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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Occult · #2016170

CORRIDGE MASS. Local police officials have announced that the mysterious deaths of the citizens of Corridge may be related to cult activity. Evidence of cults in the forests and abandoned houses in and around Corridge has been mounting for several months; a state task force was created last month to investigate the issue. So far neither local nor state police will comment on the nature of the supposed connection to the large number of mysterious deaths in Corridge, which began several weeks ago. Officially the deaths have all been listed as accidental.

         Such is the nature of life in Corridge, Massachusetts these days. Pentagrams in the woods and corpses in the living rooms. But the small town hasn’t always been this way - it used to be a nice enough suburb - normal, through and through. That is, until the salesman came.

         I don’t believe any of the residents ever did learn his name, though nearly all of them met him. Most said he was suave and kind, well-dressed, professional, and punctilious. He walked from home to home, wheeling a massive black case behind him, and he always rang the bell three times before stepping away.

         His ware was the most miraculous thing the people had seen: a small machine in gleaming chrome, no bigger than a breadbox, with a black round hole on the top. He called it “Dr. Lethe’s Wondrous Receptacle.” Anything placed inside, he said, would simply vanish, no mess, no fuss, no problems. Both box and salesman were unmarked: no logo or emblem could be seen. Some folk made the mistake of calling the salesman himself “Lethe”, but he was always quick to correct them - “just the deliverer,” he would say, “not the man himself.” Old Mrs. Aggle, the local physician's wife, said the salesman’s face would darken when someone addressed him by the doctor’s name, but most folk scoffed at her, so amiable was the salesman.

         For that fact, Mrs. Aggle also said she got a glimpse of the inside of the case. “Empty!” she proclaimed. “No toasters at all!” But the salesman never seemed to stop at a truck or building to restock; and everyone laughed at Aggle when she suggested that the black inner velvet lining of the case was marked with a symbol in red, like a writhing mass of tentacles. Mrs. Aggle has never been taken very seriously in Corridge.


         The salesman spent about a week in town, during which time he sold nearly a thousand of the Wondrous Receptacles. His price was so cheap for such a thing, most folk (I imagine) bought it as a sort of joke or novelty. But once the salesman had gone, stories about the strange device began to circulate - in whispers to start with, but growing in strength as the realization began to spread.

         The damned thing really worked. It started, I think, with Mr. Butler on 3rd St. tossing a cigarette into the hole without realizing it was his last one; when he reached in to take a few extra draws, he found the cigarette was totally vanished, ash and all. Certainly he was the laugh of the bar that evening, since he brought the Receptacle with him the following night and let the whole place use it for an ashtray. Sure enough, there wasn’t even ash left when he stumbled out of the place.

         In reality, it was the children, though, who first made the power of the thing known. Little Johnny Turnpen dumped a full bag of chocolate chips into the opening when he tried to sneak them from the shelf above it, and when he discovered no sign of any of them at the bottom of the thing the children began their talk. Before long, each child had tried dropping something in the Receptacle, each trying for something larger and more impressive than the last. Henry Parker dropped in a glow stick in the middle of the night; he told his friends that the Receptacle gave off a faint, red glow when it did its trick. Finally, George Blake, age twelve, caught two red-breasted robins with a net and dropped them into the black hole; and after that, the children agreed to stop their outdoing, and parents began to take notice.

         You see, Mrs. Blake had made an effort at rescuing the robins from their fate, but found they were gone. She had (at least, she claimed) reached into the thing quite far - much farther, she insisted, than it should have been deep. And what’s more, it had taken her nail polish off! Well, folks were generally inclined to take Mrs. Blake as a trustworthy woman, certainly not one to go to such lengths for deception as to remove the nail polish from one hand, and indeed, one hand was painted and the other bare.


         Now we must divert from the charming tales of Dr. Lethe’s Wondrous Receptacle for those of a darker sort, since the whole story of Corridge’s change sadly requires both. You see, about two weeks after he dropped two live robins into the magical device, George Blake got on his school bus at the end of the day but never made it home. The driver, the other students on the bus - friends and neighbors, of course - could make no sense of it. George had not gotten off the bus by any door as far as anyone had seen, and the driver remembered distinctly that George was not on the bus when his stop came ‘round.

         Almost instantly the folk of Corridge began to talk. The sheriff, a sleepy man of great respectability but little experience (owing to the sleepy nature of his town, no doubt) promised action but gave few specifics. Mrs. Blake, the boy's distraught mother, spent her days interviewing schoolchildren, much to their chagrin and the pity of their parents. No one seemed to have any idea what happened to George.

         Ultimately it did not take long for this particular tale to come to its tragic end. George Blake was found in the river less than a week later, swollen and deathly pale. His face and arms were a lattice of puncture wounds and scratches like no one could quite justify but that were given to the rocks and debris that made the shallow waterway so treacherous. Of course, old Mrs. Aggle whispered darker things, about the vengeance of the birds he had vanished, but the idea that songbirds could kill a young boy was justly discounted.

         Sure enough, though, the days brought new oddities. It was, I suppose, about this time that the evidences of cults began to appear about the forests in the area. Strange symbols spray-painted on the ground and carved into the tree bark left the average citizen with little question about the nature of their origin, and the appearance of candles and charred straw dolls thereafter solidified the interpretation.

         So George Blake’s death became linked to cultists in the mind of the people. Some of the men began patrolling the forest by night, looking for evidence of the perpetrators, hoping to catch them in the act and bring them to justice. Children were called in early, when the slightest hint of sunset pink came into the sky; pets were kept in at all hours except when absolutely necessary. Slowly, a secrecy and seclusion fell over Corridge, and friends and neighbors lost touch for lack of seeing one another. Of course, that made it all the easier to suspect them later.


         No one made the jump to connect these two storylines together until it was much, much too late. People largely stopped thinking about Dr. Lethe’s Wondrous Receptacle rather quickly in light of the cult threat. And of course the subsequent deaths did not bring it back to mind, not for a long time.

         When the grieving mother Mrs. Blake killed herself a few weeks later, it was no great surprise, though folk did think it strange and horrible she should do it by stabbing herself in the chest.

         The common belief was that they liked children best, or needed them specifically, for their dark and vile rituals, since it was the children who started dying first. Johnny Turnpen was found drowned in the bathtub not so long after George’s body was found, and for a moment people thought they killed primarily by drowning. But then other children began to go, one by one - by rocks to the skull, and choking on loose teeth, and any number of things. But it wasn’t just children; Mr. Butler somehow managed to breathe in an entire cigarette one afternoon while on a break at work, and it choked him to death. All the deaths, the police labeled as accidents (except poor Mrs. Blake, of course) even as the people cowered in fear of the satanic powers of the cultists in the woods.

         The police began to take notice of this public opinion, though, when a particular symbol was found inside each of the houses of the dead, suspiciously close to where the bodies were found: a thick circle from which came a writhing mass of tentacles. And that is when the tales of old Mrs. Aggle came back to her neighbors and they realized what Dr. Lethe had done to them. But by then it was too late. They’d already thrown so many things into the boxes, it was just so convenient a way to dispose of things.

         Nearly everybody got rid of the Receptacles, but that did not save them. And some folk left town, but that did not save them either. The damage had been done. And the local physician, who was also coroner, continued to send odd reports about each death to the state police: Johnny Turnpen’s lungs were not filled with bathwater but with chocolate; the hand with which Mrs. Blake had killed herself was painted with odd nail polish that could not be removed; Henry Parker’s blood seemed to glow in the dark; Mr. Butler’s stomach was full of ash. These things were so inexplicable as to be ignored as the ravings of a small town hack who had snapped under the burden of the horrors facing his town. He was forgotten, ignored, like his wife.

         Corridge is largely depopulated now. Only a few folk, like the Aggles, remain - those who did not buy Dr. Lethe’s strange machine, mostly. It is a sad and dreary place, so very empty. And eerie, so steeped is it in the foul magics of the unseen cult. I’m afraid I cannot tell you, friend, just what tentacled horror they hope to summon forth by all this blood and fear, but I do know one thing.

         That thing, whatever it is they worship in the forests by night - it certainly does like death.

Word Count: 1814
© Copyright 2014 J. B. Anthony (j.b.anthony at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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