's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by PedanticMeatsack

*A-side of cassette recovered from a heat damaged Panasonic RQ2102, labled 'Drifter'* {Audio fidelity poor due to age and heat damage, pops and crackles can be heard intermittently, lending the narrator's drawling voice a raspy, inhuman quality.} If I can figure how to work the damned thing. It is working? It's recording? Alright, I'll start logging stuff as I 'member it then.

{Indescernable murmuring, followed by a chair scooting, noisy shuffling and the closing of a creaky door}

I don't recall how long it's been. What year is it? Reckon it was about 1842 when I was... Hm, reckon it's been a while. The landscape ain't quite the same, though I ain't sure just how. Moments of clarity are few an' far between, ye see, memory ain't what it had been. I'd wager it's something to do with our affliction. Gets awful hard to make conversation, forgetting what I'm aimin' to say, or if I done said it already. Reckon you'll have to pardon that.

Lot of misery I can recall. Lot of suffering, and loss. Lost chances, stolen futures. We'd been simple folk, ain't done nothing to no-one. We worked hard to get what we had, and cherished it. We prayed an' done right like the good god-fearin' people we were. Doc says maybe we went and prayed to the wrong god, but he's gone and lost a lot of his sense.

Ain't often I get a chance to reminisce, but ye know, if it hadn't been for the ol' half-bred driftin' in, I'da been married- an' had a family like I always wanted. Maybe had a lot of kids to help tend the farm, an' sure wouldn't mind making 'em with my beauty of a wife-to-be. See, it was only a couple o' days, not even a week before our wedding day when he showed up. We was preparing still, my woman's momma still darning and embroidering the ol' family dress. An heirloom twice as old as the town, an' at least five times as nice, she told me, an' awful proud of it too.

Was 'bout average for late summer, the sun high and clouds sparse, cows grazin' out in pasture, and a few weary horses hidin' under the shade of a big ol' oak. I was out whittlin' an' watchin' the dog chase locusts while my gal collected hen's eggs from her daddy's coop, an' not too coyly we was passin' looks with each other across the plots. Nothin' forbodin'. Was quite the opposite, I'd say, couldn't have been a more promising day.

Reckon is was lil' past noon when the wanderer showed up, wearing a duster near worn to shreds, a battered hat to keep the sun off, a bandanna to keep from breathin' the red-clay dust of the road, an' a pair o' glasses. Ain't a carriage or horse to be seen, an' only a lil' pack of supplies in his fancy tassled bag. Styles change with time, I's seen. Back when I was just a regular ol' farmer, it wasn't odd to see a guy show up in a duster, it made sense protectin' his clothes from the road, the odd part about 'im was his dark skin and Indian beads and doo-dads. These days, you've got sealed, horseless wagons and no dirt roads. Ain't got half the stuff we used to, and somehow got a whole lot more, no horses, no blacksmiths and farriers, no trappers or hunters, ain't a saloon neither, but ye got houses as dandy as a new toy an' fancy little trinkets that fit in yer hand an' can send a telegraph with none of the fuss or tapping. They was tellin' me all 'bout it and other sortsa nonsense- like the thing I'm talking into, a 'gift' from one've our guests. S'possed to be recordin' everything I say. It's got this nifty little box as clear as glass with spooled black paper that goes round and round, and the one who done know how to work the thing says it's recording everythin' I say, but I gotta worry about it's battery life, so I shouldn't go on ramblin' forever.

A lot of nonsense and gibberish to my ears, but I seen the miracles it can do, playin' a voice like a person's in the room with ye, but it's nothing more than a little grey box, with the word Panasonic written real big on it.

If it weren't clear- I'd say the world left us behind. Maybe they's forgot our blighted little community. Maybe they're blind to it, like we was. Course we get a few come by now and then, most end up in our flock, a rare few don't survive, but some are lucky enough to get by unchanged. Don't seem to act like anything's awry, we're just a little backwoods slice of the old life. They's always askin' if we're actors, if we're doin' some kinda historical reenactment, what kinds of novelties and souvenirs we've got. Usually you can just say yer Amish, and they'll let you be. Don't know what it means, one of 'em mentioned it once and we adopted it cause it don't make 'em scream and run, but they'll act like they get it, an' bugger off. Maybe it's what they named our curse, maybe they know it ain't airborne, and we ain't seekin' to spread it? Maybe they got a way to stop it, if caught soon enough? Ah, I've gone and got ahead of myself again. Anyway, where was I? Oh, that's right. No-one reckoned the drifter's ragged look, awkward gait and lanky build meant somethin' was wrong. Travel was awful rough, drifters and wanderers were often thin, raggedy folk. An' half of 'em asked to be called 'Billy', 'Jack', 'Joe' or 'John', so we took it in stride when he gave us that and nothin' more.

As long as he didn't cause no trouble, we'd take his patronage and not ask too much. But our hospitality came back to bite us. Even if we ain't never owned a slave, and ain't did his people no wrong, he ain't taked no mercy and cursed us with his Indian witchcraft and African hoodoos. Or voodoos, I ain't get the difference, it's all witchery the same.

An' I don't recall how, but I was one of the first to be afflicted. Maybe we brushed elbows at the saloon, or had I gone an' did somethin' to make myself a target? Maybe he was just jealous of my woman? Never done figured it out. Anyway, on my wedding day, everyone got an awful shock and damn good proof something evil was brewin'. See, it wasn't just nerves and cold feet that made me sick.

It was a special kind of sick, like nothin' I'd ever heard of. Ain't even the lepers in the bible done got it this bad. Ain't the Indian stories speak of it neither, but they got some near as foul curses... and I don't know much of the Negro legends, but I'd heard of voodoo zombies, and little dolls they stick with needles... reckon their dollies remind me of us, but it ain't quite right neither. Maybe he got 'imself an all new curse, bein' a mix of everythin' all together? Maybe he was out fiddlin' with things he ought not have, tryin'a get revenge fer his family?

Couldn't tell ye. Alls I know is we got it. Don't know why, an' I don't know how, but we do.

It might take ye two days for ye notice it, but the signs can be passed off as any common ail- cold, flu, pox or fever. Always feel parched and light headed, and lot's of joint aches, an' your stomach'll do a lot of grumbling and protesting. Usually third day brings vomiting- 'course, you won't remember it as being nothing out of the ordinary, no worse than the last time ye went drinkin', but any bystander would think it quite the show- watching you vomit yer own innards and blood in a slurry- an' it can go on for an awful long time, too. I was damned surprised the first time I got to watch, who knew a person had that much stuff in 'im? Reckon I got half the town that way- when they was all attending my humble little wedding. For sure her poppa and the priest got it then.

Doc's been watching everything from the start. He done gave us the silly idea that our bones break to pieces and shoot through our skin, looking like a lady's sewing pin, the kind with a ball on one end, an' that's what makes it so hard to move at first... and ligaments some how get turned into the cottony stuff that fills us, an' our veins get turnt to stitches, since it's sure as shit we ain't vomited none o' that out, an' they ain't where they's s'possed to be. Ain't no less loony than anything else about the curse, I'd reckon.

Where was I? The thought's lost to me... Anyway, it was a fortunate strike I only ever got one good look at the wretch, that day before my wedding. Course, I didn't think much of it at the time, I reckoned it was a scarecrow, or a desiccated carcass of an unfortunate traveler some devil minded youngun found and propped up in the field behind my little plot o'land. It gave me willies, but I payed it no mind, deceived myself to thinking it wasn't moving, just a trick of the day's heat. I reported it to the sheriff, sure it was the work of some young ruffian, and blotted it from my mind with a healthy dose of whiskey that night. It's one of few memories I've been able to cling to, but it ain't fer wantin' to... Cotton stained with old green-brown blood hung limply from his ill stitched eye holes. His skin was all wrinkled, an' cracked an' flakin' like like rotting leather, tattered, nearly worn to pieces in some places, pocked with holes and stuck with spikes like an over sized pin cushion. No more hidden behind 'is bandanna, a thin slit of a mouth was still part sewn shut, an' cotton peeked through in places where a stitch tore, or maybe where he'd cut it so he could speak. Maybe that's how the doc figured what to do, maybe he seen ol' Joe and pieced it together? But that goddamn memory of seein' him haunts me still, way he lurched and shambled like a little girl's rag-doll, the way his legs bent and twisted and flopped without his braces... limp and deflated and distorted, with his face half caved in, fingers shriveled and flesh like a dried prune... reckon he somehow got his cotton soggy.

Maybe that's how he gone an' spread it, takin' a dip in the stream we all fetched pails o' water from..? An' the stink of 'im in the day's heat, by god! It'd gag a maggot and make a vulture faint. Reckon I ain't no better now. Ain't none of us much better, 'cept we're careful to stay dry and clean. We ain't pretty, but we ain't stinkin', neither. At least as far as I can tell.

{Two minutes of silence pass, occasionally punctuated by creaking floorboards, crackling of damaged tape and far off noise of farm animals}

Anyway, I reckon the illness impaired my mind like bein' drunk, cause I don't 'member vomiting on the priest. Don't remember much of what happened after that, neither. Course, it was odd to wake up in the doc's parlor, but I figured maybe I fainted and whacked my head. Ain't every day you get to marry the purtiest woman around. But I couldn't move for an awful long time. Couldn't talk, couldn't see neither. No one had a god forsaken idear what was goin' on, but a lot of the town was coming down with symptoms right about then, I heard 'em getting dragged in while I was laid up in bed. They's families was mutterin' suspicions, see, we'd never seen anything like this until the drifter came in. Never got an answer neither, exceptin' his disappearance. Reckon that's as good as admittin'. You don't run away if ye ain't guilty. Course, lot of folk up and ran off af'er that, but they was trusted neighbors an' friends we'd known our whole lives, they fled cause of fear, not guilt. Here's hoping they carried a warnin', and nothin' else. But the good doc kept his wits about 'im through it all, an' I reckon he must've been sick too, but he worked through it and figured out ways to help us... he cut the stitches on our eyes and mouths, and pulled out all our pins, so we could all see again and move around. Well my gal didn't survive it, anyway... maybe it wouldn't be so damn bad if I still had her around. Wretched or not, I wouldn't mind an eternity with 'er. But she didn't make it. Her and a buncha others. Ain't a real choosey curse, a lot of women, younguns and elders pulled through, some of the toughest fellers in town didn't. Rough process, not that I remember much. Seen others suffer it. Seen stitches made of veins crawl from their flesh and bind their eyes and mouths, and shards of bone erupt from 'em an' take shape in to what look like pins. It ain't purty. We got a pretty good idea of signs you caught it, even if we don't know how it works, and we ain't got a clue how to stop it. Reckon, if you know it's comin' you can take the merciful way out, that's about all ye can do.

{Another span of silence, appoximately one and a half minutes in duration, is inturrupted by a chair scooting and the narrator resuming.}

Reckon the mind sees what it wants, or what it can handle seein'... Or the plague affects us a certain way, which explains why no-one gets spooked easily when they come around us. If I'da seen him, really seen 'im, it woulda scared a cowpie from me- if 'e moved er not. An' I think I saw him more than anyone else might've, cause I was already sick by then, but my mind was still strugglin' to understand what I was lookin' at. It was like a mirage, or like I done had enough liquor to see the world turned to liquid- sometimes almost clear, but always shiftin', sometimes closer to lookin' like a normal man. Ye know, aside from 'im being some kind of Maroon.

It seems to work that way, from what we's gathered. The farther along the curse is, the clearer truth is. But the memory seems clearer? Sure as hell it wasn't no midday heat's trick, the devil bastard was struttin' right at me... an' the grisliest damn scarecrow woulda blushed and shied under that gaze. If ye can call it a gaze, bein' he had no damn eyes. Ain't got no damn shame neither, bearin' his grisley self buck naked exceptin' a pair of bloomers. Lookin' like he done got in a tussle with a porcupine, full of quills and holes as he was.

Reckon it makes no difference, but ain't nobody really understands how we can go about, workin' like normal- cotton ain't known for doing the stuff our guts is supposed to. Nobody rightly understands the workin's of god and witches neither, but... we had an awful long time to dwell on it, an' question things. The folks who come through knows all sorts of things we didn't when I was a youngun, an' this curse makes 'em question' everythin' they knew. Maybe they closed their eyes to the miracles around 'em, and dismissed the work of God, turned a blind eye to the unexplainable sorrows, and deny the work of the devil? Maybe there's things no fancy science can explain? Uhm, losin' train of thought again... I was goin' to go on about how they's got me wondering how can we stand and move, and pick stuff up. Course, it ain't really like a normal movin', cause we's all limp and boneless, but we if can focus on a task hard enough, we can keep a limb rigid enough to use. Hard to walk an' run, though... Heh, it's got it's ups and downs I reckon, we don't gotta eat no more, don't gotta breathe, don't gotta sleep, don't get sick and don't get no broken bones, but we don't get to make no babies neither. And liquor don't affect us, it's just good to keep us smelling clean, in case we get visitors.

An' we gotta use oils to keep our skin supple an' life-like, but it makes us awful flammable. We do lots to make ourselves presentable, but mostly fer ourselfs- not cause we want people coming back. We even sewed buttons to our cotton eyes, and maked ourselfs some fake teeth, and the doc helped stuff us proper so we and as limp an' pitiful as ol' Joe was. None of us want to be used to lookin' like wretches what crawled up outta graves and got taxidermied, we still got our same ol' vanity an' pride. Our women folk still make themselves up nice and pretty- you'd never know the difference, till you peek up 'er skirt an' see them raisin legs what move like a wet stocking on a clothesline.

An awful long time passed since the ol' drifter came through, and turned our rosey little community into a haunted ghost town, ain't a clue what's happen to the rest of the world since then... exceptin' snippets our guest show and tell. Most of the town's folk gone mad and lost themselfs completely since then, but reckon a hundred or more years in this condition'll do that to ye. The rest of us carry on with normal lives, as much as circumstance permits. Course, being a living, taxidermied voodoo doll abomination ain't no way to exist, but what else're we gonna do? We still fear death like anybody else, even if we're a little better at avoiding it. Age don't do a thing, and bodily harm ain't a matter even though we can't heal- the doc, bless his ragged fading mind, keeps us stitched up. At least we're in better shape than our plaguer... but that gets me wonderin' how long he's been around- where did he come from, where did this god-awful affliction spring up? How long was he goin' around and spreadin' it before he came across us? And where's 'e gone off to, spreadin' it still? Has his mind gone yet? Has he made himse'f a legend? Round here he sure has. Even got a lament I liken to hum about 'im. I've even shared it with the town, and a couple a' healthy folk heard me hummin' it and singing a few lines, though they ain't a' known what it was about. Heh, it's always changin' anyways.

I've gone an' lost my thoughts again, can't remember a damn bit of what I've said, but for thinkin' of that ol' ditty. If it weren't for that little note by the fancy silver box, I'da forgotten why I'm alone in this lil' room an' what the hell I'm doin'. Little bit jogs the memory... I write notes a lot tryin' to remember, but it don't help if ye forget to write 'em. Oh- I'd wanted to ask myself a question aloud, cause I keep forgetting, but it makes me tremble when I do remember it... if it weren't for the 'batteries' in this thing, I'd use it all the time to keep note of important stuff. I didn't forget what I was thinkin'. If uh, I ain't yet said it... I'm gonna say it anyway, cause I ain't sure if I have. How many little 'Amish' communities, like ours, are there? How many people come trhough here an' left, infected but not showin' symptoms- is the whole world like us now? It's been nearin' five years since the last time folks came through... Has the whole world gone to hell, or did some forward thinkin' man set that wretch ablaze and cleanse God's Earth of 'im, and his damn witchery? Should we all build ourselves a pyre, in hopes of sparin' the future, or is it already too late? Should I take the lead, knowin' the protestin' and procrastinatin' they'll do, knowin' I'm gonna forget in a little while? Or is it in vain?

It's awful hard to keep the ones who done lost their wits from wandering off, as it is... how long 'til we're all like that? I'm already slipping, an' forgetting, and time's escapin' fer longer 'n longer. Maybe I can't 'member how many of us there's s'possed to be no more? Yesterday was summer, today it snowed, an' we all huddled up together tryin' to stay dry and warm, so we wouldn't get soggy or brittle from the cold dry air. Most're too scared to make a fire after we lost Bonnie an' George... an' maybe I got to suggestin' we go the whole biblical 'ashes to ashes' way, once or a dozen times. Ain't remember at all.

Maybe if I 'member, an' maybe if it snows again tomorrow, I'll hide this lil' trinket in a tough ol' safe and set our barn alight. An' maybe by god's blessin', this fancy doo-dad finds its way into responsible hands. Before any more folks gotta suffer like us. Immortality ain't all it's chalked up to be... at least, not like this.

{Noisy shuffling and several clacks of buttons being depressed ensue before an abrupt cease of all sound. Remainder of the A-side is blank, spanning approximately 8 minutes. B-side afflicted with magnetic 'bleed-through' and more notable quality degradation, and is now mostly unintelligible, though banjo music and singing is occasionally audible, along with identifiable noises and a constant effect, either caused by heat damage and bleed-through or picked up by the microphone, akin to white noise, rushing water or crackling fire.}