Cotton Face

📅 Published on February 7, 2022

“Cotton Face”

Written by Dan Weatherer
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 10 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Vestwell Subway was a pedestrian tunnel which ran beneath the busy A37, linking East Lydford with West.  A notorious accident blackspot, few ever chose to use it, preferring to risk life and limb crossing the road above.  Indeed, many fatalities had been recorded at the site, and not all of them the result of road traffic accidents.  Vestwell Subway also formed part of the initiation into The Steelers, the village’s only gang: a gang Matthew had wanted to join since first hearing of their antics on the playground as a young boy.  Now, faced with the gaping mouth of the subway, Matthew was forced to question that desire.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the stories,” said Calum, peddling his bike in wide, lazy circles around Matthew.  “But I’m gonna tell you what really happened anyway.  Just for kicks.”  He pulled up alongside Matthew and grinned.  “I won’t leave out the gory details, neither.”

“I know all I need to…” said Matthew a little too quickly, panicking in case his fear had transmitted in his voice.  If it did, Calum either chose to ignore it or add to it further.

“The thing with the story of Cotton Face,” began Calum, the name sending a shiver of cold the length of Matthew’s spine, “Is that it’s all true.  Every last word of it.”

Francis frowned.  Up until this point, he had busied himself with his bicycle, having turned it upside down, balanced it on its seat, engrossed in rotating the pedals and watching the back wheel spin.  He did this often, and when asked as to why, he’d simply reply that he was ‘checking.’ As to what for, he would not say.  “I asked my mum, and she said it weren’t…”

“They all say it weren’t!” snapped Calum, annoyed at the interference of his lieutenant.  “Course they do!  It’s all about house prices or somethin’.”  No one would want to move here if they knew the truth, so they all make out it’s just a story.” He fixed his eyes on Matthew, the grin returning to his face.  “But it ain’t.”

He resumed his laps, this time slow and meandering.  “I heard it said that he was a carpenter’s mate, back when they made stuff from wood in the village.  Big fucker he was, too!” Matthew flinched at the curse word.  “Some said he was as close as to a giant as you can get.  Course, no one would go near him, except this one young boy.  They say he was a bit thick —  Cotton Face, not the boy — and he didn’t have many friends, so he and the boy would spend time together, walking in the village and the woodlands over there.  East Lydford was just a few farms back then.  Of course, this subway wasn’t here, but the path was.” Calum pulled up alongside Matthew, closer this time.  “They found the boy lyin’ there,” said Calum pointing into the depths of the subway.  “Or what was left of him.  Course, as the kid was seen with Cotton Face, he was the only suspect.  Had to be him, right?”

Matthew held his breath.  He knew what was coming.  This was the part of the story he hated the most—the part which fuelled his nightmares and caused his imagination to draw pictures in the shadows.

“The villagers, they set the dogs on him, thinking they’d see justice that day,” continued Calum, unabated.  “Cotton Face fought them off and broke their necks, one by one, before retreating into the woods over there.”

“Tell ‘im why they call ‘im Cotton Face,” said Francis, transfixed by the rotations of his bicycle wheel.

“I’m getting to that,” snapped Calum, “Those that saw him running into the woods said his face was torn to pieces… like a real proper mess!  His eyes hung popped, and empty from their socket, his lips gone: likely dissolving in the belly of one of the dead dogs.” Calum leaned closer to Matthew, his voice barely a whisper.  “Those that have seen him since say he wears a bloodied cotton mask to cover his face…those that live do, anyway.”

Calum remained close to Matthew’s ear.  His breath, sweet-smelling (like pear drops) and warm, did nothing to dispel the goosebumps which covered Matthew’s flesh.  He shuddered involuntarily.  Satisfied that his work was done, Calum resumed his laps once more.

“You know what you need to do to join, right?” shouted Calum, picking up speed.

Matthew nodded.  He hoped harder than he had ever hoped for anything in his life that now was not the time for the initiation.

“To join the Steelers, you gotta walk through Vestwell Subway after dark,” said Calum.

Matthew nodded again.

“Alone.”

“I know,” said Matthew, his voice quiet and low.

“We’ll watch, won’t we, Francis?”

Francis righted his bike and nodded.  He wore a faraway look on his face, a look that troubled Matthew.  Secretly, Francis recalled his time in the subway, a time he would never be able to forget for as long as he lived.  He didn’t envy Matthew having to go into the subway; Francis knew that he wouldn’t do so ever again.  Sometimes he wished he hadn’t done so in the first place, though he’d never say as much to Calum.  “Yeah, we’ll watch, but we won’t come in.  You go alone, or you don’t join.  It’s that simple.”

Matthew looked into the mouth of the subway.  It ran for no more than twenty meters, and there was a slight curve to the right, which began at around the midpoint of the tunnel. More than half of the exit was visible from this side.  Matthew swallowed hard.  No matter the time of day, no matter the season, the sky at the end of the tunnel always appeared dark and grey.  They said that Cotton Face had his den in the walls where the passageway curved. They said if he is going to be there, that is where he will be.  They said other things which Matthew hoped were not true.

“So let’s say eight o’clock tomorrow night?  Your mummy let you out past then?” chided Calum.

It took Matthew a moment to register that the question was directed at him.  He looked at Francis and nodded.  Francis, now a sickly shade of grey, looked away.  “Yeah,” he said, his voice faltering.  “Eight o’clock.”

* * * * * *

It was one of those rare school days which passed all too quickly, much to Matthew’s dismay.  Countless times he had sat through a tedious maths lesson, eyes fixed on the clock, urging the minute hand to reach twelve and end his torment, it steadfastly refusing to hurry on its way.  Today that same hand seemed to whirl at an incomprehensible speed, as if mocking him.

Today’s lessons had fallen on deaf ears.  His mind had been otherwise engaged, the drone of the teacher lost amid a trail of dark thought and his date with Vestwell Subway. News stories that his young mind had paid little interest to when they first broke suddenly came back to him in startling clarity.  How many was it that had been killed crossing the road above the subway?  Five, six, maybe even seven that he knew of during his thirteen years? He was certain there would be more if he had had half an inclination to research the real death toll, but that was just it; he didn’t want to know how many people had died on that road.  He didn’t want to know how many children had gone missing in that subway (was it three or four?), and it was always children that went missing in there, never an adult.  He was afraid; of course he was.  He also knew that Francis was afraid, too.  Francis had already suffered the ordeal, yet he was still afraid!  He’d seen that look on his face, one that spoke of persistent nightmares and a reluctance to even look at the subway.  Francis’s fear added further to Matthew’s, yet what could he do?  He wanted to join the gang; he had to join the gang.  He wanted to be somebody.  He was tired of being the short, wimpy kid that everybody picked on.  If he made the gang, then those days would be behind him.  All he had to do was go into that bloody subway later tonight and say the rhyme.  The rhyme that nobody dared mention, not since it was last spoken in the playground that summer day, five years ago; the same day little Marcie from year three went missing.  They said she was playing with her older sister by the subway.  There they go again with “their” saying things; ‘Them,’ the faceless keepers of the truth.  They questioned her sister, of course, but she had said nothing of the incident.  In fact, she had said nothing at all since.

He was sweating now, and still, the clock sped towards home time, ignorant of his plight, meaning that tea was just around the corner, and after that, his date with the Steelers and Vestwell Subway.  He realized that sitting here worrying was making him sweatier.  He balled a fist and slammed it onto his desk, startling Tom, who was sitting next to him.  Was he going to let the stories get the better of his nerve?  After all, they were just stories, right? Cotton Face wasn’t real.  Sure, something bad happened a long time ago, as bad things tend to happen.  To blame it on Cotton Face was surely just the village’s way of making sense of tragedy?

As Matthew began to pack his bag for home, queazy and dry-mouthed, he came to a conclusion.  A no-show was unthinkable.  He’d probably get beat up for that tomorrow, and the day after, perhaps the day after that too.  If he didn’t turn up, then his chance at becoming a Steeler would be long gone.  His dad had been a Steeler.  Both uncles, too.  No, he had to show up.  Until then, it was better to face the evening one step at a time, the same way he intended to take his walk into the subway.

* * * * * *

20:00.  Vestwell Subway.

They were all here, the entire gang, out in full force, and there were more members than Matthew had at first thought.  He saw faces he recognized (Big Alan, Tim Tootley, Mark Wirral from Barming Comprehensive) and faces he didn’t.  Whenever Matthew had seen them gathered before, there was usually lots of quick-fire banter between the boys. Tonight they were dead silent.  They flanked the sides of the path leading into the maw of the subway, their faces stolid.  Calum stood in the entrance, his back to Matthew.

“Didn’t think you were going to show,” remarked Calum, checking his watch.

“I’m early,” replied Matthew.  “Of course I’d show.  You know how much I want to join.”

Calum turned to face his latest initiate.  “Then you know what to do.”  He stepped aside, clearing the entrance, presenting it to Matthew as a ringmaster might clear the stage to allow for the next act.

Matthew took a deep breath and began the slow march towards the mouth of the subway.  The strip lighting was on, meaning that he had a clear view of the interior of the passage, but the exit on the other side was shrouded in darkness.  He paused at the entrance. His heart thumped in his chest.

“Remember, all the way through so as we can’t see you, then coming back, you say it,” hissed Calum as Matthew passed by.  “You don’t say the rhyme; you don’t get in.”

Matthew nodded and stepped into the subway.

As he passed inside, his ears felt as though his head had been suddenly submerged in water.  His hearing became distorted, his footsteps impossibly loud, his heartbeat deafening. He turned to look back at the members of the club, more to reassure himself that they were still behind him than anything else.  He hoped his expression did not betray his fear.  They looked on, silent and grave.

As he progressed further into the tunnel, his hearing began to clear until all seemed normal again.  His footsteps (though still loud) reverberated off the tiled walls, and his heartbeat steadied.  The lights above him fizzed and flickered.  Unperturbed, Matthew pushed deeper into the subway.

As he approached the curve, he began to slow, taking another cursory glance back towards his peers.  Each craned his neck so that they could easily watch Matthew and his progress.  Calum stood with his arms folded and smiled.  He said something that was lost somewhere in the distance between them.  Matthew took it to be an instruction to keep going.

He chose to navigate the curve on the outside, the furthest point from where the den of Cotton Face was said to be.  He saw nothing but polished tile walls, yet he felt no less uneasy.  Solid wall or not, this part of the subway seemed much colder than the rest.  He quickened his pace and disappeared into the gloom.

“Let me know when you are at the other side!” called Calum, his voice booming through the passageway.  Matthew took this to mean that they could no longer see him from their side.

“I’m there now,” he lied.

A pause.

“I said I’m there…”

“We heard you,” shouted Calum again.  “Make your way back and make sure you say the rhyme when you get to the middle.”

Matthew did not respond.  He had never been on this side of the road before.  He saw nothing in front of him but thick forest and a narrow, pebbled footpath.

“Yeah?” came Calum’s voice, annoyed.

“Yeah,” replied Matthew, his voice wavering.  The return leg of the journey was the part that he had dreaded the most.  Some said the rhyme summoned Cotton Face, and that was what had happened to little Marcie that day.  Their playful game had summoned the demon from their playground stories, and he had taken her with him back to Hell.

“Today!” called Calum, his tone impatient.

Matthew started back and gingerly approached the curve of the tunnel.  The suspected den of Cotton Face now lay immediately to his left.  The Steelers had abandoned their positions and had gathered at the mouth of the subway so that they had a better view.  They glared at Matthew expectantly.  He stopped in the center of the tunnel and began to recite the rhyme.  It was a rhyme all of the children in the village knew well, having learned it on the schoolyard at an early age.  Passed from generation to generation, the ballad of Cotton Face would outlive them all.

“O’er field and dale, across the way…”

“Louder!” interrupted Calum, his voice sounding distant and distorted.  Matthew took a deep breath, realized his legs were trembling and started again.

O’er field and dale, across the way,

the boy did perish, or so they say,

his body torn, strewn o’er the place,

died at the hands of Cotton Face.”

Silence.

Matthew stared at the crowd of boys.  The group of boys stared back.  Then, one by one, the lights illuminating the subway went out.

Muffled cries of surprise emanated from the mouth of the subway but sounded impossibly far away.  The passageway was thrown into total darkness, disorienting Matthew. He began to panic.  A whimper of fear escaped his lips.

To his left came sounds of movement.  Something large was stirring, slowly, as though rousing from a deep sleep.  His brain screamed at him to move, to run, to get away from this place as fast as he could, but his legs refused to move.  They felt heavy, detached, as though they weren’t really his, as though they were someone else’s limbs sewn on in place of his own.

A face emerged from the darkness in front of him, a pallid, terrible face with slits for eyes and a bloodied, stained mouth.  The stench of sewage filled the subway, fetid and damp. It coated his teeth and seeped into his lungs.  Matthew, coughing violently, backed away from the face, suppressing the urge to throw up.  His senses swam.  He felt as though he was moving through treacle.  The creature with the terrible face stood upright before him and hissed, its girth preventing him from passing.  He could just about make out the panicked shouts of the Steelers, impossibly far away, unwilling or unable to help.

Cotton Face stared at the boy through the slits of his mask.  The boy stared back.

* * * * * *

Although there were fifteen witnesses (all of whom gave mostly the same testimony), the body of Matthew Walters was never recovered.  Not for the first time (nor sadly the last), the village of Lydford mourned the loss of one of its children.

Counseling was offered to those present that night, though none of the boys chose to attend.

It is said that children have remarkable powers of recovery when it comes to psychological trauma, and while many agree this to be true, perhaps there is a more telling indicator as to how the young process tragedy so readily.  The stories that we pass around the playground are often born of such horrors.  Though often dressed in magic and fancy, these fairy tales serve as both a record of past tragedies and a warning.  That we so often choose to ignore their warnings speaks more of our inherent childish curiosity than our fear of the unknown.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Dan Weatherer
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Dan Weatherer


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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