02 Sep The Value of the Human Soul
“The Value of the Human Soul”Written by Nick Botic Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 10 minutes
I can feel it coming, slowly but surely.
With everything going on, all the stay-at-home orders, I decided to go to the place in which I find the most peace. High in the mountains of my home state, I have a cabin that was left to me by my father, who in turn inherited it from his. Some people might not care much for it, but for me, it’s absolutely perfect.
I was safe in my journey to the cabin; I only interacted with two people (both of whom were necessary to interact with). I wore a mask and gloves, the whole deal. That’s why, on my third night there, I was both frightened and confused as to why I was feeling so ill.
It began with a headache, a minor one. As the day continued, though, the headache got worse. I took as much medicine as I could, but it didn’t abate. I laid down to try to sleep it off, and sleep I did, for about two hours, but when I woke up, the pain had increased a hundredfold.
It was that kind of headache that nearly blinds you, where every noise, every light makes you want to curl up into a ball and die. I thought about going to the emergency room, but the nearest one was in a town that was, in ideal conditions, about a half-hour away, and there was no chance that I could make such a drive in the state I was in, let alone with the snowstorm outside.
The sun had set, but it was no reprieve from the agony. The headache had forced me to squint my eyes when I dared to open them; otherwise, I knew I would fall victim to a surge of pain that would literally bring me to my knees.
Night up in that mountain brought with it the type of silence you can’t really find anywhere else. A sort of calm in nature, a tranquility in your surroundings, where if the wind stops, you can experience the most serene lack of distraction possible.
It was during one of those moments that I first heard it.
The sun had just set, and I was lying in bed, halfway to wanting to kill myself. Then there was a knock on the door to my cabin, but it was quiet, quiet enough that I wasn’t sure if it was real or simply my mind playing tricks on me. I remember that I thought, to myself and not out loud, Is someone out there? No, there can’t be.
Then it responded.
There can be. There is.
It didn’t say anything, though. The words just…materialized in my head. It was the most surreal thing I’d ever experienced. It was confusing, intriguing, frightening, and…painful…all at once.
I said out loud, “Who’s there?!” and my own voice sent needles piercing through my brain, which in turn made me clutch my head and grit my teeth. My eyes had been shut, and I tried opening them the slightest bit, but the slivers of moonlight coming in through the cracks in the blinds were too much to bear.
There was silence for a moment, and then I thought to myself, Now I’m hearing things. God, please make this stop. Please please please, pleading to whoever or whatever could hear my thoughts to make the anguish stop.
Then more words crept into my psyche.
God can’t help you. I can.
At that point, I knew I wasn’t imagining it, and I swung my legs off the bed. When I stood up< I had to steady myself, but it wasn’t enough. I quickly vomited all over the floor and my feet. I was dizzy; I was in the worst pain I’d ever experienced, and more than anything…I was afraid.
It’s not easy to rationalize auditory hallucinations. I knew I wasn’t imagining this voice in my head, but I still attributed it to the headache to end all headaches. Through squinted eyes, I made my way into the kitchen of my cabin, every step sending pain darting through my body and up into my brain.
When my baby steps finally got me to the sink, I splashed water on my face and leaned on the counter, my head banging like so many drums.
I thought to myself. – Oh my God, please make this stop. Just fucking kill me.
Not just yet.
I spun around and almost passed out.
“Who the fuck is there?!” I yelled, followed by a thought. “I’m the only one around here for miles.”
I’ve been here much longer than you.
I was almost in tears. “Who’s…who’s there?”
I don’t even care who it is…I just need help.
I can help you, Nicholas. I’m coming in.
I looked towards the door, which started slowly creaking open.
I swear I locked that.
You did. It’s of no concern to me.
With the moonlight pouring in at its back, a silhouette came into view. The jet black figure was the shape of a man, to be sure, but it was like it was…made of fog. It stood like any person would, but it had…fog…or steam…or smoke…sifting off of it. Had I not already been buffered by my current state of crippling pain, I think I might have collapsed from fear.
As I leaned on the kitchen counter, it took a step towards me, and in that moment, I could actively feel the pain in my head lessen. And so it went with every step it took towards me. I went from wanting to eat a bullet to having a headache that, while still several times a normal migraine, was no longer the completely defeating agony it was just moments prior.
With my eyes finally halfway open, I saw that this visitor wasn’t simply the moonlight behind it making it appear that jet black color; it was featureless, a man-shaped mass of lightly smoking darkness.
You’re starting to feel better, yes?
It still wasn’t actually talking.
“Y-yeah…how?” I asked it.
“How do you know my name?” I pinched the bridge of my nose and pulled a chair out from the kitchen table.
I know much more than your name.
“Who are you?”
It finally spoke. Its voice was deep, gravelly. “It would seem I’m your saving grace.”
There was an awkward silence as I tried to open my eyes further. My mind couldn’t make sense of what I was looking at, and I was subconsciously trying to rationalize it.
“I’ve been on this mountain a long time.”
“And who…who are you? How the fuck did you get in here?” With the pain somewhat alleviated, the bizarre nature of the situation was beginning to dawn on me.
“You invited me,” it said.
“The hell I did.” My response wasn’t borne of confidence but of adrenaline and fear.
“But you did. Not so much directly, but in your actions.”
“My…my actions?” I feigned ignorance.
The thing that was talking to me was tall, 6’8” by my guess, and it loomed over the small table as it talked to me. It didn’t have eyes, but I could feel it staring directly into mine.
“Your actions, Nick. You know of which actions I speak.”
“I—I don’t…who are you?!” I began getting frustrated at its evasion. “Get the fuck out of my goddamn cabin!”
I started to stand up, but the Visitor raised a smoky hand, and in a split second the full force of my abated headache returned, drilling back into my forehead and the backs of my eyes and sending me tumbling back into my chair.
It is a goddamned place, isn’t it? A place damned by God, certainly. You’ve seen to that.
I clutched my forehead in agony, and my voice dropped down to a whisper. “Please…please stop, please make it stop. I’m sorry. Please stop.”
The Visitor lowered its hand, and I let out a relieved gasp as the pain subsided once again.
“What do you want?” I asked again.
“I want to leave, Nicholas. You have my gratitude for finally affording me the opportunity to do so.”
“What do you m–you want my car? Fuckin’…take it. Take my car. The keys are–I’ll get you the keys.” I knew that wasn’t what it wanted, but my fear wasn’t allowing me to think rationally. I quickly stood from the chair to go get my keys.
Again the pain returned. It was so bad this time that I was shaking, all the while holding back tears.
“Wh…why are you doing this to me?” I barely managed to get out.
“As I said, your actions brought me here. Every visit you make up here, Nicholas, you’ve brought me closer to being able to leave this place. And this time will be the last. I can feel it. You need to finish what you started on your way here.”
“I…I don’t know what you mean.” I pleaded.
“You don’t know?”
“No…I s–I swear I don’t know what you want me to do.”
“Is that right?” the Visitor thrust his hand under the table and flipped it like a feather. It flew across the kitchen and landed on top of the counter and sink, splintering the wooden legs and shattering the glass it landed upon. I let out a scream and cowered in my chair.
“Stand, Nicholas.” Its tone was calm but nevertheless demanding. “Stand and step off the rug.”
I hesitated for a moment but ultimately stood, fearing that it would raise its hand again.
“Move the chair.”
I abided, sliding the chair off the rug while the Visitor nudged the chair it was standing next to, sending it crashing into the kitchen counter and shattering into several pieces.
“Move the rug,” it demanded.
“Please…please, I’m sorry.”
“The rug, Nicholas.”
I was reduced to sobs as I leaned down and began sliding the rug across the floor.
“Please, please don’t make me. I’m so sorry.” I begged.
“Nicholas, were it not for this, I would still be condemned to this place. Surely you understand. Do continue.”
I pulled the rug further, revealing a trap door in the floor.
I wiped the tears from my eyes and knelt down, and with a shaking hand, I slid the lock to the side and twisted the handle, pulling it up, then yanked up the door itself, revealing the set of rickety wooden steps that led to the cellar.
“Get your light,” it said.
“Please…” I quietly cried. “Please don’t.”
“If you’d rather go with no light, it’s of no concern to me.”
“No! No…I’ll…” I stood and walked to the kitchen counter, then took a flashlight from the drawer at the end. I walked back to the square opening in the floor and shined it down. The Visitor gestured for me to go down the steps, and I obliged.
Each step groaned against the cement walls, and the temperature noticeably dropped as the putrid stench hit me like a brick wall. I kept a few jars of preservatives down there on rickety metal shelving units, all of which had collected a thick layer of dust. When we made it to the dirt floor, I shined my light ahead, and it landed on the door at the opposite end of the cellar. I knew that that was where he wanted to go.
Even still, I stopped, hoping against hope that this was all some awful nightmare.
“PLEASE! PLEASE DON’T!” I begged, but the Visitor wasn’t persuaded.
“Open the door.” there wasn’t any hint of me having a choice in its voice.
I stepped up to the door and grabbed the key off the wooden workbench next to it, unlocked the door, and started to open it. I took one look back at the Visitor, who made no gesture, but the stoicism said everything. I pointed the light at the ground in front of me and swung the creaking door open.
“Ah…” it said as I hung my head, completely defeated. “There they are.”
I shined my light ahead, casting a pale glow across the two people with whom I’d interacted on my way up to the cabin a few days prior: a woman and her daughter. There they sat, hands tied behind their backs, mouths covered with duct tape. Were it not for my own immense terror, I would’ve found it a beautiful sight; their muffled sobs and screams would’ve been music to my ears.
The dried blood from the last person to be locked in that room was splattered against that of the person before him. This was once the room that I found the most peace in, where I was at my most content. I genuinely never thought it was going to be my own grave.
“I’m–I’m sorry.” I blubbered. “I’ll let them go. I’m sorry, please. Please let me go.”
“Nicholas…” its tone was soft, almost comforting. “I need you. And you need them.”
The Visitor made its way around me, and as it made its silent steps, the mother scooted herself in front of her daughter. The Visitor ran its inky hand through the older woman’s hair.
“I’ve been on this mountain for a long time, Nicholas. Banished here many millennia ago. I thought I might never find my way off of it. But then you came. You, with your…hobby. Every time you’ve come to this place, Nicholas, every poor soul that has been damned in this room, it has brought me closer to being set free.”
“Set free?” At that point, I was completely resigned. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. I was still unbelievably afraid, but there was a sort of peace to be found in complete submission.
“Yes, set free,” it explained. “The darkness inside you, Nicholas. The void. The pure malice. The very same that makes me…me. They took it from me all those eons ago, made me weak. I thought there might never be an opportunity to gain it again, short of a war being fought in these hills. But then you brought a boy up here 14 years ago, and I knew that if you ever returned, my luck would change. These two will complete it. So…complete it.”
The woman and her daughter cried, and I joined them.
“Please…let me go,” I begged.
“Do what must be done, Nicholas. Know that you are doing me a great service. The next world, you will have helped bring into reality.”
I looked behind me, defeated. I took a few wobbly steps and grabbed my instrument of choice, a hammer, from the workbench. There were still the splashes and stains of red from the last people it drank from on the claw.
More of the Visitor’s words crept into my mind.
Please know that your deaths will not be meaningless. I owe you a debt of gratitude for your part in the days to come.
I heard the woman scream from behind her gag, a sound I would’ve reveled in were it not for the circumstances. I thought of swinging the hammer at the Visitor, but common sense told me it would have been no use. If nothing else, I tried to take solace in the fact that the last thing I did in this life would be the one thing I truly loved.
I’m not one for gratuitousness, so I feel no need to share the next few bloody details.
When I was finished, the Visitor took me back upstairs.
“Please, please, you can let me go now, I did what you needed, right? Please.”
“Nicholas…that part was for you. Think of that part of you as a tank. The pure evil needed to do what you do; it fills that tank. That tank is now full, and now I need its contents.”
The Visitor took its smoky hand and plunged it into my solar plexus. I can’t describe what it felt like because the moment its hand touched me, I fell unconscious.
When I came to on the floor of the kitchen in my cabin, it was two days later, which is now two days ago. The Visitor was nowhere to be found. The smell from the basement had made its way upstairs, and I immediately vomited. My headache was gone, but I felt weak…so weak.
I took flimsy steps to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I found that there was no longer any life in my eyes. My skin was some shade of gray, if not outright pale white. My teeth had gone through several years of rotting in less than 48 hours.
I can hardly move. My bones are more brittle by the minute, it seems. I can feel it coming, death. The soul is real, and without it, the body can not survive. As such, I took my limited time left in this life to write this, for two reasons:
The first is as a confession: 40 steps south, 22 steps east, you will find my previous guests beginning there and every 20 steps moving east, thereabout.
The second purpose is to warn you. Judge me as you will; I have no regrets for the things I’ve done in this life. If given the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing, except perhaps the location of my workshop.
All that aside, despite the fact that I may view you all as little more than lambs for me to lead to slaughter, you deserve to know.
Something was on this mountain, and I am sorry for setting it loose. I don’t know what it has planned now that it has been freed from its bindings, but I am happy that I won’t be around to find out.
Good luck to you.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableNick Botic Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A