25 Sep What Time Is It?
“What Time Is It? ”Written by Christopher Gideon 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 — 38 minutes
I guess I’ll start with an introduction? My name is Brendon Spirit. Ac…actually, no. Sorry, no, it’s not. I suppose I should be honest in case anyone actually finds this voice recording. My name – my real name – is Kermit Stainton, and before you ask: yes, I was named after the frog, and no, I don’t want to talk about it. You can call me by my stage name, Brendon. Maybe you’ve heard of me? I’m an urban explorer. Not…you know…a popular one, but still, I’ve got a few followers.
So as an urban explorer, I go to abandoned locations with my video camera and record what I find. It’s usually either really cool or really sad. Sometimes it’s scary, like when you hear doors slam on their own when there’s no wind, or when you come across a violent squatter hiding behind a mattress with a combat knife in one hand and a 1974 Marilyn Monroe calendar in the other hand, like that one time in Cimarron Hills, Colorado in 2016.
Um…sorry, where was I going with that again?
Right! Urban exploration. So I’ve done a few videos, uploaded them to all the social media sites the kids watch these days, and collected a bit of a fanbase. By “a bit,” I mean about…maybe 50 subscribers? I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, but I’ve been doing this for six years and just couldn’t seem to go viral.
But I knew what I had to do. Obviously, nobody cared about investigating random abandoned trailers and warehouses in rural Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. I needed to explore something BIG, something people have actually heard of before. So I spent all my savings on a plane ticket to Japan to explore the abandoned city of Tomioka.
It turns out the Japanese authorities don’t like it when you go to Japan to explore the abandoned city of Tomioka. I was escorted away from the premises pretty quickly, and I ended up going back home with no footage and no money. I was willing to do anything for views.
That’s how I ended up here. I was reading about abandoned places online when I came across a police report from 2009. A 26-year-old man from Rossi, Nebraska named Kyle Hase had disappeared after leaving home one day for what was supposed to be a short hike. The police report mentioned previous disappearances in the area, but I couldn’t find anything about them online. So, I did what anyone desperate for a mystery to solve would do: I packed up a few bags of supplies, got in my minivan, and drove to Rossi myself.
When I say Rossi was a small town, that’s a massive understatement. It was hidden so deeply in the middle of a sprawling forest that nobody could ever have accidentally stumbled across it. The sign coming into town was almost completely obscured by an overgrown pine tree branch, but I could make out a population of 204. That number was very believable; there was one gas station that I’m pretty sure was family-owned, a fire department with a post office inside, and a tiny grocery store along the road that took me into town. There were a handful of side roads that branched out into the residential areas, but as far as I could tell, they all looped around and came back to the main road eventually.
Needless to say, this little town didn’t have a library, which made my job significantly harder. I gave the post office a shot, hoping to find some form of public records in there. I did not find any public records, but I did find a lovely elderly man named Elliot, who happened to know that the fire chief’s father collected and preserved every newspaper published between 1939 and 2015. Not my idea of a fun hobby, but to each their own, I guess?
I started with the edition featuring the disappearance of Kyle Hase. Despite being in the headline for three weeks straight, there was very little information that wasn’t in the police report (except that Kyle Hase was an amateur hiker with a love for floriculture). The third week did have an interesting line: something along the lines of “The mountain has been a hotspot for disappearances for over a century, including that of poor young Sydney Francis in 1942, whose parents kept searching Trevino Forest until they too disappeared, sparking a local legend that the land is cursed.”
I went through every newspaper in 1942 until I found Sydney’s case. He was a high school boy whose friends dared him to spend the night in an abandoned mansion hidden in the woods.
I asked Elliot about the rumors and the mansion. He told me when he was a young man in 1978, some rich guy bought the house and renovated it, dubbing it “Trevino Manor” after the forest. But he disappeared a few months after completing the work, and instead of sending out a search party, the mayor at the time decided to tell everyone never to go into the woods ever again. It sounded like something out of a Grimm fairy tale.
Abandoned mansions? Cursed forests? Spooky disappearances? It was a dream come true! I thanked the old man for his help and rushed off in the direction of the forest.
It was nearly 5 pm by the time I left the post office. I wasn’t worried, though; I wasn’t much of a hiker, but if I could find the ruins of Trevino Manor, I’d be in my natural habitat: a run-down building in the middle of nowhere. I brought my backpack with my video camera, sleeping bag, flashlight, food and water, and, obviously, the voice recorder I’m speaking into right now. I was prepared to spend the night in the woods if I had to. I wasn’t much of a camper, but I was confident in my abilities to survive one night in the wilderness.
As I hiked, I kept checking my watch periodically. By 7:30 pm, the sun was starting to get low, plunging the entire forest floor into darkness. I got out my flashlight and continued fighting my way between the trees and bushes. Occasionally, I’d hear something rustle around in the nearby foliage, but it couldn’t have been bigger than…I don’t know, like, a porcupine. I could take a porcupine in a fight. Probably.
8:30 pm. I had been stumbling over rogue tree roots and stray branches for hours now, with no sign of human life anywhere. Just as I was thinking about turning around and going back, as the last speckles of the sun that were poking through the canopy faded away, I finally came across a clearing through the trees that didn’t look natural at all.
A road! Or, at least, it looked like it used to be a road. The grass was growing through the loose gravel and dirt, and even a few tree roots had started peeking out from the ground, but I was certain this was, ages ago, a road.
I pointed my flashlight up and down the road, trying to decide which way to go. The path couldn’t have led to Rossi, or else the residents would have known about it, right? At least one person would have found it. So no matter which way I went, it must lead to somewhere new, right?
That seemed logical, but in my defense, I was exhausted and shouldn’t have been allowed to make decisions unsupervised in the first place. For example, I should have brought a compass, but I assumed I would just know which direction I was facing all the time.
I groaned at my own stupidity and decided to turn left. At least if it led me back to town, I could spend the night in my car and start fresh in the morning.
I walked down the abandoned road for ages before realizing I hadn’t checked the time in a while. I shined the light on my watch display.
9:48 pm. I’d been on this path for over an hour and hadn’t seen anything.
“Okay,” I said out loud, just to hear my voice. “Twelve more minutes, yeah? Twelve minutes and then I stop for the night.”
I aimed the light down the trail ahead of me. My legs felt like they were filled with peanut butter, but I forced them to march on. Almost immediately, as though it was waiting for a cue, something became visible in the distant shadows. The softest glint of light reflected from my flashlight’s beam. A window, maybe?
As I neared the anomaly, something more notable came into view: a stone wall with a heavy iron gate. I gasped and squealed a little bit. It was too good to be true! It was like something out of a children’s Halloween movie. The cracked wall was made of cobblestone and dressed from top to bottom in creeping ivy. The gate was secured by a thick, rusty chain with the biggest, most cliché padlock I’d ever seen. The chain was loose enough that I could squeeze through if I took my backpack off. On the other side of the gate was an overgrown stone path leading up to a porch with a pair of towering wooden doors. About halfway up the house from the doors was an enormous round window with its glass still somehow completely intact. The moonlight wove through the canopy and danced off the panes, allowing me to see the entire house in all its glory.
It was as big as the fire station and post office back in Rossi, but the walls were made of intricately placed wooden planks that were somehow still holding up after all this time. Some of the wood was warped, and almost all of it was padded with rich emerald moss, but I’d been in buildings that had only been abandoned for two years that showed more decay than this. It was extraordinary.
A tiny part of me told me I should wait and come back when it was light out.
The rest of me, of course, stomped that tiny bit to a pulp. Where was my sense of adventure? Doing this exploration at night and on the fly would make for a great video! I had to do it!
I took my hiking backpack off and leaned it against the mossy wall outside the gate. The food and water was all sealed, so I wasn’t worried about wildlife taking it away. I grabbed my camera and voice recorder, as well as some extra batteries for the flashlight, and stood up to face the gate.
I switched on the camera and turned it toward my face. With way more enthusiasm than I should have been capable of after such a long hike, I started my video.
“Hey friends! Brendon Spirit here with yet another exciting exploration for you!”
I flipped the camera toward the mansion and pointed the lens between the gate bars. “I came all the way out to Rossi, Nebraska to explore the mysterious Trevino Manor! The manor could be more than 100 years old, and its rich history has been completely lost to time. Once a magnificent piece of architecture, today it sits forgotten by all, waiting to be finally taken back by Mother Nature’s awesome power!”
Okay, so maybe I BS’d it a little bit. I needed a great catch to get people hooked, and I couldn’t just say that I rifled through old newspapers for a few hours after talking to an old dude at a post office. Nobody would want to hear about that; it would be sooo boring. I had just enough truth to invent a whole background for the place.
I focused in on the front door and began slowly panning across the walls. “Join me on this chilling investigation as we uncover the secrets of Trevino Manor!”
I zoomed out to show the gate as wholly as I could. “This gate is all that stands between me and a world lost to time! Now, remember, I never enter a house if I have to break in. But lucky for me…” I jingled the chain a little bit and gave one of the gate doors a heavy push. “…I can fit through here without having to break anything! Let’s hope the doors are unlocked!”
I lowered the camera and stuck my right arm and leg through the opening. With a little bit of effort, I squeezed my head through and did a little dance to shake the rest of my body through. After brushing the flakes of rust out of my hair, I pointed the camera towards the mansion again.
“It looks like the front door is actually open a bit!” I said. I looked at the viewfinder to zoom in on the door handle but found that the screen had gone black. Confused, I pushed the power button.
“The hell?” I muttered. It was at 98% when I started recording, and my camera, as old as it was, normally held at least an hour of battery life while recording. I checked the power pack to make sure it hadn’t come loose, but it was secure as always.
I huffed and shut the viewfinder. I’d have to go back to my car and charge the camera before I could record my video. My old-fashioned flip phone straight out of the 90s didn’t have a camera on it, so I couldn’t even use that to film (don’t make fun of me, it’s got a battery life you wouldn’t believe, and it’s way more durable than the little glass tablets everyone’s got now, good for urban exploration). I guess my decision was made for me; I’d have to come back during the day.
But as I slipped the velcro grip off my fingers, I took another look at the manor. It was very old, and the forces of nature had definitely taken their toll on the old place; I’d sure hate to make that hike again just to find out the floors were too rotted for me to even walk on. I should at least check to make sure it was safe.
I reached through the gate and set my video camera on top of my backpack. I wouldn’t be gone too long; the camera would be fine. I checked my watch.
10:04 pm. I didn’t expect to be inside for more than half an hour. I climbed slowly up the two wooden steps to the door. They buckled a bit under my weight, but held up surprisingly well for their apparent age.
Now that I was face to face with the ancient door, I got to see how much I had underestimated the workmanship from the other side of the gate. The door was solid oak, and the borders looked like they had been carved by hand, showing a dog or cat of some kind chasing a rabbit. The tiny image repeated along the edges of both doors. The sturdy brass handles were shaped like twisting tree roots, which flattened into trunk-shaped metal plates reaching upwards toward the top of the door. In the canopy between the two trees, where the doors separated to open, was a carving of a silver clock, split right down the middle.
And, as I had seen from the gate, the door on the right was just barely open; not enough to see inside, but enough to know I could get in. I wrapped my hand around the cold handle and pushed. I was met with a lot of resistance; the door frame was sagging quite badly, causing the heavy oak door to scrape across the warped floor. When I finally got it open, though, and saw how beautiful the entrance hall was, I gasped deeply.
And then I coughed up a lung. The place was full of dust, more than what I expected for a building that had been left to decay for decades. Normally abandoned houses, especially those made of wood, had gaping holes in the walls where panels had rotted away or caved-in ceilings due to load-bearing beams giving way over time. The way the dust had settled told me there hadn’t been any wind coming through here for ages, even through the crack between the front doors.
Light, on the other hand…above the front door, moonlight poured through the massive window and flooded every corner of the foyer. The first thing I noticed was a grand staircase leading up to the second floor, with a glorious banister that morphed into a railing at the top of the steps and spread away from the stairs until they intersected with the paneled wall on either side of the room.
On the back wall, directly above the top of the stairs on the second-floor landing, was the biggest painting I’d ever seen in my life. It depicted a man draped in red silk with a red beaded necklace hanging around his neck (a necklace that looked suspiciously like blood oozing from a slit throat). He was staring in horror at a strange, dog-like monster flying over his head while another man lay dying on the floor behind him, reaching toward the sky as though begging the creature for mercy.
Yeah, if you can’t tell, I stared at the painting for a very long time. I was completely entranced; it hadn’t flaked, wrinkled, or curled at all. It was like it was being protected from the elements by an invisible barrier. Even the colors, though a little faded, were still clear enough to make the painting stand out against the otherwise bland mix of greys and browns that made up the entrance hall.
The indigo carpet leading down the stairs to the entrance was the only other color I could see, and even that looked dark grey under the layers of dust. I bent down to examine it closer; there were little silver swirls stitched across the blue, giving it an extravagant touch. I stood up and followed the carpet with my eyes. Through the archway to the right was a small parlor, complete with polished wooden stools at a smooth oak bar. Through the archway on my left, I saw a giant wooden table with ornate golden tips at the bottom of each leg. There were a few dining room chairs pushed in as much as they could be before the armrests collided with the side of the table.
I didn’t bother entering either of these rooms. By my guess, the dining room led into a kitchen, and the parlor led into a smoking room. I’d get to those eventually, but right now, I was more interested in seeing what was upstairs.
I marched slowly up the steps, careful to listen for any sudden cracking or snapping sounds. At the top of the stairs, the first thing I did was take a closer look at the painting. There was a tiny copper plaque that simply read “Kayôfujin” but otherwise, not much to go on. I wasn’t sure if that was the artist, the title of the piece, or maybe just some classy graffiti. I tried to shake the image from my head and went on.
The second floor had a few small bedrooms, all of which still had beds in them, a bathroom with an elegant marble floor and clawfoot bathtub, a study with a desk that looked like it had been carved by Jesus himself, and, to my utter joy, a library.
It wasn’t, you know…a big library…but it had six ceiling-high bookshelves lining the walls–which was six more ceiling-high bookshelves than I have in my home–and all of them were filled with books. The desk in the center of the room even had a quill carefully placed next to a dried-up inkwell. The tall, arching window opposite the door completed the look; it was exactly what I would have expected a home library to look like.
I scanned my flashlight across the dusty, leathery bindings of the books. There was something for every category I could think of here, with topics ranging from poetry and geography to folklore and astrology. There was even an entire bookshelf filled with books whose titles were in letters I didn’t recognize. Chinese? Japanese? Korean? Like, seven different kinds of Indian? Pretty sure there were even a few in Hebrew. Whoever had collected the books must have been a master of languages. That, or they bought the books on clearance just to fill a shelf. That didn’t sound as romantic, though.
Between two bookshelves, there was a ladder going up to what must have been an attic. I wondered if I should search that tonight or wait until I had my recording equipment when I suddenly heard a small creak coming from outside the library. Was I not alone?
I tensed up and held my breath, listening intently for the next noise, but nothing came. After a few moments, I released my breath and let out a loud sigh. The building was from the 1940s, at the very latest. Of course it was going to make sounds. I was surprised I hadn’t heard anything before that. Relieved and suddenly exhausted, I lit up my watch with the flashlight again.
11:47 pm. I cursed quietly. I’d really spent three hours here? Three hours exploring an abandoned mansion without a video camera! What a waste of time! I could have just waited and recorded myself seeing everything for the first time the next day, but I had to satisfy my curiosity. Damn!
I marched out of the library and turned down the hallway towards the grand staircase at the entrance. I had only taken a few steps, however, when I heard another sound. This time, it wasn’t a creak, it was more like a dog whining. And it sounded like it was coming from the entrance hall. I froze again, straining my ears to hear more. Did a pack of wolves live here? Surely they wouldn’t have let me go so long without coming after me.
“Hello?” I called out.
The house was quiet before I spoke, but now it was even more quiet, like…like…
The voice in the back of my head finished the thought for me. Like someone who’s been breathing the whole time you’ve been in here was suddenly holding their breath?
The very moment the thought hit me, another noise came from the grand staircase: the rapid *thump-dump-thump-dump-thump* of footsteps racing up the stairs. I turned and ran back into the library, shutting the door behind me. I clicked the lock and ran to hide under the desk. I watched the door handle carefully as the footsteps neared the library door…
…and ran right past it. I didn’t even release my breath this time; I was trembling too hard to breathe in or out. Why was I such an idiot? People kept telling me in the comments that I should get a partner to explore with so I wasn’t alone…not that it would have helped me in this exact scenario, but at least a partner would have dragged my ass back to the car and made me wait until morning to look at the house.
Okay, assess the situation, I thought, is this an animal or a person? Probably a person; it sounded like it had two legs. I can outrun a person, right? Unless it’s a ghost…or a bigfoot…no! No jokes right now; it’s a person, a regular, human person. I just have to wait for the right time, then take off down the stairs and out the door. My camera and backpack…I’ll come back for them in the morning, with the police. Or at least with Elliot. The camera was $200, not worth my life. Hell, I can buy a new camera, one from this decade. Argh! I’m rambling, what time is it?
I looked at my watch.
11:52 pm. No more wasting time; I needed to leave right away!
But just before I crawled out from under the desk, I heard the creaking of floorboards again. Was it coming back towards the library? I watched the moonlight seeping through the crack under the library door. Occasional creaks turned into soft, slow footsteps, which grew nearer and nearer.
My heart dropped. A shadow slowly glided into view and stopped just outside the door. They knew where I was. My brain kicked into high gear again. I had no escape except for the attic, but obviously, if they came into the library and saw that I was gone, the first place they’d check would be the only way out. It would be pointless. I’m not going to run.
I heard a key slip into the door lock.
I’m going to run.
I stood up, not bothering to be quiet anymore, and leaped to the ladder going up into the ceiling. I reached the top of the ladder before I’d even registered that I was climbing. I rolled away from the opening and stopped on my back, sprawled out, looking straight up. The attic was the only room in this house that I’d found so far without a single window, and it was eerily evident. While the rest of Trevino Manor had been glowing with yellow/blue moonbeams, up here above the library, I could see nothing but black.
That’s okay, said the optimistic part of my brain, if you can’t see anything up here, they won’t be able to see anything either! I wanted to believe that so badly.
I remained flat on my back in the darkness for a few seconds before I finally heard the door lock click. They sure had taken their time turning the key…were they waiting for me to hide? Or did they just want me to suffer more? I felt a tear roll down my face–a manly tear, I mean–and I begged that the stalker would somehow not see the ladder and just move on with their creepy-ass night.
The muffled footsteps slowly made their way to the base of the ladder. My arms, which were covering my mouth so I wouldn’t breathe, were trembling so hard I nearly threw up. But instead of hearing a hand on a wrung, I heard a barely audible *ffflttt*, then a few more soft footsteps away from the ladder, and then a soft *thud* on the desk.
They walked back toward the door. I heard it click shut, and then, finally, I heard the key turn. The door was locked again. Relieved, I risked turning on my flashlight to look at my watch.
11:57 pm. I didn’t even have time to process that that was the longest five minutes of my life, though, because now that my flashlight was on, I could finally see my surroundings.
This wasn’t an attic so much as a hidden room. It was much smaller than the library was, barely big enough to fit me fully stretched out on the floor as I was without hitting a wall. There was no furniture, no door, not even a vent, just a floor, ceiling, and four walls; four walls all covered in word carvings. I looked closer; it was the same phrase carved over and over all across the walls, probably hundreds of times: “Count the seconds, watch the clocks.”
I might have been more curious or more creeped out if the walls and I had met under better circumstances, but right now, I had more pressing things on my mind. I poked my head through the hole in the ceiling of the library and double-checked to make sure the coast was clear before quietly climbing down the ladder.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out what I had overheard the stalker doing. A book had been removed from a shelf and placed on the desk. It didn’t have a title; the cover was plain black with no lettering anywhere, even on the binding; just a dark red border along the front. I nervously looked at the light under the library door to make sure I was alone; then, I opened the book.
It was blank. It was blank, and I was furious. What was the point? Why did the stalker put it here? Why would they even have this book? No, I was done. Time to leave. If I ran and they didn’t catch me, I’d be free, and if I ran and they did catch me, at least I’d put up a fight. I looked at my watch.
11:59 pm. I turned the manual lock on the door and swung it open. As I did so, I got a sudden rush of dizziness, as if I had swung along with the door. I blinked to make the feeling go away.
What I saw when I opened my eyes…I can’t properly explain how I felt, or how it happened. The hallway outside the library door was still there, but it wasn’t the same as it was before. The walls had completely given into decay and were crippled over in some areas. A number of floorboards were missing entirely. Shocked, I took a step backward into the library again.
And I fell right through the floor. I felt splintered wood slice into my head and arms as I tumbled down and collided hard with the dining room table below. I felt myself roll down a shallow incline before coming to a rest on the damp, debris-covered floor. My body wanted to cough to clear the dirt from my lungs, but the wind had been completely knocked out of me. The only sound I could make was a loud, pained groan. I managed to roll over onto my side and forced a little wheeze, which turned into a cough, which turned into me nearly puking everywhere.
When I had finally recovered from the shock, I swept the debris from my hair and looked up. The library floor above me seemed to have rotted significantly since I opened the door. How was that even possible? Actually, looking around me, everything had changed in the same way. I hadn’t even entered the dining room when I first entered the house, but I would have noticed if it looked like this. The walls were covered in mold and holes, the window in the center of the room was smashed to bits, and the table had collapsed to one side, intersecting with the floor right where I now lay.
I clambered to my feet and limped into the entrance hall. The front doors were both missing, apparently torn from their hinges. The center of the floor had caved in, creating a pit about five feet deep. The long blue carpet that once started at the front door and ran up the stairs was now shredded in many places, either due to the passage of time or to some creature ripping it up…
Speaking of creatures, I quickly drew my attention to the painting on the wall at the top of the stairs. The frame, though broken in a few places, still hung on the soggy wall. However, the canvas inside was completely missing. Instead, in the center of the frame, carved in giant, sloppy letters, was a question: “WHAT TIME IS IT, MR. FOX?” I instinctively looked at my watch.
12 am. Midnight exactly. I looked back up at the carving for a moment, thinking back to a game I had played with my friends when I was younger. I couldn’t recall the objective of the game, but I distinctly remember shouting those exact words across a playground. What did they mean in this context, though?
Before I got the chance to think about it, my memory was interrupted by a sound coming from the hallway at the top of the stairs. It was a creaking sound like before, but there was something else with it…a soft clacking noise, like claws quietly tapping on the floor. It was coming from the hallway toward the bedrooms, but it was very clearly heading toward the entrance hall.
My body jumped to full attention. I had to hide fast! I assessed my surroundings. Head outside and make a break for it? No, I’m not outrunning anything after that fall. Back into the dining room? No, I just made a ton of noise in there; that’s the first place it’ll look. Which leaves…
I staggered across the entrance hall and into the parlor just as the sounds rounded the corner and onto the landing. The room was almost completely empty, but the one thing I had hoped for was still standing: the bar. I rushed around the far end of the bar and dropped to the floor. Bits of broken mirror and shattered glass bottles dug into my palms and knees, but I bit the inside of my cheek and swallowed the pain as I dragged myself the rest of the way to the wall.
I strained my ears as I listened for the beast’s footsteps. To my relief, it didn’t seem to be interested in coming down the stairs at all; rather, it continued across the landing and turned down the hallway above the dining room, towards where the library was. When it was almost too distant to hear, the sound suddenly stopped.
My eyes were closed tightly, my bloody hand covering my mouth and nose so I wouldn’t give myself away by breathing. Everything was completely still…there wasn’t a sound in the entire forest. But then…was there something in front of me? Was I being watched? After a few seconds of perfect silence, I decided to open my eyes just a crack…
I was alone. I lowered my hand to let out a shaky breath and smiled for just a moment.
The sound came from the dining room but echoed through the house, seemingly causing the structure itself to jump in fear. It was immediately followed by a quick *Clack-shk* *Clack-shk* *Clack-shk* of paws from upstairs charging down the hallway towards the entrance room, scampering down the grand staircase, and bounding out the front doors into the forest.
When I could no longer hear the gravel shaking under the monster’s feet in the distance, I finally crept out from behind the bar.
I had so many questions. Why had the house encountered fifty years’ worth of decay in an instant? What did that kid’s game have to do with it? And, perhaps the most pressing of all, what was that thing? Could it be something supernatural? Or was it just a regular animal, like a wolf? And if it was a wolf, how did it not fall through the floorboards?
I was back in the entrance hall now. Hiking through the woods at night with that thing on the loose would mean certain death, I was better off using Trevino Manor as shelter until morning. I checked my watch.
12 am. Midnight. I tapped the watch and let out an angry puff of air. Damn thing must have broken in the fall, I thought. That’s fine, all I had to do was wait until I heard birds chirping and then I’d know the sun was coming up. But as long as I had time…what had made that noise in the dining room?
I jogged past the open front doors toward the dining room. Resting on the floor right where I had landed earlier was a book–actually, it was the same blank book that the stalker had placed on the desk. The animal must have knocked it down and spooked itself. I picked the book up and brushed the dust off.
It was definitely the same book; the cover was plain black except for the red border, and there wasn’t a single mark anywhere on it, but the binding felt looser, and the pages seemed a little ruffled. I opened it up to the first page. It was filled with writing like someone had used it as a diary.
Actually, as I flipped through the pages, I saw that quite a lot of people had used it as a diary. The first few pages were written in very neat cursive. The author claimed to be stuck in an eternal night, waiting for a sunrise that never came. He said he had seen a woman wandering the halls of his estate the previous few weeks, and suspected witchcraft was at play. He ended the entry by saying that if he woke up and the journal was still empty, he’d know it was a dream.
The next author had somewhat sloppier handwriting, with the swirls between his letters pointing all over the page and intersecting with the lines above and below the words. He said the same thing, that morning should have come hours ago, though he mentioned that he didn’t have a way of keeping track of the time because his watch had stopped working. He expressed interest in who the previous writer was and what happened to them.
I skimmed through the rest of the book. I saw entries from at least twenty different people. The earlier ones were along the same lines as the first two I read: some mentioned a woman, some mentioned clocks not working, some mentioned an animal watching them from the shadows (that creeped me out), but all of them had the same theme: night came and never left. The further I got into the book, though, the shorter the entries got. Most of them confirmed that everything the others had written was true. A few of them pondered if the woman was a manifestation of the devil, and some thought she was an angel of God or even a vessel for God himself. Herself? Themself? You know what I mean.
The last entry, though, was very thorough. It even started with a date: April 24, 2017. The writer introduced herself as investigative journalist Ami Shikaar, and explained that she had come to Rossi to investigate the disappearance of someone named Martin Du Chienne. She said Martin’s wife Josephine had called her newspaper because the police weren’t investigating at all. I thought that was strange since I hadn’t seen anything about that disappearance online when I was doing my research. I had a terrible feeling that was probably because Ami Shakaar never made it back to her editor-in-chief.
Ami was very detailed; I expected nothing less from a journalist, of course. She explained that she went into the house to investigate after seeing someone walk past a window. Thinking it could be Martin Du Chienne, she searched the house but found no evidence of anyone living there. She decided to spend the night inside and head back to town in the morning, but she woke up at midnight in a considerably more run-down house than she had entered. In her sleep, someone had set the book next to her.
She said the world felt dead; the moon and stars didn’t move across the sky, the wind didn’t blow, and there were no sounds of birds or insects among the trees. Even the house itself wasn’t creaking or shuddering anymore like it had frozen in time overnight. Ami was very astute. I’ll save you some time and tell you that’s exactly what happened.
She had taken time to explore the mansion and found the words “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” carved onto walls throughout the place. She theorized that one of her predecessors had gone mad and started writing it, but she wondered why it was that specific phrase. She had spent a considerable amount of time in the library (again, exactly what I expected from a journalist) and had found a book about the occult describing supernatural entities she had never heard of before…and, specifically, how to summon them. Along the side of the page, she wrote the words “Niish Hadiku’” (or however it’s pronounced) with a little question mark next to them.
There was another break in the writing, and this time, when it returned, it was rushed, sloppy, and not nearly as – what’s the word – elegant as her earlier entries. She scribbled that she was being tormented by a creature that was hunting her from afar. She’d occasionally hear it scream from deep in the woods and described it as “Woeful and terrified” like a mother who’d just lost her baby. But she thought the cries were getting closer every time she heard it…
Ami had found a makeshift fire pit in the woods and decided to make it her own. She thought she had seen the beast at one point as well, a hulking sleek shadow dashing past the trees, just at the edge of her campfire’s glow. It was faster than any animal she’d ever seen, especially considering how gracefully it weaved through the thick trees. She admitted that it was possible she’d imagined it, though, as she’d been thinking about the term “Mr. Fox” a lot.
One more break in the writing, and then, written in giant letters across the next page, just one word: “LEFT.”
I instinctively looked over my left shoulder before realizing that was probably not what she meant. Was it a password? Was she saying she was left behind? Had she left? Did it stand for something? I wouldn’t have minded a little more clarity with my clues.
The rest of the book offered none; it was empty.
So I could tell you how long I freaked out about all that if my watch had been working, but since nobody can prove otherwise we’ll say I accepted that this was the truth immediately and started working to solve my problem. And my plans to solve the problem definitely had nothing to do with going back to the parlor and crying in the pile of glass behind the bar.
So, having accepted that I was frozen in time and being chased by Mr. Fox from the children’s playground game, I formulated a plan. First, I went to the library to try to find the book Ami Shikaar had referenced. Unfortunately, most of the library was in the dining room. It seemed two bookshelves had dropped through the giant hole in the library floor and smashed to bits on the ground. Any books that had fallen on the floor looked like they had been submerged in water for a small period of time…the covers that survived were so warped I could barely make out what they were, and even then, the pages were basically paste.
In the library itself, there were still four bookshelves standing tall. Most of them didn’t have any books left in them, which made me wonder how Ami managed to spend so much time here. Those that did…one was about the history of the Taiga (which judging from the cover was a big snowy forest), one was about brain chemistry (from the late 1970s, so not exactly up to date), one was a children’s book about a baby dinosaur eating grapes, and then there were a few math books. Nothing helpful against a “Mr. Fox.”
I spent what was probably a few hours looking around for more of an explanation as to what was going on, but just like Ami, all I found was the “What time is it, Mr. Fox” thing carved into every wooden wall that was still somewhat upright. I needed to assume that Ami was correct and that I was being hunted by Mr. Fox (God, that sounds so stupid, doesn’t it?). I grabbed the journal and the inkwell, along with my flashlight and voice recorder, and left Trevino Manor.
You’re probably wondering, “But Brendon Spirit, sir, wouldn’t you be safer in the house?” Well that’s a great question! After thinking about all the evidence laid before me, I came to the assumption that Mr. Fox could take me whenever he wanted. He either liked toying with his prey or, I don’t know, maybe he feeds off of fear? That’s a bit cliché, but I couldn’t rule out the possibility. Either way, the longer I hid in the mansion, the more trapped I’d be. If I was going to find a way back to town, it’d be better if I started sooner rather than later.
And…I guess…I’d worry about the whole “stuck in time” thing later. Baby steps.
I started on the trail through the woods. Right away I noticed the difference in my surroundings. There were no leaves on the trees for one…the forest felt dead, dry…I admired the confidence my predecessors had when they built their campfires, because it really felt like one spark would light the whole mountain up. There weren’t any birds or bugs or anything either – no wind blowing through the trees. I don’t think I’d ever heard nature be so quiet before. It wasn’t peaceful at all…it was unnerving. And it was perfectly clear to me that I was the only thing moving in Trevino Forest tonight. At least, so far…
I had no clue where I had entered the trail when I stumbled across it the previous day, and there weren’t really any landmarks to go by, so I figured I should just follow the road all the way to its end. It had to go somewhere…right?
About an hour up the trail, I found something that I hadn’t seen when I came through the first time: a little dirt walking trail intersected the road here. It must have been covered by bushes earlier, back when the forest was more than a bunch of dead trees drowning in magnolia moonlight.
I knelt down slowly and contemplated. I had three options: turn left, turn right, or keep going the direction I was heading and ignore the trail entirely.
I didn’t have a lot of quiet time to think, though. Seconds after I stood up, I felt a tingle on the back of my neck, like I’d gotten too close to an old tube TV and felt the static humming over my skin. I instinctively froze in place, listening for any noise, but the forest was so quiet my ears were whistling to make up for the void of sound. Was I being paranoid? Or should I trust my gut?
It was the longest few seconds of my life, filled with the purest silence I’d ever encountered.
Suddenly, without warning, a guttural shriek pierced through the trees–a lonely wail filled with despair, terror, and rage. It came from…from everywhere at once, and it f-felt like it was aimed right at…at me.
It…ahem, sorry…it only lasted, uh, a couple of seconds, but the r…raw emotion behind it…I…I can’t even b……
Never mind, that’s not important. The point is, it was the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life, and I did NOT wait around to meet the creature that made it. I don’t remember exactly what went through my head–a million things, heat of the moment and all that–but I do remember suddenly thinking of Ami’s final word, the message she wrote with what may have been the last of her energy: “LEFT.” I still don’t know if that’s what she meant, but it definitely helped make the decision for me. Before I even understood the thought process that had just gone through my head, I was running down the left path.
The road was flat for about ten seconds’ worth of sprinting before it suddenly sloped downwards. I was airborne for a couple of seconds before I hit the ground and rolled headfirst into a tree.
I couldn’t tell if the creature screamed again or if it was just the sound ringing in my head, but once the immediate pain passed, everything fell quiet again. I stayed on the ground for a few minutes, thinking something along the lines of “If Mr. Fox chooses this moment to make me his Mr. Lunch then he can knock his Mr. Self out,” but with more colorful language.
Eventually, I pulled myself to my feet and looked in the direction I’d just come from. There was a pretty steep hill diving down into a wooded valley that swept through the mountains. I had rolled quite a ways off the path before hitting anything, almost all the way to the floor of the valley. It looked like the road slowly curved to the right just after dipping, following the incline at a much more relaxed angle than the way I went. It looked like I’d be able to meet up with it further down the mountain without having to hike back up to where I had fallen.
Before starting my way through the valley, I bent down to pick up the items that I had dropped. Obviously, the voice recorder was fine. The bulb in my flashlight had exploded somewhere along the fall, but fortunately, the moonlight was strong enough that I didn’t really need my own light. The inkwell had shattered too, spilling cold black ink all over my clothes and skin and–
The journal was absolutely drenched in ink, way more ink than what could have possibly been in that little bottle. The thick, slimy liquid made the book slide out of my hands as I tried to pick it up. Panicking, I desperately flipped through the pages. Some of them were so wet they fell apart in my hands as I turned past them. The words were all smudged and illegible, with the exception of one phrase: Niish Hadiku’ was astonishingly clear, centered perfectly in the last clean spot on the edge of the paper, sticking out against the otherwise black page like the full moon in the sky above me.
I slammed the book shut and kicked it in a fit of rage. It collided with a tree a few feet away and, with a soggy squelch sound, dropped to the dirt below.
I tried to wipe the ink off my hands, but it had already dried. I let out an angry sigh and started marching towards the point where the road met the valley up ahead. I wasn’t scared anymore. I wasn’t cautious. I was pissed. I was on a mission. Not only was I being hunted, I had just destroyed the only record I had of anything going on here. I had lost what may have been the last accounts of all the people who had been lost in Trevino Forest before me. I didn’t care what it took; I was going to reach the end of the road, wherever it led. I had to, for Ami, and for the rest.
Thinking back…I may have hit my head a little harder than I realized. One spilled vial of ink and I suddenly felt I owed someone something? I should have just given up; I should have gone back to the main road and followed it to the end. But I didn’t.
I don’t remember much between kicking the journal and meeting the end of the road. Maybe I went on autopilot, or maybe I was getting used to the whole “time isn’t real” thing, but I honestly couldn’t tell you if I was walking for minutes, hours, or even days. I only know I snapped to attention when I took my first step off the gravel and onto the coarse yellow grass.
I stopped in my tracks and looked behind me. The road just…ended. After all that, it just…stopped. It didn’t really seem to lead anywhere either, just a grassy mound surrounded by the otherwise thick forest.
But now that I was here, I was exhausted. Every sore muscle I had ignored on the way here hit me tenfold; it happened so suddenly that I nearly collapsed. I wasn’t about to turn around and go back…it wouldn’t hurt to take a break, right?
I sat on the tiny little hill in the middle of the clearing and closed my eyes. As I relaxed, my bones felt like they were melting inside my muscles. Within seconds I was already falling asleep…
Until a soft rustling sound in the grass next to me snapped me awake. I tried to sit up straight and ended up toppling off the mound face-first. I scrambled to my feet with my back against a tree and scanned the clearing hastily. No movement…had I just imagined it? Maybe I fell asleep and dreamt it?
Behind me, deep in the forest, I heard another unearthly shriek slice through the trees. I screamed too and jumped toward the mound again, losing my footing halfway through and tumbling onto the grass. I turned mid-fall to face the dark woods behind me, and just before I hit the ground, I thought I saw a shimmer of white light, shaped like a person…
I hit the ground (for, like, the hundredth time tonight) and tried to sit up again to take another look, but I couldn’t move. My eyes were wide open, staring up at the full moon through the clearing above me. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs, or even the ground I was lying on.
I also couldn’t breathe. It felt like someone was pressing down on my chest.
Just as that thought crossed my mind, something moved at the bottom of my vision. A tuft of dark, dirty red hair appeared, inches in front of me. It was definitely human hair; it was done up in a chignon with messy little curls spiraling down above my head. As the figure rose closer to my eyes, I finally saw a horrible face…
The skin was leathery, grey, and wrinkled, like a poorly preserved corpse. The eyes were milky white, but they were set so far back in their deep pits of sockets I could barely see them at all. The lips were withered away, revealing a mouth half-full of rotting yellow teeth.
She crawled up my body until her face was level with mine. She cocked her head curiously and let out a soft, rattling breath. I tried to scream, but I still couldn’t breathe or move at all. Fortunately, something else screamed instead. That same, horrible, guttural howl again. It wasn’t coming from the shriveled hag pressing me into the grassy knoll…it was coming from behind her, in the same direction I had heard it before, but much closer.
She didn’t react, but the sound gave my body the jump-start it needed. I rolled over onto my stomach, knocking the woman off me in the process, and kicked myself over the mound, running back up the trail. I made it back up the mountain to the intersection in a matter of seconds. I didn’t really have time to worry about the fact that it was impossible for that route to be so short now when I know it was much, much longer before. I was more worried about time travel and zombie chicks and whatever a “Mr. Fox” is.
When I got back to the main road, I turned left, heading the direction I would have gone if I’d never found the trail in the first place. I could hear heavy panting behind me, and I heard dirt and rocks fly as feet pounded the ground. I could barely see through my watering eyes, but I wasn’t going to stop, no matter what it took. I was going to get out of Trevino Forest, even if I had to sprint for days without rest.
So I made it about five minutes before I collapsed to the ground. Why was running so hard?? It’s just making your legs go; there’s nothing athletic about that.
As I chilled there in the dirt nervously fidgeting with my voice recorder, I noticed two things: First, I wasn’t being chased anymore; if I was, I’d be dead by now. I couldn’t hear the footsteps or the breathing anymore…though I hadn’t noticed them stop either.
The second thing I noticed was that this road was taking me very near the bottom of a steep rocky cliff on the side of a nearby mountain. That intrigued me; if I could find a way up the cliff that didn’t require a very quick crash course in rock climbing, I’d be able to get a good view of the rest of the forest and maybe see which way the exit was.
After allowing myself time to catch my breath, I continued the rest of the way up the road at a nice, leisurely pace. The road narrowed significantly by the time I reached the cliff; it was now no bigger than the walking trail I’d followed to the mound earlier. Much more interesting, however, was the fact that the path led directly into the side of the cliff, where a small cave entrance lay almost concealed among the rest of the rocky wall.
Curiosity killed the cat, right? There was no way I was stepping foot inside that cave. I was going to stick with my original plan and find a way up to the top of the mountain and completely forget about the cave. I was NOT going to enter the cave. AT ALL.
As I entered the cave a couple of seconds later, I noticed the temperature drop by at least ten degrees. It widened up significantly after the first few feet of tightness. To my surprise, I could actually see through the darkness. There was no source of light, and the top of the cave didn’t open up to the moonlit sky at all, but for some reason, the inside of this cave was just as well-lit as the rest of the forest. Maybe I had acquired night vision? It wouldn’t be the strangest thing to happen to me tonight.
So the “cave” was more of a cavern…aside from the entrance tunnel, it was basically just a large roundish underground cavity. More interesting, though, is that something (by my guess, “Mr. Fox”) seemed to have been using this cavern as a den. There were bones scattered around the edges of the room, claw marks on the walls, and even some branches piled up in a back crevice that resembled a sort of nest.
There was something else, though…a slab of rock that had been chiseled almost completely flat, just near the wall on the right. Maybe a shelf? In a den? That seemed…
I was gonna say “unlikely,” but as I said before…tonight was packed with the exceptionally unlikely.
Something that did take me by surprise, though, was what was sitting on the shelf. It looked like a book, a stack of small boxes and even an old oil lamp. Why would a beast need a book and lamp? While I admit that the image that pops into my head every time I hear “Mr. Fox” is an anthropomorphic fox man with a monocle and a top hat, that seemed a little too silly to be true. More realistically (and I use the word realistically very loosely here), it was some sort of werewolf…thing? What the hell am I saying?
My heart felt like it was beating against the back of my throat. I didn’t want to hang out in a monster’s lair while it was still hunting me, especially with only one entrance and exit, but something about the book caught my eye. Just a quick peek…right?
I approached the little rock desk quickly and quietly, dancing across the cavern on the balls of my feet. It didn’t take long to see why the book drew my attention. It was plain black with no title or words written anywhere on the cover…and a dark red border dashed across the front. It was the same book that I found empty on the desk in the library and the one that was filled with chilling encounters when I found it in the dining room at midnight.
Before I got to open it, though, I suddenly got a good look at the boxes I’d seen from afar. They were actually picture frames; three of them, unlike any I had ever seen, but still picture frames. The edges were padded with a sort of leather embossed with a floral pattern. The middle was a sheet of opaque glass, but with images of people sort of…burned on.
Two of them featured a couple; it was hard to make out any features, but they seemed to be about my age, maybe a little older. The third one showed the woman from the other two pictures, alone this time. She was wearing a light-colored dress (probably white or yellow), had a necklace of pearls, and had her hair done up in a chignon, just like the rotting lady I had met in the forest.
As I flipped to the mirrored version on the back, her face almost seemed to move, like it was coming to life right in front of me. Unlike everything else I’d seen tonight, this was definitely just an optical illusion…a very good one, but not real. I was so transfixed that I almost didn’t notice the words carved into the tooled leather along the bottom of the frame: “Madame Du Chienne, 1886”. I checked the rest of the frame, but all that I saw was a little symbol marked in the bottom-right corner, featuring four crescent moon shapes with the letters “KF” in the middle.
The other two frames both said, “Martin et Madame Du Chienne” with the same little moon mark stamped into the corners. Martin Du Chienne…that was the name of the man Ami was supposed to be looking for, wasn’t it? Maybe it was a relative, named after an ancestor? The coincidence was too much for it to be just a coincidence.
Curious, I gently set the photographs back down and opened up the book. It was being used as a journal, just like before, but this time the words were different. The handwriting was beautiful and elegant, and filled up almost the entire book. I looked up at the entrance to the cave and, satisfied that there was nothing lurking there at this precise moment, I sat down on the cave floor, and I began reading.
The journal was written by a Josephine Du Chienne, the same person who had supposedly called Ami’s newspaper (so there goes the coincidence theory). Her husband had fallen ill with something called “The Consumption,” and she was desperate to keep him out of a sanatorium for the sake of their newborn daughter. They had searched all over Europe looking for the power to save him but had no luck until “now,” whenever that is. She said that she had found a book in an abandoned cellar in her hometown of Lozère detailing mysterious rituals and dangerous spirits that were “meant to be forgotten by man” (her words, not mine).
One phrase caught my eye: Niish Hadiku’. It was a ritual said to grant eternal life to all who performed it, but with a catch: it had to be performed on the ground most sacred to the spirit being summoned, near a small tribe of Pawnee people in the United States.
The Du Chienne family was so committed to their book of legends that they moved to the New World. They built a mansion in the sacred forest and had the entire tribe of forest guardians executed. So, you know…nice folks.
At this point, the journal suddenly started featuring dates above the entries. On Thursday, 3 October, 1889, Josephine had found the sacred location where the spirit’s mortal body was said to be buried. The following Wednesday, 9 October, she carried Martin to the location and waited until nightfall. Under the full moon, she offered…no, that couldn’t be right…
She said that she offered her daughter to the gods. She even described exactly where she cut to make her daughter bleed the most. I nearly puked on the book; I was absolutely disgusted by her actions. She wanted to keep Martin out of a sanatorium for the sake of their daughter, and then they end up sacrificing the child for a chance at eternal life?
I wanted to stop reading, but I was so close to the end. There were only four short entries left.
First, in November 1889, Madame Du Chienne lamented that the ritual hadn’t worked. However, instead of accepting that the legend was just a legend, she used her journal to brainstorm ideas for better sacrifices.
Then, after a long gap, she skipped to 2 July, 1890. She had taken her sickly husband down to the sacred mound again. And she sacrificed him. She sacrificed the husband she had done all this to save. She sacrificed him with the same knife she had used on their daughter. She sacrificed him without even a hint of guilt or shame.
The next entry was short and chilling. Word for word, it read:
“31 July, 1890. The Darkness reaches out to me. I count the seconds. I can feel eternity.”
The last entry I ripped from the book. I had to read it word for word. It didn’t have a date, but it was about six pages after the previous one and was written in rushed words.
What time is it, Mr. Fox?
The Darkness thickens, morning knocks,
but the vicious night won’t let it in.
At twelve o’clock, the Darkness wins.
What time is it? Still the same.
The pounding silence.
The Fox’s game.
They’ll never see another day.
At twelve o’clock, he marks his prey.
What time is it?
Filled with fear, the Fox’s
is all they hear.
As night surrounds them, day’s still ignored.
At twelve o’clock, he takes one more.
What time is it?
Once again, the Darkness creeps out from its den.
It shouts through shadows like a drill,
and at twelve o’clock, time stands still.
What time is it? There is no light.
He came and brought with him the night.
What time is it? He’s wide awake.
At twelve o’clock, you’re his to take.
At twelve o’clock, time fades away.
It’s midnight, all night, every day.
Count the seconds, watch the clocks.
What time is it, Mr. Fox?
The words chilled me. They drained me. I was tired, so tired. It’s been a long night…literally. I’m done running. I got out my voice recorder while still sitting on the floor of the cavern and started recording.
I wish I had answers. I only have questions. And I’m afraid, my f-friends, that that’s all you’ll have too. I’m sure there’s something hunting me, some kind of beast stalking me from the shadows, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. Maybe a wolf, maybe it was a “Mr. Fox”…heh…
I couldn’t tell you, either, why someone put that journal on the desk in the library for me to find. What “LEFT” meant. Who called Ami Shakaar pretending to be Josephine Du Chienne. What they…they…what they did with her once she got here…
One thing I feel very strongly about, though, is that the decaying lady is Madame Du Chienne herself. She’s even wearing the same dress she had on in the pictures. It…it’s pink. Not white or yellow. She walks like…like a newborn foal, wobbly legs and j-jagged…jagged movements. She sounds raspy, like she’s –AGH – like she’s trying to talk but she c-can’t form w-words.
And I know that something – something dark is standing in the cave entrance b-behind her –HUP – and it’s blocking the light. It’s getting dark in here…it…it was waiting for me to…it wanted me to record my voice, to tell my st-story, but why?
I don’t have anywhere to – to g-go, friends…I expect I’ll have answers soon. But you never will. For n-now, I think it’s safe to say…RRAHH…I think it’s safe to say that Madame Josephine Du Chienne got what she wanted…immortality…
She’s getting close, I can hear her…but I can’t see her. All I c-can see…is…a pair of glowing eyes in the cave entrance behind her…in the shadow…watching…WATCHING!!
This is B…Brendon Spirit, signing o–
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableChristopher Gideon Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Christopher GideonPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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