If you are reading this note now and do not intend to finish it: please put it back where you found it.
If you intend to finish this note but do not intend to resolve the situation, then please: put it back where you found it, taped to the front door of this residence.
I’ve dropped the ownership papers to this farmhouse and property off at the local sheriff’s department to be rid of it all. I have a feeling they’ll probably have to give them to someone else, but they were the only suitable thing I could think of on such short notice.
I do not want to sell this place. I do not want anything to do with this place once I have left. I pray that this small town will demolish it and not sell it, but truly I don’t care what happens. I will not be returning any calls relating to this property whatsoever.
Whosoever does eventually decide to deal with this place, whether it be the township or simply the rot of time and the debauchery of local vandals—or, god forbid, a real estate agent—this is my one and only warning to you.
I’m forced to show a great deal of restraint and temperance to sit and write this note. Every inch of my body is crawling, my palms are sweaty and shaking, I feel as if something is going to jump out at me with ever passing moment that I stay here.
I’m not even sure where to start…
This old farmhouse is the quaint, rural dwelling that my father grew up in with his siblings. They had a good upbringing here. My grandparents were good people, if a bit dogmatic.
When I was growing up, we used to come back here and visit, my brothers and sisters and my parents. We’d have pleasant family reunions here. I have several family members that will ask me what has happened to this place, but I will never speak of it to them… Not for a long while, at least. And I am fully prepared to take any flak that I may receive by relinquishing ownership without their consent. They do not know what I am saving them from.
Even if I do ever tell them, they will never have to experience it. As the eldest, this place has been handed to me after the death of my father, and it is my decision.
No one in the family has been out here for quite some time. Years. After my parents divorced, when all the children had moved out, my father became an estranged man. Vaguely ominous, although never threatening or aggressive.
He had a gaunt look to him, he drank heavily, and stayed alone out here. He says he liked to write, but never seemed to finish anything, and I was never able to find any of his manuscripts or excerpts. Not even pieces of poetry. Maybe he was writing, and just never wanted anyone to see it…
In any case, he imploded slowly over the years. No one could tell why. We tried to help many times over in varying degrees—all of us did—but it never amounted to anything. We resigned to letting him stay there until the day came that we would put him in a home. But he died before that day, and so the place remained as a raggedy tear in the family’s fabric. It seems to sit in the back of all our minds, as if it personified the dwelling of our family skeletons. Because of my father, we didn’t have a closet-full, but a small farmland full.
I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around how right we all were. It seems to make sense in a way that doesn’t make any sense to me…
I came to check up on the place after a powerful tornado swept through the county and onward. I assumed this place wouldn’t even be left standing, but it was. Some of the roof was damaged and the outer sheds on the property were gone with scarcely a trace left, but the farmhouse seemed mostly fine.
I thought, since I’d traveled all the way out here for the weekend, and since the place is still livable, I might as well stay.
The first day I inspected the damage to the outer property as well. Some of the strongest trees had been uprooted in the storm, but the cabin remained. It was just curious at first, but the more I looked around, the more unsettling it was. There weren’t any other houses or structures around for me to compare damage with, but I’d heard that the rest of the county really took a wallop.
It was very strange that the farmhouse should look so well-off.
For a while, I enjoyed the light stroll around the trails I had enjoyed as a kid. And then I stumbled across the altar.
As soon as I saw it, my heart began pounding, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. It was broad daylight, but I suddenly felt terrified, as if I were out there in the pitch blackness.
Almost needless to say, I got the hell out of there. But not before I caught a glimpse of the insignia on it. I dare not even describe it. I am doing everything I can to block the sight of it from my mind’s eye.
I think it acts as a conduit. A gateway. It begins as a physical engraving, but then once you see it, it becomes a portal within your mind, sewn together with neurons and synapses, creating a nexus of neuro-phenomenological stimulation.
You might think I’m mad, but some of the best and brightest scientists today are talking about the power of symbols—just as they always have been.
Do you know where the word “meme” comes from? It wasn’t “internet culture” at first, it was evolutionary psychology. Studying what we know of the primordial origins of the human, so that we may come to better learn how, exactly, we all wound up here.
Well, in memetic theory, the idea is that a symbol exchanged between any two people or more—well that symbol is akin to a virus. And, scientifically speaking, some viruses can be good, some can be bad. The point is that the more powerful a symbol is—the more effectively it creates a response in you—the more viral it is. And the more it will spread.
These same psychologists theorize that a meme is to the mind like a gene is to the body, and that’s straight out of the mouth of Richard Dawkins, the godfather of meme theory.
And just what, exactly, is the meaning of all this? Why do I bring this up?
I answer that with a question to you: what are we, as humans, potentially a host to?
Are these things merely art for our own amusement? Perhaps.
But not always.
When I saw that insignia, engraved on the altar in the woods, I knew I had contracted something horrific. I tried not to think about it, even as I settled into the old farmhouse of my childhood vacations.
The symbol gnawed at me, and as it did so, I began to remember that I saw it once out in the woods, as a child. Not on that altar, but somewhere else. Engraved in a stone somewhere deep in the trees. And I also saw it once as a drawing in one of my grandfather’s notebooks.
In the evenings, he often wrote in journals while sitting in his lazy-chair as the grandchildren played about. I would’ve never noticed anything he’d written in there, but one day as I walked past him, I saw the symbol in his notebook. He was busy writing something hurriedly beside it and didn’t notice me in the slightest. I couldn’t help but see over his shoulder—it grabbed my attention and transfixed me.
I don’t think my grandfather knew what it meant. I think if anything, he saw it engraved somewhere in the woods as well, and couldn’t get it out of his mind either.
I pray he had nothing to do with that godforsaken altar out there.
The altar was presumably buried by the earth and time at one point. God knows how old it is, or if it was buried on purpose. It seems old. It feels ancient. It’s ebony and gold, and I noticed how it looked like it was meant to be a spot for someone to lie down on.
I sincerely hope that I have seen too many horror movies when I say this, but now that it’s horrible presence is burned into my memory, I surmise that it was meant for sacrifices of some kind.
That night after seeing the altar, I tossed and turned, hardly sleeping. I was troubled, and debating whether or not to leave. But I decided to at least wait until morning. I must’ve eventually drifted off, because when I awoke, I could not move, and I saw a figure staring at me from my bedside.
A black silhouette with red glowing eyes.
All the blood rushed from my face and my heart started pounding relentlessly. The silhouette slowly pressed its cold, clammy hand over my heart and my body felt a horrible, indescribable sensation. The only thing I can relate it to like all my nerve endings lighting on fire, and I’m not sure if even that does it justice. Perhaps I was having a heart attack, but I have my doubts about that. I’m not even sure how long this process lasted, but time had become so entirely warped that pain was, at that moment, the only metric I had with which to gauge my existence. Time was useless and irrelevant.
Eventually, the silhouette took its hand from my chest, and I noticed how devilishly long its fingers were.
It stared at me for a while longer, and I was still unable to move.
Before it left, it took a long, slow lap around the room, and destroyed any vase or glass or picture-frame around. It was so loud, but I still couldn’t move.
I don’t remember it leaving, but I must have fallen back asleep, because I woke up at the crack of dawn and looked around the room with my first motions.
The destruction around me initially seemed like proof of what I’d seen, but after my sleep wore off some more, I began to recall that plenty of the house’s interior had been thrashed, including broken windows, and I suddenly could not remember what was broken before last night and what wasn’t.
Really, I wasn’t sure if anything had been truly broken by that apparition I had seen.
I thought that perhaps I was just working myself up, and I had experienced a panic attack in a nightmare. But all the same, I wanted to destroy that altar out there in the woods.
I didn’t like it one bit, and I didn’t want it anywhere near my family’s property. So I went out there in the morning light with a crowbar, a pickaxe, gasoline, and matches. I smashed that thing for maybe an hour and didn’t put a dent in it. Burning it did nothing either.
If anything, it felt as if my fear had coalesced with a deep sense of frustration and dread as I wasted time trying to destroy this thing. The more I tried the more it seemed to mock me.
The whole time I was there, I tried not took at the symbol too. I did a good job for the most part… but it still caught my eye, and it haunted me.
During the day I tried to clean up the cabin a bit and conduct some very minor repairs. It was enough to wear me out, especially given how little sleep I’d gotten the night before.
By the sunlight, it was easy to tell myself that I had gotten all worked up. Maybe that altar had a logical explanation—maybe it was an interesting historical find related to the Native Americans. Maybe I was just too stressed.
But once night fell, it became much harder to tell myself that I was just too stressed. With the night, I suddenly felt like a fool—obviously I was stressed, but that didn’t exactly give me all the reason to write off my experiences.
But again, driving at night isn’t the safest, so I decided to wait until the morning. Sunday was my final day here anyway, and I’d already decided to stay the weekend out here. But as I tried to sleep, I kept thinking about what I might find if I were to go out to that altar in the night—what terrible, arcane secrets I might uncover. Secrets swept away by the sands of time, un-beholden to modern humanity. Certainly I did not want a part of those secrets, but I began to think about the viral nature of the mind, and whether or not I had contracted something… I began to wonder if it would not follow me once I left this place. Had it not already followed me since my childhood, and dwelled in the mind of my grandfather?
While my rational mind told me I was jumping to conclusions, my instincts told me that this symbol and these strange circumstances around this farmhouse had been what did my father in. But why had he chosen to stay here? Did he enjoy the horrible things out here?
Or was he isolating himself? Quarantining himself…?
That night I fell asleep once more, despite my discomfort, but I remember suddenly waking in the night, from the creak of the front door. My mind told me that someone was breaking in, but as I gathered my awareness, I realized that I was the one stepping out the door!
I would’ve been terrified if I’d been conscious enough, but again I slipped back into a state of forgetfulness, and I did not regain my senses until I was face to face with the altar in the dark of the night. It was so dark, but I could see it so clearly. I can’t imagine how dilated my pupils were.
Now I know that something had me in a trance state as I slept, and had guided me out there. But I hadn’t let it into my psyche intentionally, the way one invites a stranger inside their home. All I had done was bear witness to a strange engraving, but all the same, my witness—and that of both my father and grandfather—it had opened a doorway in our imaginations. It was a doorway we scarcely knew existed to begin with, and we certainly didn’t know how wide open we’d all left it. Now this thing had infected me just like my family, and these demons had made their own key-copies.
After staring at the altar for a while that night, two silhouettes, both larger than me, led me up to it, and laid me down.
Their eyes were very red…
I’m having a great deal of trouble even writing this…
I can’t entirely remember what happened, but I know they enjoyed my unholy, gut-wrenching terror, and they eventually fed off my fear by placing their hands on my chest. I again felt the sensation of all my nerves lighting on fire, and thought surely I would die here. But I didn’t. And when they were filled, they pulled out a dagger. I tried to beg with them in hopes they would spare me, but I couldn’t get a single word out, or even move my limbs. In spite of my attempts to protest, they brought the blade close to me, and when I felt the point dig into my chest, I howled like an animal.
But that’s all I remember. And that was last night.
It seemed like instantly after that, I woke up in my bed this morning, screaming and covered in sweat. It was daylight out, and for a moment I felt safe with the notion that it was all a dream. But when I looked down at my bare-chest, I saw that dreaded insignia carved into it, raw and open and bloody and deep.
Certainly this is my last straw, and I do not want to stick around to see what the rest of this Sunday has to offer. My chest hurts a great deal, to say the least, and I am having serious trouble just wrapping my head around what has happened.
All I know is that my father was not schizophrenic, nor was my grandfather, nor am I. No one in my family is. I’ve never dabbled with hard drugs. I just drink, and I smoked a little pot in college. We don’t have a family history of psychotic breaks, not even my father. He was deeply troubled at the end of his life, but he was not psychotic.
The only logical conclusion I have to this is that I carved this insignia into my own chest in the dead of night, and maybe this did happen. But such an answer wouldn’t be the slightest bit comforting or resolving. I don’t have any mental health history to suggest any of this—I’ve already been plenty stressed before in my life—and whatever would cause me to do this to myself, if I even did it at all, is not something I want to learn about.
I want this wound to heal, and will undergo any surgery to get the scarring removed. I want nothing to do with this place…
I’m still not convinced that I won’t infect my family with all of this when I return, but then again… maybe I am going mad! Everyone has their breaking point, right?
But in the end, something tells me that the altar in the woods really is connected to ancient, primordial evil, and that it doesn’t just feed on fear and anxieties. Perhaps, nestled away in the imaginal realms of our psyches, roped together with neurons and synapses, handed down from unwritten history, to the secrets of antiquity and finally to the modern human, certain forces incubate.
And perhaps what those primordial forces feed on the most, above even fear itself, is our very sanity…
Do not look for the altar in the woods.
Unless you intend to destroy this farmhouse and property completely, just walk away and stick this note back on the front door.
Written by: Anthony Tyler