“What you have to understand, Albion…” said doctor Humdinger, commanding the general clamouring in the old church hall.
“..It's Elliot, sir”, said the village pastor and chief.
“..Is that events are ticketable.”
“Yes yes, keep up Ethan,” twittered the doctor, testing a wooden pew's strength. “Tickets. I wrote about it in my book - a system for denoting tickets based on appearing phenomena, and in rare cases, non-present phenomena.”
“That sounds quite the confusing system,” sighed Elliot, squeezing the bridge of his nose as if to pop his headache like a zit.
“Nonsense.” Humdinger waved dismissively.
Most of the village crammed into the pews each Sunday, and would have sandwiches and tea at the wooden bar-structure built against the equally wooden back wall. Humdinger had made note it wasn’t original, yet had been as intricate as the crenelated stone. No doubt the entire village had paid-in to make sure their gathering spot retained its dignity. There had been no funds left for something more substantial than a few picnic tables to enjoy a post-sermon snack.
“A blue ticket denotes the extraplanar, yellow - the presence of what the layman would call magic, and red denotes extreme danger. Black denotes extraplanetary, White - spiritual, and hence green: a mixture of extraplanar and magical elements,” explained Humdinger, seizing a wooden cross like a bat and giving it a practice swing before returning it.
“So orange would be dangerous magic?” asked Elliot, smiling at the congregation in mutual understanding.
Humdinger turned to the pastor. “No. Don’t be so horizontal. Orange is dangerous, but denotes luck.”
“Luck?” Jeremy, the young farm-hand piped up, making Humdinger jump out of his skin - having not noticed the lad stalk him by the coat-tails.
“And fate.” Humdinger locked eyes with the boy before shooing him away and continuing to pace. “Purple, before you all go imagining, denotes strange objects, and brown - is extrasensory. This is not to be confused with sensory, but on another plane of existence.”
“Isn’t Extrasensory something that can’t be detected?” asked Elliot.
“I have a number of instruments for making the undetectable detectable.”
“You mentioned non-present phemo-ne-ma, sir.” recalled Tim, the farmer.
“Ah, the grey area - hence a grey ticket,” said Humdinger as if it was veritably obvious. Then, enjoying the general scepticism, “..it also categorizes phenomena that can be meta-maintained.”
“I'm not sure that… any of us understand,” sighed Elliot.
“Well. Put simply, some phenomena are only so - due to the belief of them being there. There have been multiple instances, as I explain in my book,” he scorned, looking around the room at the non-readers, “where I have ticketed a phenomenon and it has ceased to… proliferate. From my initial assessment, your situation could be ticketed this way.”
“So, you’re saying our problem can't be fixed?” cried Myrtle, the village greengrocer.
“Fixed? If you are suggesting that whatever manner of creature involved should be culled - then you have the wrong man. I’m here to keep phenomena away from you as much as you from it.”
“I won’t listen to this madman! Bert, can’t you just lay some traps and we’ll all be done with this wretched business,” said Myrtle.
“Well, is thing Mert, you wouldn’ lay trap for t’ beast big as this like. Would knacker yer iron. Ant poor beast back around f’ supper,” mumbled the village smith.
“Exactly,” said doctor Humdinger, “thank-you for your understanding... Bert.”
Bert nodded. “Well eh, nuff said ‘bout it.”
Humdinger sighed at the group, noticing their anxious expressions. “Given the statements I've collected so far, it’s far more likely this is a double-blue ticket event. Unless anyone has any more pressing stories, I doubt there is any danger here.”
“Four legs, black as ‘ole. Bigger ‘an ol’ Jimmie he were!” shouted Bert, who although being the largest and burliest man in the room, had been amongst the most sheepish until Humdinger had warmed to him.
“I only saw a hand. Black and twisted it was. Like something from a nightmare: creeping 'round the barn door when I was tending the horses,” said Tim.
“It retreated before you left?” asked Humdinger, sounding genuinely surprised.
“Well I didn’t leave until the morning. Couldn’t leave the poor horses. And this stuff has mostly been happening at night.”
“Hmm, the poor horses indeed,” said Humdinger slowly, allowing the room to titter over the farmer’s cowardice.
“What? I’m as afraid as the rest on yer! Don’t go around sayin’ yer not. I was only in the damn barn cus someone keeps untying the pens!”
The room became a hushed chatter, the mention of “someone untying the pens” opening the gates to gossip.
“What kind of knot do you use?” asked Humdinger, ignoring the crowd.
“Pardon?” asked Tim.
“.. to tie up the pens. What kind of knot, assuming the rope is unbroken?”
“I don’t really see why... “ Tim started, before noticing Elliot’s drained look, “a bowline… The horses can’t untie them!”
“Hmm. Has anyone else noticed anything?"
“Well, I don’t know if it's relevant..” Jeremy started.
“Hush now. Don’t go making up stories and confusing the doctor,” said Tim.
Humdinger stepped between them. “You were saying.”
“Well, things keep moving around in the village.”
“Oh here he goes again!” shouted Myrtle, accompanied by groans from the other villagers. “I told you last week that I moved the milk bottles on Bert’s doorstep."
“Sorry doctor, whilst there have been some disturbing sightings, Jeremy has always had a wild imagination for the mundane,” explained Elliot.
Humdinger gave them all a withering look. “Go on Jeremy. What things?”
“Well, there’s the signposts that moved last spring…”
“Last spring? Emmet, you told me the disturbances started this year."
“As I said doctor, a wild imagination,” replied Elliot, exasperated, “the boy reckons the border signs move three feet each month.”
“And do they?” asked Humdinger, straight faced.
“Well I haven’t measured if that’s what you mean. I can’t see how it's related.”
“It's best to be on the fence about these things. On the one hand you may have seen, heard, or experienced phenomena and will believe it. On the other hand, you haven’t experienced it and therefore can be nothing more than sceptical. And on the other you may or may not have experienced it and wholeheartedly believe in its possibility.”
“That's not right. You said three things! You can't have three hands,” protested Myrtle.
“Can't you? I’m quite on the fence about it myself.”
As the villagers pondered Humdinger's latest statement, the church hall began to dim.
“Odd,” muttered Humdinger, noticing the speckled evening sunlight dance on the flagstone floor. Peering up, (others in the hall following suit) the oddity revealed itself as thick black branches, shivering in the wind beyond the stained glass windows. “Were there always trees in the churchyard?”
Noticing the villagers' various pale expressions, Humdinger gulped back a wash of adrenaline, clearing his throat loudly and suddenly: “everyone, gather in the center of the room.”
All bar Tim, petrified in place, hurried together. Even Myrtle, although wearing a sour expression, wouldn’t argue with the doctor’s seeming handle on the situation.
“Ermine, what’s this man’s name?”
Jeremy nudged Elliot to attention. “Oh, uhh Tim.”
The church grew darker still, the branch-like blackness outside the windows twisting and interlocking, virtually blocking out the sun over a matter of minutes.
“Tim! Get over here man, we’re not together if we’re missing one,” said Humdinger, getting ever more serious. “Elliot, did all the attacks happen at night?”
Flustered by his name, Elliot took a moment to gather his thoughts. “Well, it’s been getting dark at odd times recently, so it's hard to say. Also, I’m unsure which of the stories count as attacks doctor.”
“They’re all attacks!”
The crowd murmured hesitantly. Humdinger was losing them.
“I mean to say… Considering the information given, we’re dealing with an extra-planer being. And that given the frequency of the… sightings... I would suggest it is trying to make contact,” explained Humdinger softly.
“Contact! With our throats?” Myrtle shrieked, clutching her neck.
“That’s not what I..”
“How many of them are there?” asked Elliot hurriedly as the room grew cold. “What can be done, doctor?”
“No, there’s only one...”
“We all saw different things, doctor. How can it be one,” interrupted Jeremy next to Humdinger.
“TIM, COME AWAY FROM THE DOORS!” boomed Humdinger suddenly, marching over to the shellshocked farmer.
Turning back in a daze, only the others in the room saw the double doors creep open. Countless hands, black as pitch, curled their talon-like fingers through the gap. An arm. A solitary limb reached out towards the farmer as Humdinger’s march became a sprint.
Tim twirled back to see it, eyes wide with expectant fear. He wasn’t disappointed. The appendage seemed to absorb what little light remained in the candle-lit hall - swallowing up his vision, coming to rest upon his forehead. Humdinger reached him at the same time, hand finding Tim’s shoulder to yank him away.
A moment later, the darkness was gone.
“He’s done it,” cried one villager.
“Thank-you so much doctor!” Tim cried out, reaching in for a hug.
The crowd began to cheer as Humdinger slowly turned towards them, at the same time holding Tim at arms-length - a crazed expression painted on his face.
“You fools!” he exclaimed, silencing the church hall once more. “You think that was it?”
“But… the demons have disappeared,” called Elliot.
“Extra-planar being. Singular. That one is gone, yes, but what you don’t understand… Ugh!” Humdinger exclaimed, frustration boiling.
“That can’t be true!” shouted Jeremy. “What I saw was different to Bert, was different to Tim, and was different to everyone else!”
“You.” Humdinger stepped forward pointing angrily at Jeremy. “You saw things move - this narrows down the entities I’ve encountered ten-fold. Moving objects requires dexterity, strength, intelligence, and corporeality. Tim saw a hand. The hand of a creature hesitant to come inside. Why? Simple. It didn’t want to accidentally mark the horses. The creature knew Tim went to check on the horses in the early morning and evening…”
“How d.. did you know…” Tim stammered, still stunned.
“...when it was dark.” Humdinger finished almost without missing a beat.
The villagers didn’t seem convinced.
“I saw a creature! Wolf like’n!” Bert shouted, angry to be dismissed.
“I’ll bet its teeth were long. Longer than on any creature you’ve ever seen. I’ll bet it moved strangely, like it’s joints had familiar limitations to our own. And I'll bet it's physique looked like corded muscle - or, I suppose - like so many tree branches, twisted and morphed together…”
“Well…” Bert scoffed, “..yeh?”
“It’s kind are not like you or I that have arms and legs and bodies and heads. They exist only as arms, reaching through planes of existence, sucking in energy to maintain their form. That’s why they’re as black as night. They absorb the light..” Humdinger strained, agonising with each additional explanation he never had the chance to conclude. “The wolf you think you saw, its teeth were fingers - its body an amalgamation of arms and wrists, limited in their range of motion.”
“So... What now doctor?” asked Elliot.
“That was the mark. More of its kind will come now. That… demon as you call it, just sacrificed itself to mark one of you, for it can’t touch living flesh without breaking its connection to the other planes of existence.”
“Well if it can’t touch us, why worry? By George mister Humdinger sir, you had us all terrified!” exclaimed Myrtle, garnering laughs of agreement from a few other villagers.
“Simpletons!” Humdinger yelled, losing all pretence. “Is a cupboard a living being? Is a chair? A knife? It doesn’t have to touch you to maim you. To kill you! You’ll have to hope that on its plane of existence time moves differently, and that it will be your children, or your children’s children that will pay the price instead of you.”
About the Creator
I've only recently started my writing "career", completing various challenges and submitting to competitions. In that time I've been longlisted/shortlisted - and so thought I would share those stories with the world.