and not get lost. I came in first, being the tallest, and then the other boy, Daniel, then Dylan, and then Sydney. Dylan should have come last due to height order, but we wanted him to have somebody in front and behind him for safety reasons. All roped up and ready, we set off into the forest.

We started creeping towards the forest. All of us moved very slowly, as not to alert the things. Thy started to rear up at us, as if preparing to strike, but we got out of the range of the first few by speeding up a little. They did not strike, but it seemed that they got very close to doing so. Apparently, moving slowly made them attack too. I started up at a fast walk, with as long strides as I could manage. This seemed to placate them: they did not rear up at me. I told the others what to do: walk with your longest stride. It was a hard gait to keep up, because you had to think about each stride. Not only was it taxing on the body, but also on the mind. You had to concentrate on the walking.

The silent forest seemed to be watching us. I could not say what made me feel this, because they had absolutely no eyes. Yet the egg-shaped masses turned at our passing, and they still uncurled as we approached. They formed a kind of vanguard, looming over and around us, rising in front of us. They watched us like vultures watched the dying. If we made a mistake, then we would die. The most eerie thing about it was that they were absolutely silent. They made no sound whatsoever as they rose. The only sound was our footfalls. If I had closed my eyes, I would have been able to believe that there was nothing. Only our footfalls. No danger. Something bumped into me. I opened my eyes and saw one of the arms lay in my way. I stepped around it. More arms started to get in my way. I had to duck and dodge around this deadly ballet. They had started to impede our progress. I realized that I had slowed down walking. They had taken this as an opportunity to block me. I started moving faster again. I had to concentrate or die.

I heard a gasp behind me. I realized that there were also people behind me, and that it was my duty as leader to inform them. I turned to look back and tell them. Then the line halted.

I saw Sydney paralyzed. One of the fists had loomed in front of his head and seemed to stare into his face. He was transfixed with fear. I saw one of the nearby arms start to rise. I yelled out to him to start moving, but he did not hear. The others realized and shouted too. Everything slowed down for me. I saw his look of shock change to one of fear. He is head turned, snapping directly to me. I saw him bend, as if to make a leap into running. He cleared the ground and started moving forward. Then the black fist slammed into his side. He slid off into a grouping of three arms. And his attachment to us pulled us of our feet. I got up pretty quickly, and so did the others, but he was not moving. I could see that he had been knocked unconscious. The arms around the body began to rear up. They did the same around us. I yelled at everyone to start moving, because we were all about to die.

We jerked into action, straining to get away. Sydney was dragged on the ground after us, but we would see to that later. Right now, we just had to get out of there. Fists slammed into the ground where Sydney would have been, but we were already on the move again. We all had to move at an unnatural pace, and drag another boy along behind us, but we were empowered by fear. I could see that Dylan had to take most of the strain from dragging the unconscious boy. He was wounded, but he could take it. He had to, at least for now. No thoughts but walking. No feelings but exhaustion. An hour or so later, the arms and fog started to thin out. Our legs had stopped burning a while ago, and a dull ache had just set in. We were too tired to be tired, and we were just weary instead. My head felt like cotton wool. My legs felt like pain. There was silence again. And yet still the things watched us. I think we exited the forest then. I’m not sure, because time had stopped. We spent an eon in that fear, and none of us were sure that it took any time at all. We found a clearing. It might have been the end, or it might have just been wide enough to be safe. We collapsed in the center. Nobody really slept; we were too tired for that. We just waited, in the warm sun.

I don’t know how long we lay comatose. Eventually we woke up, sometime after noon. We seemed to have exited the forest nobody was really sure about the time, but we judged that it was maybe 3 in the afternoon. We brought Sydney over to check on him. He didn’t look so good. His right arm was almost definitely shattered. 3 ribs had been cracked on the same side. He had some serious cuts and bruises on his back as well, and he was caked in dirt. We had no supplies to do anything for him. He put his arm around Dylan and they walked together. Dylan was the strongest of us, and shorter than Sydney, so it made sense. We needed to get some help for him. We picked ourselves up and began to walk. Whatever direction we went in did not really matter. Eventually we would find something. Just away from the forest. We set off perpendicular to the edge, across the Red Land. The place was relatively flat, so we could see dangers on the horizon and avoid them. Not much happened, except that we moved across the deadly plane.

I wondered about the origin of this place. I had heard many stories about its beginning, purpose and geography. Some of them might have been true. Most of them involved some previous age where humans had made some dreadful error. The most common explanation had to do with nature’s revenge. Humans had taken too much from the earth, razed too many forests, and killed too many animals. In response, nature filled the world with an abomination of fire and flesh. I heard that millions of humans died: I can’t imagine that there was ever that many. Another story said that it had originally been a garden created for humans. It was for us to live in and prosper. Yet some human, a betrayer, ate of something that was forbidden. All of the riches turned to ash, and all of the good food to rancid meat and sharp bone. This place serves as a reminder and as a curse.

The strangest story comes from those who live there. They call it “The Land of Song”. They say that a man who was brilliant and insane created it. They both stemmed from the same cause: he was persistent but stubborn, groundbreaking but maladjusted, and brilliant but alone. He could have done anything with his life, and it would have been great. But he chose the study of life itself. He learned how to create, manipulate, reform and rewrite living things. He cured many afflictions, and gave long life to many. He did much good work, but was not happy, for he did not truly understand life yet. Then, a smart but not wise man named “Song” mentioned something near the creator. He said that music could never really be understood because there was no way to listen to all music. Not just the music that people had made, but all music. Every sequence of musical notes and tones is music, and there are an infinite number of them.

The creator overheard this. Being brilliant but not wise, he immediately decided that life could be treated the same way. Life was understood as a type of writing: so he decided to write all life in all ways. Thus he could truly understand it. The creator made a place for his research in between two mountains, and named it Song. The short writings of life were quickly finished, and yielded absolutely nothing. As thing got longer, they got more interesting. Most of them yielded absolutely nothing. Others yielded twisted abominations or virulent diseases. Very rarely, something useful would appear, and he would give it to the world. People grew suspicious of him. They thought he was making some weapon or doing something evil. The creator, being brilliant, knew that they would soon come for him. He figured out how to make himself self-sufficient and not need any outside help. He sealed himself off. Nobody knows whether it was intentional or not. He might have meant to do it, he might not have. But suddenly, a thousand unknown diseases sprung up in the same places, centered on Song. They raced like wildfire through the world, obliterating all but a few. He either continued to work or died from his own plague. Yet Song never stopped working. It flowed outwards in a huge arc, called The Land of Song. Within, strange things ooze out of crevices and rip each other to shreds. Anything can kill you there. In some places, the ground is cursed and burns with an artificial fire. It is not known if there is a “Lord of Song” behind the creation. Some say that he died from what he created. Some say that he worked alone after the fall of man, and shed a single tear as he died. Some say that he used what he found to stay alive. Others say that he became part of his work, and that his new body is the land. Nobody knows. But still this reddish hell perseveres, producing monstrosities created out of humans, or engineered from pure nonlife. I think that in all of its terror, it is still something that only a human could create. It exists, and we are in it.

After several hours of walking, the ground starts to change. Darkness is falling, so it is not clear what we are feeling. Yet something brushes up against our legs. I stop, and feel that it is not moving. I tell the others to sit with me. Feeling along the ground, I encounter something thin and stiff. It seems thicker near the base, and slowly tapers to a point that ends near my knee. It is not much thicker than a wire. It seems like grass at first, but on closer inspection, it is not. I grab it, and nothing happens. Running my hand along the ground makes me realize that they are hairs. I start, thinking that we are sitting on top of some giant animal, but then I realize that the ground is the same temperature and feels no different from the ground we were on previously.

Grasping one with both hands, I yank at it to pull it out of the ground. It pops out with a minimum of effort, a little dirty but mostly clean. I am rewarded for my efforts with a small follicle of fatty muscle about the size and shape of an olive. I was about to tell the others and eat it when I remember the number one lesson of survival. Never act rashly. I put it down and tell the others about the follicles, but remind them not to eat. We don’t know how bad they could be. Daniel did remember that hair burned, so he said we could probably make a smoky fire with them to ward off the dark. He assisted me in pulling up as many of the things as possible in a small central pile while it was still light, and making sure that there was a firebreak so that the bonfire wouldn’t catch the other follicles in the ground on fire. I took out a flint and tinder that I had wisely brought with me and lit the bonfire with a couple pieces of my own hair as tinder.

Sydney and Dylan had watched us as we prepared the fire. They seemed far more tired than us, and Sydney seemed hollow. Half of the time, we were not sure if he was awake or unconscious. The fire was heavy and smoky, and filled the air with the stench of burning hair. It was a windy night, but we had to keep moving around the fire because the wind kept shifting. None of us could deal with sitting in that heavy, black smoke. That alone would have prevented us from sleeping. But there was something else. 5 minutes later, the popping started.

We didn’t now what it was. We had no way of knowing. But just outside the campfire’s radius of illumination, there would be a soft pop. Every couple of seconds, another pop from somewhere around the circle. It was not even logically organized – it would come from one side of the circle, then the other, then right next to the second one. No synchronized time or pattern. Just soft pops. Every couple of minutes, a trickling sound would come from the side the sunset occurred on. It sounded like a water bottle was being emptied. We stayed away from that side of the campfire. Every time we tried to sleep, the miasma of the fire would fall on our faces, or a pop would occur, seemingly right behind us. We stayed awake the whole night, wide-eyed and miserable.

The popping ceased just before the first glimmer of light came over the horizon. We never saw what it was that caused it, only the results. Right outside our meager circle of light, there was a ring of some black, sticky tar. It had dried completely, and all that we could see was an uneven black mess in a rough circle. There was something else left for us. Nobody was certain what it meant, if it meant anything. A message, a warning? An offering? Across from the rising sun was part of a skeleton. A couple of ribs like fish bones, because of their thin and bendy nature. Behind them, three scapula. One of them was large, like a normal one, but the one on the other side was split into one above and one below. This upper torso was connected onto a perfectly cylindrical spine. It had none of the human bumps, but was in fact completely flawless. A strange head crowned this. It looked like some kind of bony pinecone at first glance. But there was more smoothness to it and the scales were longer. It seemed to be some cross between a very large pinecone and a shattered barnacle. In some of the cracks where the bone did not quite fit, there were empty eye sockets. The black, soulless holes stared better than any eyes ever could. We got out of that place as quickly as we could. We had very little idea of direction or orientation, but Sydney weakly suggested that we could use the sun as a guide. We headed east, towards the rising sun. None of us had eaten or slept in a day. We were all exhausted, irrational, and operating on adrenaline and momentum. As we traveled across the endless reddish plains, one of us began to whistle a tune. The rest of us joined in as we marched. We couldn’t keep a tune, and some of us were doing different songs, but it gave our minds something to do. To ignore some of what was going on around us.

Off in the distance, I saw movement. There was some kind of things skating along the horizon. Shading my eyes, I could make out some kind of three-legged thing moving along. After squinting, and waiting for a bit until they got bigger, I saw what they were. Some kind of herd animal, because there were four or five of them. Three legs, joined at the center. At each end was some massive hard sphere, like some fancy round toenail. Webbing between the legs and a kind of mass in the center. They moved mainly by spinning around on their spherical toenails, and seemed to be hunting down small lumps of meat. They looked kind of like wheels with only spokes and no rims, except that the spokes had round caps at the end. We kept walking, our curiosity satisfied. They passed over our tracks a couple minutes later.

They were rather common, these lumps of meat. Sometimes, they managed to travel past the forest of arms and arrived in our domain. Those nights were meaty feasts. They looked like several-tone snail, with the shells removed. Some still had fragments of shell, or bits of fur like fuzzy lint. Others seemed to have had salt poured on their defenseless snail bodies, or had spines inside their bodies or organs. Most of them did not have anything that could be called a head. We stayed away from them for the most part. Back at home, some people had found out that the wibblers often had some kind of unexpected natural defense.

We came across some other thing in the middle of the desert. A large knobby pillar, like a cactus, sat some ways above the ground. Three large mangrove roots supported it. The space underneath was tall enough for us to stand up under. It was irregularly shaped, and almost entirely smooth, except for a series of lines running up and down the surface they gave it strange ridges, from which waxy sap leaked. It and the sap were a kind of golden yellow. Neither the cactus nor the sap did anything, so we moved on.

We saw something else on our voyage. I noticed a sort of scuffling noise, and looked off to see what it was. There was some kind of misshapen humanoid off to the side. It had an overlarge torso on it, so we couldn’t see too much what it was doing. But it seemed to be kneeling on both legs (well, on a leg and a knee, as one leg was fused in a permanently bent position and only the knee could be used as a leg). It also had three arms. On one side, it had one very thick arm that was almost a leg, but at the very tip, where a foot might be, there was one very large thumb. Coming from the armpit of that limb, there was a long thin limb. The creature was using that to support itself, as its legs were not properly functional. There appeared to be a cow skull where its head might have been. A long, cleansing tongue protruded out of an eye socket and seemed to be polishing the skull. It was snorting, and dipping its head towards the ground. We had no idea what it was doing or why, and we soon lost interest in it.

We walked for several more hours, until the sun began to set behind us. We decided to stop, because all of us were tired, ravenous and foot-weary. We sat down, and all but Sydney pitched in to build the fire. While we were not watching, he ate a couple of the hairs from the ground. By the time we noticed, we were far too late to stop him. He said that the hunger and the pain were worse than dying, and if he could save us all then it was worth the risk. We watched him for about an hour as he ate the single hairs, and nothing was amiss. He did not choke, or die, or start to vomit. Eventually hunger overpowered our fear as well and we started eating. We roasted them over the newly built fire. Dylan went out to find the biggest one that he could, and came back with a real prizewinner. A clump of them had all joined together, as big as a melon. We picked all of the hairs out of it, and roasted it on the fire. Sydney got the whole thing for his bravery. Even the popping seemed less harmful this time around. We were used to it and knew what it meant, so it became almost a routine for us. No trickling this night. We all organized ourselves at the points of the compass rose and tried to go to sleep.

Fifteen minutes later, the screaming started. We heard a thin wail, rising in pitch. All of us turned to see who was the cause. Sydney had gotten into a proper screech at this point, and was emptying his lungs in a full-throated wail. It seemed almost animal, this screech. He was really going for the finish line. We ran over to see what was wrong. He started spitting blood onto the ground, and we could see it dribbling down his chin. His face was the face of someone who has so much pain that they don’t know what to do with it. We tried to look in his mouth, but he seemed to be just spontaneously bleeding from welts in his cheeks and in his throat. We all began to worry about our own selves, because we all ate the same things. We couldn’t help him and we couldn’t stop him. We all watched a silent vigil again that night. He managed to continue screaming throughout.

The rising of the sun startled us. We had sunk into an almost comatose stupor, unable to sleep but unable to stay awake either. He eventually had stopped screaming, and had settled to a harsh croaking. We knew he would still be screaming if he could. None of us wanted to eat the hair bulbs, as one of them had caused this. We set off due east again, but this time to find better food.

We found a carcass of one of the wibblers. There were spines sticking out of it at awkward angles and large chunks torn out of it. The absence of a corpse nearby also indicated a possible absence of fast-acting toxin. We don’t know if the spines came from it or from whatever killed it. But we managed to eat the raw meat around them. All of us immediately threw up afterwards. I don’t know whether it was the creature or our own fault. We kept on moving west.

I was carrying Sydney in my arms with Daniel. Dylan followed a little behind. Sydney had thankfully stopped screaming, but I think that he probably couldn’t anymore. I took another look at his mouth and all I could see was some kind of tissue. His mouth and possibly throat had been filled with some strange kind of flesh. It sounded as if he was just grunting every once in a while now. I don’t really know how he was still breathing. I was pretty sure he was still alive, because every once in a while he would make a little sound, but his open eyes were unseeing. I closed them for his peace.

We encountered something else dangerous. A grouping of what looked like nutshells stood in the ground. Dylan went over to see them. In the air above the shells, there seemed to be a few faint wisps shimmering. Dylan went over to look at them. Turns out the wisps were some kind of thin thread. He stuck his hand in to see if he could feel them. Shimmering, innocent little threads. One of them brushed his wrist. He was screaming a moment later.

It had wrapped around his wrist instantly and tightened. Sydney moved a little, as if in sympathy. The thread quickly bit down to bone, but got stuck there. Dylan grew a bracelet of blood, and then it started to gush out of his severed wrist. His arm was pulled in and towards the ground. He fell forward, and his upper body landed in the thicket of wisps. They all wrapped around him, and we heard a small scream of anguish, then a reddish mist and silence. There was cracking and creaking as he as pulled in towards the center, where he lay still.

We left him. We were smart enough to know that he was dead. Our stuttering conscious minds jumped over that and continued on their ways east. We weaved drunkenly towards that direction. I almost didn’t hear the soft “pop” that came from Sydney’s head. The ever-expanding thing in his mouth had dislocated his jaw. Whatever he had held back before came out in full force now. There was croaking, interspersed with the occasional dip into a high, muffled scream.

We crested a slight hill and found an inland lake. Well, at first it looked like an inland lake. We ran down to the water’s edge, ready to drink. We stopped when we realized that there was no beach, and no water. We had encountered some kind of sea of scales. The massive opalescent sheets of material loomed up in front of us. We could see soft undulations in the rippling mass of flesh. Still, it was not a place without water. The sea had gathered many of the Land’s living things around it, as it was the most reliable source of water. The blood that flowed just under the surface was the lifeblood of many creatures. Surrounding the sea were banks of bone-white reeds. They had some kind of reddish leech issuing from the top, and drinking perpetually from the sea. We approached the shore to drink as well, but we aggravated some of the tubes. The leeches turned around and stretched out to us, daring us to come any closer. We left.

We tried to walk around the lake to find a place without the worms. Our search was basically futile, as it seemed to be almost entirely ringed. No water or blood for us weary travelers. It is always the same for those who want some space to drink. I took a look down at Sydney. He looked back up at me. His jaw was swollen out, bulging and dribbling. Hid jaw had been dislocated a while ago. Hairs had made holes in his cheeks and mouth to poke through. Long, stiff hairs hung out of large, deep pores. His face hardly looked human anymore. I could see some growing around his chest too. But he was completely lucid. His eyes were still human, and he looked into me with them. I do not know what he found.

A far-off rumbling interrupted us. I glanced off in the direction that it had come from. Some lump, standing stilt-legged on one massive plated arm while waving around a stumpy tentacle limb on the other side, had spotted us. I told Daniel that we should start moving. We could only speed up a little with our tired bodies and heavy load, but we moved a little faster anyway. I heard some thumping from behind us. I dared risk a look back. The thing was gaining on us, using its massive heavy limb to drag its bulk across the ground while waving its tentacle in excitement. It was going to catch us, no matter what we did. We made a good fight of it, with the thumping, misshapen mass chasing us across the unending plains. We would never have escaped it. But we at least gave the bastard a run for its money. We finally tripped down a hill and lay collapsed at the bottom. It was searching for us and would soon find what it was seeking. I decided to accept my fate, down in that little gully. Whatever would come, I would handle it with dignity and honor. I turned around to take in one last view of the world. A tortured landscape, if I ever met one.

Something caught my eye. It was hope. A piece of timber: a human construction, a building. It meant hope. It meant that I might have a chance. Lives would not have been wasted in vain!

A bulky shadow loomed above my head. Time slowed, as it had slowed in the misty forest. I slowly looked up. Some kind of proto-arm reached for my body, to touch me. I shied away from it, I curled, and I scrabbled in the sand at the bottom of the gully. I looked for some kind of escape. I saw it.

I picked up the prostrate body of my brother. I gave him to the reaching arm. Somehow I lifted Sydney above my head and into the abyss. The hand closed around the body gently, and the last things that I saw of him were Sydney’s dying eyes. The eyes did not seem to say anything. They just very quietly stated, “So this is how it is”.

human hope is a funny thing. it is a force more powerful than any conviction or any love. It overpowers all other premises, hopes, dreams and beliefs. it kills. and yet you make it seem so good. you believe in it, as if it does something for you. what does it mean to you?

Four in the group.