's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" The Leng Embrace "

Submitted by Nelke

Monsieur Debonnard, my French teacher, was pushing fifty by the time everything happened. He was a prematurely old man, who swore under his breath in languages we never understood. He chewed black tobacco in class, spat it on the floor, and made us clean it at the end of the lesson. We absolutely loved him.

He had been in a war in Algeria, where he once talked a soldier out of executing him, and in turn hen shot him in the back of the head. Along the years, the story had acquired the embellishments of invention, and in the last iteration the lonely soldier had become an execution squad. But this happens often with the truth.

What I mean is that I do not think he did it on purpose. The guy was petty, one could say evil, for the measure of evilness we have, but he was upfront with me about that. I could swear he had no idea of what he did to me.

I was twelve, a morose kid at the beginning of teenage rebelliousness. The rest of the class had left for a school trip to the cardboard factory, but I refused to go. Thus I had to stay at the homeroom class for the rest of the day, and Monsieur Debonnard was on charge of keeping an eye on me. I do not think he minded: he had his magazines, and he was fond of me, I believe, for I cared about the lessons as little as he did.

As it turns out, I was bored out of my skull, counting the golden flecks of light dancing in the sunlight, and trying to draw on my desk without being noticed. He did, though, but he gave me an avuncular smile, like giving his word that he would not tell on me.

'Well, well, well' he said 'I guess someone is getting bored.'

I nodded, keeping a straight face. He took a stack of papers, and threw them to my desk.

'I just found this in the teacher's room, I think someone confiscated them. They don't look like Archie, but at least the hours will go faster.'

'Thank you, sir' I replied, and he promptly went back to ignoring me.

I fingered the papers carefully. They were dusty pulp magazines, about ten, and, as Monsieur Debonnard had said, they were no Archie. The covers were abstract whirls of color, so old that I could not make the designs. I found the titles incomprehensible and creepy: The Nausea Landscapes, Abscess, Sistole/Diastole, The Leng Embrace. In the corner I could see the stamp of a publishing house, and the name of the author, Christina Hinzelmann.

At first I thought that the pages were dirty, but it turned out that the images themselves were murky, as if seen through a muddy window. Places that looked like fading memories of places, endless plains, ruins that looked suspiciously inhabited. I had never seen anything like that: the plot was minimal, a mere scaffolding for the illustrations, and the dialogues nonsensical: mannequins in an abandoned scenario, discussing their roles for a play that never comes, a mother looking for her baby in an upside-down country, skeletal birds migrating south, deformed pairs of hands or mumbling silhouettes.

After I finished, I gave the comics back to the teacher, and I never saw them again. However, I started obsessing over what I had read, and the landscapes started populating my drawings. Moreover, and more worryingly, I started to register a strange presence in my dreams, some kind of barrier, or membrane, that started pushing my mind as soon as I slipped into unconsciousness. It went on for some weeks, and it was actually a relief when it burst. Then I started seeing them every time I closed my eyes.

I was not aware that anything was wrong, why should I? For all I knew, what I was going through was normal. I used to love books, and I would spend hours lovingly drawing the characters and places depicted in them. Did not the adults say that teenagers are obsessive?

The Leng Embrace was the most persistent, albeit it contained almost no text. In particular a lonely sentence at the beginning, stayed in my mind: Leng is behind all things and beneath them. It offers itself to the willing through the thin places: badly lit corridors, abandoned houses, empty cribs.

I took it as a challenge, half-serious, half-joking. I was, after all, in a transitional period of my life; too young for the flirting and the music, too old for the fantasy and the dreams. I had no real friends. So I started exploring, having no idea of what was I looking for. At first my family was worried, but my grades were still good, and I started lying, making up imaginary friends with whom I went to study and to have ice-cream. They did not investigate further. After all, they had enough with my sister.

The darkness, that I used to fear so much, became an ally, a shroud for unknown treasures. I wandered through the paths of the parks, hoping that one of them would lead me somewhere unexpected. I lost myself at dusk through the labyrinth of backstreets in the bad part of the city. I never got anything but yells and admonitions.

But it worked. I reached Leng through an abandoned house. It was summer, and my private game of "searching" was taking most of my afternoons. I was starting to get bored, but I had nothing else to do, so I just kept going for its own sake, looking for all the forsaken places of town.

I knew the house well; it was some streets away from mine, in the run-down neighborhood where I would often amble, but I had never dared to visit it for fear of being discovered and called on by some passerby. However, that day there was nobody on the street. It was lunch time, and the heat, that fell like a hammer, deterred people of going outside. I remember hesitating, looking at the condemned windows, gathering my courage to go inside, until I just kicked some of the boards and went inside.

It was surprisingly warm, and sunny. The light came through the slits between the planks and through the hole I had just made, and it made the inside look almost cheerful. There was no furniture, and the floor was covered with debris and trash left by some drifters, but little plants were growing everywhere, some of them in bloom. I remember my disappointment, thinking that there was no way to find anything creepy in there.

The room I came in looked like an old living room, and I went on to explore the corridor. It was darker, which lifted my spirits a little. Cryptic graffiti covered the walls, looking like nonsensical symbols. The lower floor was everything that was to be expected from an abandoned house: old, cracking furniture, garbage left by the old owners of the house, dust and ruin. Sometime before I would have been thrilled about my findings, but I had visited too many empty places by then. I went up the stairs, bound by a sense of duty.

The first room was empty except for a rotting bed frame and a dead rat. The second was similar. But the third...

The third room was positioned exactly at the end of the corridor, where the house was supposed to end. It was impossible for it to be there, but it was. I gasped, trying to make sense of it. The ajar door, seemed to beckon at me. I advanced two tentative steps, but nothing happened. The door did not disappear, and nothing moved inside. For all effects, it was a normal door. I almost ran away, but curiosity won. I took a deep breath and went inside.

It had happened, it had happened. My heart danced with fear and elation as I pushed the door and stepped in. The room looked no different from the others: some boards on the floor, what looked like construction supplies, a broken chair. It also had a condemned window, but the light was noticeably dimmer there, and the sounds from the street were muted. And there was another door.

I went there, this time without thinking, and I found another chamber, full of old furniture And another door.

I do not know for how long I walked in there. When I think of it now, I believe I must have been under some kind of outside influence. I was a brave kid, for the standards of the time, but there was no way I would have explored such an impossible architecture on my own accord. At some point, windows disappeared, and a curious grey light, that seemed to come from nowhere, filled the dusty air. The objects in the rooms became progressively stranger, more heteroclite: gorgeous old doorknobs, celluloid baby doll heads, mechanical artifacts that seemed to have no utility. And mannequins, mannequins everywhere. Some of them were headless, some others had a smooth lump over the shoulders.

After a while, common sense crept back to my mind, and I started my return. The way back seemed to be taking way longer than my exploration, but I was still not alarmed; a curious dullness had taken over my senses. I eventually reached the first room, and went down the stairs. But I was not home anymore. The street and the summer day were gone.

Leng was empty. No, it was hollow. Specters of trees rose close by, but they were made of cardboard. It was not a plain, not really, nor an actual place. Panic set in, eventually, and I yelled and run in circles and threw stones and collapsed, crying. It was not until some hours later when my lack of hunger and bodily functions really came to my attention.

Time goes funny in this place. I may have been here for at least ten years, but I have no way to be sure. Light here becomes dimmer cyclically, and I used to make marks on sticks to keep track of time, but I got bored. I have known despair, and forgotten it, I do not know how many times.

There are some other empty houses, inhabited only by mannequins and dolls, ill-designed simulacra of life. They may be placeholders for actual characters, you know? I hate staying inside the buildings, anyway. I have seen other things too, humanoid figures too distant to make out. First time I saw one, I ran towards it, but it stayed at the same distance, no matter how much I advance.

I have no doubt that this world is constructed. The repetitions, the laziness, everywhere I can see the hallmarks of human design. But why? Is this Christina Hinzelmann, damned be her name, building nightmares for people to get lost in? Am I actually dead, and I have constructed my own afterlife after memories? My body has not changed, but my mind has. Have I reached adulthood here? Will I become senile, a crone in a girl's body, wandering this land without memories of anything outside of it? Will I eventually die of old age?

For lack of anything else to do, I entertain these musings every day, even though I do not think that it will be that long. The figures in the distance are coming every day a little closer.


This is the script of the short pulp comic The Leng Embrace, found in a second-hand bookstore by Benjamin H. Upon reading it, he realized that the drawings of the were similar to the pictures of his aunt J. Jennings, disappeared fifteen years before he was born. He told his mother, who confirmed the resemblance. After being contacted, the police tracked down other comics of the same author, and they found out that at least four of their characters matched the profiles of missing people.

The owner of the publishing house, that had been long closed by then, declared that he had never seen Christina Hinzelmann in person, and that he received her storyboards by mail. He was investigated, but he came clean.

The only lead was the return address of the author, which was found to be a P.O. box in an abandoned mining town. With no more leads to follow, the interest in the case waned, and it was filed in some institutional cellar, where it may have rot, or drifted into somewhere else.