All stories copyright xoggoth unless otherwise stated


The Old Oak Tree

Rumours had been around for a few months that a major celebrity was planning to move to the large mansion on the edge of their village. When it was confirmed that popular comedian Rick Turnbull had brought the property it was the main topic of conversation in the village pub. His public persona was well liked by most of the locals but you never know what a celebrity is like in real life. Robin was well known for his near the knuckle remarks and didn’t disappoint. "Probably another Jimmy Saville, chaps, keep your kids locked up" That was improbable, but everyone wondered what he would really be like.

He moved in a couple of months later and everyone was pleasantly surprised. He seemed a genuinely nice chap and he and his wife mingled with the locals on the few occasions he wasn’t away in London or on one of his tours. On a couple of days every summer he threw open his extensive gardens and welcomed everyone from the village and showcased a few of his hilarious routines. Rick Turnbull was also a minor writer and artist and gave away free copies of his self-illustrated short story books to those who wanted them and few could resist having a gift from a famous person. They were not to everyone’s taste, being mainly horror stories, and not very good ones in the opinions of most critics. Without his fame it was unlikely that any publisher would have been interested.

Three years later, something went wrong. For weeks he had been more taciturn, sometimes irascible. Then the bad news came that Rick Turnbull had been found dead at his desk. The coroner’s verdict was suicide by legal drug overdose although there were no clues as to the causes for his sudden depression. He hadn’t been there very long but he had been well liked and the village mourned his loss. His wife didn’t want to stay in a place with such memories and soon moved away and was planning to sell the mansion.

About six months later a new collection of illustrated short horror stories that Turnbull had been working on until his death was released posthumously. The stories were darker, and certainly no better, than his previous efforts but many in the village brought one to remember a good friend. Around the same time the parish council revealed that Turnbull had willed a small part of the mansion grounds to the village for use as a recreation ground and it was thrown open to the public a few weeks later when the access was completed.

An old oak tree overlooked the area and it was soon noticed that it had a remarkable resemblance to Turnbull’s illustration for one of his stories. Plainly he had used it as the subject. The story was about a witch hung from an old oak tree who had cursed the villagers who gathered to watch her hanging, saying that all who gazed for long would follow her to the grave. Those who had stayed to watch had soon taken their own lives. It was rather a grim association that Turnbull had taken his own life so soon after painting this tree and one or two on the parish council suggested felling it but most thought it would be a shame to detract from the beauty of the area. Much better to erect a memorial to Turnbull close by and use the tree as a way to remember a kind soul.

A few weeks later a couple of village artists set up tables on the green and did some painting of a beautiful view that included the old oak tree and soon after that the grim association became more concrete. One rapidly became depressed and committed suicide by cutting his wrists. The other suffered a serious decline in mental health and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

The council decided to re-examine the idea of removing the tree. One eccentric councillor felt that there could be some truth behind the horror story, that maybe there really was an evil spirit that could curse those who gazed upon the tree for too long. Another retorted that the story in question had a major inaccuracy, not unusual in Turnbull’s stories. How could a witch hanged in 1572 be haunting an oak tree today when an oak tree only lived for 200 years? Most felt the events were just coincidence but they agreed that it was not pleasant to have the shadow of this oak tree hanging over the pleasant green in any but a literal sense and it would have to go.

Just a week after the felling, Turnbull’s late wife came to stay at the still unsold mansion and invited some friends round for a drink. She seemed keen to open up about his last weeks. She said it was true that his mood only seemed to change when he started painting that damn tree. As for the story, it seemed he got the idea from a supposedly real event. She gave the printed details to her late husband’s best friend John.

John walked home past the recreation ground and was glad to see the tree had gone. He didn’t believe in nonsense like curses and evil spirits but nevertheless had a sense of relief that he would not be seeing it anymore. When he got home he sat with a glass of wine in the garden and read the "true" story about the witch tree. The idea of a haunted tree on their village green was even more laughable than he had thought, not only was theirs just a sapling at least 200 years after the event, it was also a good three miles away from where it supposedly happened.

He walked down the garden to look at his cabbages, still musing on the story. Pity Rick had passed away, maybe he could have written a daft story about an evil spirit that could move around and be reborn in new oak trees. On the cabbage patch he noticed a large acorn, probably dropped by a squirrel. Very likely it was from the just felled old oak tree on the green, there weren’t any others close by. Move around, be reborn, he couldn’t stop thinking about that daft story. Maybe if the natural could spread and reproduce then something unnatural associated with it could spread and reproduce also.

He was lost in thought and had been gazing at the acorn for several minutes before the anxiety seized him.

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The Trap

She had been a widow for some years and wanted to move to be near her children and grandchildren but it was a very expensive area compared to where she was currently living. She was prepared to go downmarket a bit but, even so, there was nothing she could afford that she really wanted to live in for the rest of her active life.

After looking for six months she was on the verge of giving up. Then she was contacted by an estate agent with details of a place that looked rather nice at an affordable price. Of course there is always a catch and she soon found out what it was. The price was so low because of its history. It was that house where the so-called Dorset Ripper had murdered three random female victims. All the evidence suggested he had planned to murder many more but a lucky escape by his next target had led to his arrest and trial.

Did she really want to live in a place where such horrific things had happened? On the other hand, could she turn down the chance of a house that was exactly what she had been looking for at a price she could afford? It was going for at least 20% less than comparable properties in the area. It was a difficult decision but, in the end, she decided she had to be practical. After all, when you consider the history of the UK, there is probably not a square mile where something horrible hasn’t happened. Many buildings have seen tragedy and suffering of some sort and just because something was headline news didn’t make it any the worse. It wasn’t as though she believed in stuff like ghosts or bad Karma and was pretty sure she would not be fretting about the house’s history. More importantly, the murderer would not be revisiting his old house at any time, having committed suicide in prison.

She moved in about 3 months later and did not regret it. It really was a nice place and, once people had stopped mentioning it, the house’s past wasn’t something she thought about much. It was a nice house and she was going to have a good retirement with plenty of time to spend with her grand children.

About a year later she decided to have a few renovations done. While it was in generally good condition, there were a few things about the decor that were not to her taste. She didn’t have a lot of money to spend and wanted to get things right the first time so she would decide exactly what she wanted before getting in the decorators. The first thing she looked at was that incongruously cheap fitted wardrobe in the bedroom. Maybe she could save money by pulling it out herself; her son would help if necessary, she gave him enough free child care after all. It briefly crossed her mind that she could find some torture instruments, but that was daft, the police would have done full searches of the property for evidence. It was pretty easy. The thing was chipboard and was soon lying outside the back door for her son to take to the dump. Just a few screw holes to fix in the wall and that was it, maybe she wouldn’t need to pay a decorator to sort the bedroom.

There weren’t any torture instruments either, that was a relief. All she found was a piece of paper. She turned it over and it was a child’s painting. Nothing sinister there, probably left by the people who owned the house before the Dorset Ripper, they had been a normal family apparently. The child had scrawled "Teddy in the cellar" underneath. Despite the picture’s immaturity she recognised the end of the cellar beneath the house. She had never taken more than a cursory look down there before and could not resist checking it out. There was a small alcove at the top as in the picture and when she shone the torch inside it was there, a small furry teddy bear.

She stood on tiptoe, reached in and tried to pull it out but It didn’t move far as it had a piece of wire around it. She yanked on the wire and yanked again, then suddenly fell vertically without warning. The wire had been a release mechanism to a trapdoor. The cleverly shaped drop and the sharp metal spikes were fatal.

Before she went she saw the message painted on the wall above. "If you are reading this you will know I am the best. No others have killed after they have gone as I have"

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Things may not be as they seem

We’ve always had them in the news from time to time, those daft stories about flying saucers and alien sightings. Utter drivel as far as Ellen was concerned; they probably just helped to fill a few column inches when there was nothing more normal, like terrorist attacks, to fill the news reports with.

The beginning of this year had been unusual in the sheer number of such sightings, something that had become news in itself. A few supposed flying saucers now and then was normal but hundreds of sightings in a part of South East England in barely more than a month was unprecedented and it was now making the national news.

It wasn’t just flying objects either. There were reports of strange movements in some areas of the countryside. Several people had reported seeing odd visual distortions across areas of the landscape. Ellen had watched a TV interview in which one described his experience in graphic detail. He had been sitting on a bench enjoying the view over a wooded country park, when it was as though an enormous distorting lens had drifted over the scene. Trees altered their positions and even disappeared. Even more oddly, he had seen part of a nearby old mansion appear in front of the trees although it was actually on the other side of the hill and could not possibly have been visible from where he sat.

The chap seemed normal and sincere, and, if he was lying, he was certainly a darn good actor but it had to be rubbish. Whether or not he was complicit in it, it just had to be some sort of hoax. Anyway, there could be more serious things going on. A number of people, of both sexes and various ages, had been reported missing in the area. Was there someone out there who was abducting strangers for some unknown reason? That was something she really did worry about and she would be careful to stay in well lit places with people around if she went out.

Oh well, today was not a day to fret about such things. It was a gloriously sunny and warm morning for September, a big change from the last few days, time to get out and tidy her garden before autumn covered it in leaves. She spent a couple of hours out there and loved it as usual. The only thing she didn’t like was that it was garden spider season and they were getting quite big. She had rather a phobia about spiders and checked carefully for any webs before tackling the bushes with her shears. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad. There was just one place that had a large web with a garden spider in it and she would leave trimming that bush until later in the year when the little pest had gone. A quick shower, a cup of tea and then she headed off to town to do some shopping with an old friend.

The sun was still shining as she arrived back in the village and maybe it was the low sun in her eyes that confused her slightly. Something seemed a little strange about the road, it seemed shorter and the bend was less sharp. Maybe that glass of wine with her lunch had been a bit too big. She parked in the drive and got out of the car, pulling out her bags and her new dress. When she looked up she was again struck by a feeling that something was a bit odd. The positioning of the plant pots on the patio did not seem to be quite as normal and the front door seemed a little dark. Maybe it just needed cleaning. She opened the front door and stepped into the hallway. What the hell? Nothing in here looked right. The edges of the walls and furniture were rounded and ill defined. She turned to face the door and over there was her house. Somehow she must have gone down the adjacent road and ended up on the common. But... but she had driven down HER road, parked in HER drive, she KNEW she had. Then the strange hallway turned dark and she felt something grasp her body.

Spiders are clever little creatures in their way, they build invisible snares over what flies see as harmless spaces. Not as clever as the new predators of Earth, who could generate holographic images to disguise their traps as familiar places to lure men in.

What she had thought was her house and front garden began to shift and flicker. Suddenly it disappeared, revealing the green grass and weeds of the neglected common and the huge spider-like creature that had her in its clutches.

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The Atheist Religion

Rick and his old university mate Brian got on well despite some major differences in views, including their religion beliefs. Brian was a staunch Catholic while Rick was an atheist, so convinced of his viewpoint that it was almost a religion to him. They had joked about it after a few too many beers. "You wait until you turn up at the Pearly Gates, mate" Brian said "You’ll be sorry when you get your ticket to down there" "Nah, I’ll be ok" Rick responded "The Flying Spaghetti monster will see I’m alright"

Rick was chairman of an Atheist Group which viewed religion as an impediment to progress in society and campaigned for exclusion of religion influence from state on any issue, with abortion and gay marriage being the most obvious. They were strongly opposed to the fact that religion was a let out on far too many things, including the lack of sex equality in religious roles, the use of cruel animal slaughter procedures and medically unnecessary procedures on male children.

They also regarded the law that employers should accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices unless it caused undue problems as one sided. Strictly speaking, the definition of religious belief in UK law is broad enough to include firmly held atheist views but few were aware of that and, in practice, there was not the same fear of discriminating against holders of non religious beliefs as they did not have to simply say the name of an established faith to prove their legal rights.

A suggestion in the group was that atheism should be legally defined as a religion but its dictionary definition, "A disbelief or lack of belief", was rather vague. They needed some simple named central tenet that they could claim to adhere to. Rick said they should claim to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was meant as a joke but when they thought about it, maybe that was a good idea. The FSM would simply fly about and demand nothing at all of its worshippers, produce no long-winded sacred scripts to read, require no prayers or other rituals and issue no commandments, except those that suited its followers’ interests.

Technically they would no longer be atheists but, in practice they would be, with the added benefit that they could just say "I’m a Spaghettist" to employers and others and immediately get the same rights from any who feared being taken to court for discrimination. The new religion was very democratic as the FSM had decreed. Any member could suggest what the tenets should be, tenets that allowed them to opt out of things their employers wanted them to do or complain when retailers or other service providers did not cater for their supposed beliefs. When the committee reached a majority vote on a new tenet the FSM would immediately turn it into divine law.

The new religion took off faster than they imagined. Jediism, based on the Star Wars films, had previously grown to the fourth largest religion in the UK but Spaghettism soon overtook it. Rick, still the chairman, or Pastaman as he was now called, was very proud. Then came that day when Rick, driving back from the sacred forum, or Bolognese as they now called it, was unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place when two trucks collided and one careered into his path.

That was the day he found that atheism was neither more nor less drivel than any other belief when he arrived in the next world and found there was not just one set of Pearly Gates but thousands of them stretching into the distance, one for every religion there was and had ever been. Some he thought he recognised. There were quite a few beardy chaps at the gates, so it was hard to tell for sure, but was that Saint Peter? He was dealing with a large queue anyway, so it must be a major religion. Strange forlorn-looking figures manned other gates where nobody was waiting. Was that fearsome looking woman with four arms really Kali? He had little time to look, being forced to join the queue at one gate by an invisible force. The Flying Spaghetti Monster floated within and, when he reached the gate, it opened and he was impelled through it.

With a new wisdom that death had given him he realised what a damn fool he had been. Gods do not inspire religious belief; it is religious belief that invents gods. Followers of most other religions had invented their gods to shield them from the fear of death and promise a marvellous afterlife of happiness but he had been focused only on the real world and had never even considered what the afterlife would be as he had never actually believed in it.

For a short while, before he drifted away from those gates, he could see the joyful expressions of new entrants to other heavens as they entered the clouds, were greeted by numerous virgins, or saw and felt whatever other marvellous rewards their religions had promised. In Spaghetti Monster Heaven there was only the Spaghetti Monster soaring aimlessly above its worshippers, for no other benefits or wonders of heaven had ever been invented by them.

He was doomed to drift about aimlessly in empty space with nothing to do for all eternity.

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A Fate Already Sealed

It is said that money doesn’t buy happiness but if he had to choose between being lonely and rich and lonely and poor he’d chose the former any time. It was time to retire and he had enough money to get the hell out of crowded London and buy that nice little place in the country he and his late wife had always dreamed of. She wasn’t around anymore and it might be lonely but he would fill his time pursuing all those leisure interests that he had had so little time for when he was working.

He was really into ancient history and had accumulated a variety of old relics, mostly brought at auction and often at quite modest prices because other bidders were more interested in value and appearance than historic interest. The first thing he did on moving in to his new house was to unpack all those little old curios he had never examined properly and create his own little museum. There was some great stuff and now he could spend some time looking into their pasts and the history of the people who had made them.

There was one particular fascinating item, to him anyway, a circular, slightly concave, stone tablet with a central hole and shallow carvings that he had brought in an auction in Greenwich. It went for a low price due to its very weathered condition, which meant there was no real certainty on age or origin, but it was probably an ancient British stone carving over 2000 years old. He would spend some time doing some research on it, something he had always meant to do when he brought it but had never gotten round to. The worn carvings were a little clearer when viewed from the side under a bright light; he could see looping trails with scattered circles upon them. Here and there were faint traces which could once have been words. It occurred to him that this plaque looked rather like an ancient game of Snakes and Ladders. It was possible, board games date back to the Ancient Egyptians although he had never heard of anything like that in ancient Britain.

Dreams are often based on experiences from the day before, usually mundane stuff like TV programs we have watched, so it was no great surprise when he woke up the next day with a recollection of wandering in a grey flat expanse following a trail resembling those lines on the carving. He thought little of it and the memory soon vanished from his mind as dreams do.

He found nothing in his many books about ancient British history that was helpful. He phoned his old mate James who used to work at a museum and was a fountain of knowledge about British history but even he could not help very much. British history prior to the Romans was not well understood and he had never heard of any board games from that time, although it was entirely possible. It could be that the game, if it was one, was not simply for recreational purposes but had a religious significance, like Snakes and Ladders which is based on an old Indian game that represented life’s challenges of virtues and vices.

Oh well, maybe he’d never find out. Yet somehow he could not seem to stop thinking about it, searching the internet for any clues. Every day he examined the tablet and tried to find out more. He took some photos and greatly enhanced the contrast which seemed to confirm the resemblance to a board game. Every day he grew more obsessed with the tablet or, rather, the game as he was now convinced it was.

Every night, the vividness of his strange dreams grew too. He would wander a meandering path around that grey valley, at the centre of which was that huge black void. He knew now that he had to get away from it, to get up to the edge of the valley and leave, to get back into life. But it was not up to him. Every night his long walk would take him to another great circle and there, although invisible, was a presence which would demand answers from him. Based on the result it would direct him to one of two exits from the circle and, as he set foot on the new path, he would wake, sometimes with a feeling of panic, sometimes with a feeling of relief.

Try as he might to get out of the obsession, the days became nothing more to him than waiting for the night, for those dreams. And as the memories of the dreams became stronger he realised that there was nothing he could do to influence his path, the choices on which he was being judged had all been made long ago in his life. He didn’t think he was a bad man but he was not perfect either. When judgement is black and white, how can us people who live in a grey world know what our fate will be?

The walks in the grey valley went on and on for months. At some circles he was judged on his failings, like the affairs with other women that had hurt his wife or the dodgy deals he had made in his banking career and knew he was heading in the wrong direction. In others he started out on a brighter path due to positive contributions like his generosity to charity or support for friends in need. Many of the judgements were made concerning things he had little or no recollection of, decisions he had made a child. In this game it seemed there was no age of innocence.

For a long time he knew not what the final destination was due to the enormous complexity of the maze. At times he seemed to be heading for the pit, only to find a few days later that he was meandering away from it. Conversely, he would almost reach the edge where a bright future was visible, only to find himself heading back towards the darkness on the following night.

Then came that night when he reached a circle that had the usual two exits and one path led directly into that dark abyss. What would he be judged on? Would he ever wake again?

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All stories copyright xoggoth unless otherwise stated