Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers, —
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout: —
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you Ef you Don't
-from “Little Orphant Annie”
By James Whitcomb Riley
Have you ever walked down the road and heard the hasty rustle of something skittering through the brush along the roadside? Have you ever been in the security and comfort of your room and felt the dreadful stare of prying eyes watching you from the window, only to get up and look to find that no one is there save for the windswept bush or tree just beyond the glass barrier? Have you, for that matter, entertained the droll comfort of that peculiar absence of person or thing beyond the glass portal yet still felt the discomforting urge to draw close the curtains to ease your mind and reinforce your sense of security? Have you ever been out somewhere or home alone and hear someone call you in a voice that you didn’t seem to recognize? Have you ever caught the glimpse of movement out of the corner of your eye, or saw someone gazing at you from the very edge of your vision only to turn and spy no one there? Are there times when you know that you are and should be by yourself yet, every fiber in the core of your being tells you that you are anything but alone?
I know that these questions are random and seem like utter nonsense, but believe me, they are anything but. They are, in fact, warning signs that dire circumstances are at hand, and if you fail to heed those warnings and others very much like them, you too will grace the missing posters scattered about towns all over the world.
Oh! So you don’t believe me, eh? I see. You’re a skeptic; a nonbeliever, if you will. Let me guess; seeing is believing, right? Even then there are questions that seek to debunk the experience. Tell me, am I getting close? That’s all fine and well. After all, I was too…once. I’ve seen the stories on conspiracy files, haunted houses, and alien abductions just like anyone else, you know. But what I am telling you is real. I completely understand that you are grounded in reality and that practicality overrules the pretense and superstitious nonsense that may fool others. After all if you haven’t seen it, felt it, or experienced it, then why believe in it; am I right? I thought so. What; why so surprised? I told you that I once stood where you are now, well, metaphorically; but my mind was changed by events beyond my understanding and control. Judging by the look of things, so will you before long. I hope for your sake that it is not too late by then. I see you’re not easily convinced so, I’ll tell you what happened to me and how one week during my senior year of high school changed my life, forever.
It all started one week in the fall of my senior year; in a little rural town called Summer’s Ridge. Halloween had just passed and Thanksgiving was only a couple of weeks away. Still, the trees held some of the vibrant hues that made the fall such a wondrous season as various hues of red, gold, and brown dappled the sparsely covered boughs, or blanketed the ground beneath. Most of the houses in the smaller neighborhoods still had Halloween decorations lingering about the yard like ghosts from the past, (no pun intended); and those who didn’t were dotted with mountainous piles of leaves ready to be burned, or be leaped upon by kids of all ages. In short, it was a time when our community thrived; as friends, as neighbors, as families.
My little brother, Brad and I were walking home from school like we always did. Summer’s Ridge High and Wesden Middle were on the same stretch of road merely a block or so from where we lived on Berkeley Street, so we didn’t have far to go. On this particular November’s day however, Brad and I were engaged in one of the strangest conversations we’d ever had. You see, Brad had told me that he felt as though someone was following him, and had been doing so since Halloween.
“Followed,” I asked, “by whom?” I found the conversation to be peculiar at best, but decided it best to entertain him anyway. If only I knew then what I know now…oh well…anyway-
“I…I don’t know,” he responded with a troubled look in his eyes. “I’ll see someone watching me or move out of the corner of my eye, but every time I turn to see who is there, they’re gone.”
“It’s okay, little bro,” I stated, placing a hand on his shoulder just to reassure him; “Halloween had a lot of crazy stuff going on; horror movies were playing all over, scary costumes haunted the roads, and all kinds of morbid decorations turned the area into a virtual fright-fest. I’m sure some of them just got to you without you realizing it; at least not until your memory started playing tricks on you.”
“You think so,” Brad replied unsure of what I had said? “But…it seems so… so real. He visibly shuddered as though an icy cold wind had cut through his clothes that only he could feel. Being his older brother, I should have known that that wasn’t like him at all. Brad may have been a mere seventh grader, but still he didn’t spook that easily, and should I have had my head on straight, I might have seen that he was terrified beyond all reason- terrified to the point of paranoia.
“Bro, let me tell you,” I responded hoping to ease his mind, “when your imagination goes wild like that, it can seem more than just real; it can be downright terrifying. When I was younger, I used to be scared of something that lived in my closet.”
“Really,” he asked as he regarded me with a glance, “how’d you manage to get past it?”
“When things got really bad, Mom came in and showed me that the only things living in my closet were toys, my clothes, and a growing family of dust bunnies. At first I wasn’t convinced, but then she handed me my old hockey stick and told me that if anything else came out of my closet, while she and Dad were in bed to start swinging until it went away.” I rustled his hair like older brothers do, and then added, “Anyway, there’s nothing to be afraid of, and anyone who messes with you, has to deal with me!” As I proclaimed those last words I jabbed a thumb my way like Bruce Lee did in the movies. From what I could tell, that made him feel better, but little did I know that my proclamation would be put to the test sooner than I ever expected.
As the week went on, Brad and I decided to go for a stroll through the woods outside of town. He and I loved to get out and follow the meandering trails where we could see wildlife, breathe the cool mountain air, or just hike to Devil’s Whispers, the waterfall which made our town a popular spot for visitors who didn’t mind a jaunt through the woods to see the three hundred thirty-some foot cataract which echoed like thunder in the surrounding area, and just enjoy the day. All seemed normal until somewhere near dusk- just as twilight had begun to set in. Brad grew more nervous than usual and I often spied him jumping at mere shadows- an act I knew wasn’t like my brother at all. When I turned and asked him what was wrong, he shot me an anxious glance, and replied warily, “It’s here; it’s following us.”
“Wha-, who’s following us, Brad,” I asked concerned as I knew that this was not like him at all? I scanned the woods for any sign of someone who might be trailing us, but I saw nothing out of place.
“Not who, Jake,” he replied cryptically, “but what. I saw something watching me from my window last night, but it was too shadowy to make out what it was.” He glanced around nervously, and then added the words that would haunt me forever afterwards, “They’re not human …not human, Jake… and they’re coming for me! I can still hear that thing’s nails, scratching and tapping at the windowpane like some animal trying to get inside! I…I’m scared Jake, they’re coming for me. Don’t let them take me, Jake. Don’t…”
“Whoa, little brother,” I cut in firmly, wresting his attention from his rambling, “what do you mean “they” are coming for you? Who’re they?”
“Goblins, Jake,” he stammered in a voice laden with fear unlike anything I had ever seen in my brother before; “the goblins are coming for me- and they’re here, in the woods with us now!” Just as he uttered those words, something shuffled in the shade stifled underbrush that bordered the trail. Brad heard the sound and began to panic, “We gotta go, Jake- gotta get out of the woods before it gets dark!”
“Chill bro, that was just a rabbit or something spooked by the commotion,” I explained. “There’s nothing coming for you, man! Goblins aren’t real.” I tried to rationalize with him, hoping to calm his fears, and get my brother back to being his normal perky self. “I’m telling you, man; someone’s just trying to scare you, that’s all.”
“No, Jake,” he argued, his voice all but pleading for me to believe him; “the goblins are going to get me, and they’ll carry me away to the Land of the Black Sun, but no one will believe me, Jake, not even you!”
“Goblins don’t exist, Brad,” I tried to explain to him but reason was far beyond my little brother at this point. In my effort to calm my brother down, I had failed to notice that the shadows of darkness had enfolded us in the ebon shroud of night. “They’re just old ghost stories- told to scare kids like us at Halloween and around campfires.” I heaved a tremendous sigh wanting desperately to ease the fear from my little brother’s eyes. “Someone is just messing with you, and I promise you, Brad, I’ll find out who it is and make them stop; one way or another.” I was more than a little perturbed to think that some jerk was damn near scaring my brother to death and I was bound to get to the bottom of it.
“You will,” Brad responded, his voice barely a whisper?
“You bet,” I stated firmly, “no one messes with my little brother!” I looked up, noticing the dark for the first time and knew we had to hurry home. “For now though, let’s get home- and don’t you worry about that goblin nonsense, bro; I’m telling you, goblins don’t exist.”
“Okay, Jake,” he said resignedly, “I hear ya; let’s go home.” His voice lacked conviction though, so it was hard to tell whether he believed me or not. Either way within moments we were traveling back down the path toward home.
The woods were swollen with darkness as night encroached upon us, robbing us of our vision. Brad and I stumbled along, practically feeling our way back to town. A mid-autumn chill swept out of the north as the evening breeze passed through the trees with a vile hiss. Branches both bare and leaf strewn, rattled around us like dry bones dancing in the solemn void. For a while, time and distance seemed to have no meaning, there were no woods, no stars in the night sky to secure a solid sense of what was real; it was only us and the darkness which even I began to feel was alive. Somewhere nearby a twig snapped under the weight of an unknown presence, though in that disorienting darkness, it could have very well been one of us. Brad jumped with a start at the sudden intrusion on the hollow emptiness that had enveloped us, and even I couldn’t shake the incredible sense of ominous foreboding that had come over our surroundings. The woods, so familiar to us, had become an alien landscape with which we had no affiliation in the shadowy folds of impenetrable night. It was like something had taken our beloved place of escape and made it its own.
We made it home in one piece, though the journey seemed to take forever. To look at Brad though, you’d have thought he had run the whole way. He was pale, and despite the chill, he was drenched in a cold sweat and shuddered visibly as he fought to calm himself. If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn that I heard his heart pounding in his chest, as if it wanted to break free of its cage and fly far, far away. After what felt like an eternity, I managed to help Brad calm his nerves before going inside. Mom and Dad asked us why we had been late for dinner. I told them that we had gotten turned around on one of the trails up near Devil’s Whispers, and didn’t make it out of the woods before night fell.
“Well mister,” Mom responded matter-of-factly, “if you’re going to go tromping around in those woods near sundown, you’d best be taking a flashlight.”
“Got it, Mom,” I replied with a sheepish grin. After all, I wasn’t going to argue with her; it was actually pretty sound advice. If we’d have had a flashlight with us this evening, Brad may not have gotten so freaked out.
“Now, go wash up and get ready for supper,” she stated with a tone that said she meant business.
We ate our dinner, cleaned the dishes, and got ready to settle in for the night. I was playing my Super Nintendo when Brad knocked at my door. I bade him to come in and join me as I battled against the alien forces of Red Falcon in “Contra III”, an offer I knew he couldn’t refuse. Together we waged war on the enemy forces and saved the earth from a hostile alien invasion. Once more we were big brother and little brother acting crazy, laughing, joking, and cutting up as we played one game after another.
We were in the middle of a game of “Super Double Dragon” when Dad came in and told us that it was time for bed. Brad and I heaved a heavy sigh as the disappointment of having to stop a game in mid run bore down upon us.
“Don’t worry guys,” he said reassuringly, “there’s only one more day before Friday, and then you can stay up all night playing games if you want.” He ducked back out the door, but not before adding that he might even order us our own pizza for the night if we didn’t dally around. It was a bribe; we knew, but Dad was just cool with us like that.
“Jake,” Brad said as he got up from the floor at the foot of the bed, “I’m sorry for freaking out like I did in the woods.” There was a look in his eye, something forlorn, distant- something I couldn’t place a finger on, but it didn’t occur to me, at that moment that this would be the last night, like that, my brother and I would ever share.
“It’s okay, little bro,” I responded, giving him a playful punch on the shoulder; “that’s what your big brother’s here for.” I looked up and noticed that he was giving me a despondent smile- one that formed an icy pit in my stomach, though at the time I just couldn’t figure out why. “Don’t worry,” I reassured him, “I’ll get to the bottom of this goblin business, find out who’s scaring you, and make them stop.” I regarded him with a confident smile, which he returned with a half-hearted smirk before trudging out the door. I could hear his footsteps slogging down the hall to his room, and then his door as it closed behind him. Little did I know, that Brad had said his final good-bye in those last moments we spent playing games.
Dreams had claimed me in moments, taking me away to dark woodlands where I called for my little brother, but he was nowhere to be found. Strange rustling sounds echoed in the shadows surrounding me, sometimes rustling like leaves, others like whispered laughter that mocked my plight. In the distance, I heard someone calling me. At first I thought it a trick of the mysterious woodland, however all too soon the voice became clear. It was Brad. He was pleading for me to help him, but then it all went silent.
The silence was so deafening that I awoke with a start. My heart pounded like thunder in my ear drums, overruling even the slightest sound. So, I laid there, waiting for my heart to slow down in the wake of that most bizarre dream. The lights were out, and not a soul stirred as I listened to the sound of my own breathing. There was an ominous presence in the house; one that I had not felt in all my years, save for when I feared the monster that lurked in my closet- a monster that only lived in the darkest corners of my imagination. Something tapped at the window, nearly making my heart skip a beat by its sudden intrusion. A side long glance revealed it to be nothing more than the old maple tree swaying in the wind. Without another thought on it, I rolled over and attempted to get back to sleep. No sooner than I neared the realms of sleep, I was snapped back to consciousness by a strange shuffling outside my door. It was almost as if someone had let a wild animal loose in the hallway, though I knew we didn’t have inside animals. From somewhere down the hall, I heard the muffled cry of someone struggling for help.
“Jake…” help,” cried the muffled voice of my little brother!
“Brad,” I gasped as I tore out of the blankets and threw open my door! There were strange shadows rushing about the hall- shadows that most would chalk up to the wind outside blowing the skeletal limbs of the trees, only these were something else entirely. There was a vague humanoid formation to these ghastly silhouettes, a grotesque mockery of all things good and living. It was as if something had taken the ideal of humanity and corrupted it into a sheer mongrel of what it should have been- a perversion of the natural world as if it had been fashioned by the whims of a madman in opiate depression. At that moment, I knew without a doubt that Brad was in trouble. I rushed into my room and grabbed the first weapon I could get my hands on- an old hockey stick that Brad and I used to smack walnuts off of Devil’s Whispers. It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but at the moment, that old hockey stick was better than nothing.
As I tore back down the hall, it occurred to me that Mom and Dad had not come to Brad’s aid. Why were they still sleeping when Brad was being attacked by God only knows what these things were? The creatures, goblins as Brad had called them, turned to look at me, their eyes full of malice, and wicked grins flashing with rows of jagged teeth before disappearing into the shadowy folds of Brad’s room. I made a dash for my brother’s door only to be dragged down by a shaggy creature that seemed like something out of a mad scientist’s laboratory. Grubby fingers gripped my legs with an iron grasp, forcing a squeal of pain from my lips. Without thinking, I turned and struck out with the old hockey stick. Expecting the makeshift weapon to pass right through the creature, I was thoroughly surprised when it crashed into the side of my assailant’s head. The strange creature howled with pain as it let go of me to grab its wounded noggin. Not willing to waste anymore time, I scrambled to my feet and raced into the waiting shadows of my brother’s room.
“Mom… Dad,” I cried as found myself gazing upon the horrid scene before me; “help!” No less than a dozen creatures like the one that I left back in the hallway were gathered around an odd sack that writhed with a life of its own. All at once it dawned on me- Brad was in that sack! There was still no answer from our parents- it was almost as if they could not hear us at all. With both rage and fear for my little brother to spur me on, I leapt into their midst. The hockey stick became the instrument of my despair as I tore into the creatures with every ounce of rage, hate and terror that coursed through my very being. The mongrel-like creatures scattered to get away from the bite of my nasty bludgeon and, for a moment, I thought that I had them beat. The room was empty save only for the sack containing my little brother.
“Don’t worry, Brad,” I stated confidently, if just more than a little freaked; “I’ll get you outta this thing!”
“Jake? Jake!” Brad’s muffled voice emerged from within the sack. “Help; get me outta this thing before the goblins take me!”
“I will, Brad,” I replied as I fumbled with the closure; “don’t worry; they’re gone. I chased them away with that old hockey stick!” Give me just a minute and I’ll have you outta this sack!”
“Don’t let them fool you, Jake,” Brad said from within the sackcloth folds, “the goblins are crafty; they’ll trick you if you’re not careful!”
“It’s okay Brad, I chased them away,” I reassured him.
“That’s what they want you to believe,” Brad responded his voice shaky from the traumatic events, “just hurry and get me outta here!”
At last I freed the rope that was holding the sack closed. The top opened with little to no effort, and I knew that Brad could himself the rest of the way out. So, to buy him some time, I turned and faced the door, ready to fight off any creatures, goblins, or whatever they were while Brad climbed out of their sack. All at once I got this overwhelming feeling, as if something was gnawing at my mind. The goblins, as Brad had called them, had gathered around the door, watching… waiting- for what, I didn’t know. I heard the sack fall to the floor and turned to ask Brad what was going on, only to stop as I came face to face with a ghastly visage that bore no resemblance to my brother. A shaggy bearded face that bordered the porcine, complete with the snout and ears, and wide-set beady eyes glowered at me with malign glee. He held his misshapen hand- if that was what it could be called for it was so deformed that it bore little resemblance to that common human appendage- before his snout and spoke in such a way that the voice would forever haunt my nightmares.
“I warned you, Jake; I told you that they were tricky,” it said in Brad’s voice, but then the voice grew darker, deeper, and more menacing as it began to laugh mockingly at me. “Don’t worry, Jake,” it said tauntingly, “it’s only a dream; after all, goblins don’t exist, right?” The mongoloid-like creature sneered at me, opened its misshapen hand and blew. At once a powdery substance flew into my face, and the room began to swirl. I fought to retain my consciousness, but I was no match for the powdery substance which invaded my body and mind. I felt the hockey stick fall from my fingers, as a sluggish demeanor fell over me.
“Where’sh my brudder,” I tried to demand, though it came out merely garbled blubbering as my senses faded? I didn’t feel my legs give away, nor did I feel my head bounce off of the floor, as darkness closed in about me. The blackness of sleep claimed me, and I was powerless to stop it.
When I woke the next morning, I was in the comfort of my bed. Everything appeared to be as it had been the day before. My hockey stick was back by my door where I had grabbed it the night before, almost as if it had been there the whole time. Maybe- I dared to think- maybe it was all just a dream. A dream induced by the estranged conversation with Brad about goblins, a walk through the deepened twilight of night infused woodlands, and the windstorm that blew through during the night. Yes, I dared to believe it was all a bad dream… that is until I heard my mother’s cry. At once I tore out of the bed, remembering how I had bounded into action merely hours before. My father threw the door open before I got to it, a look of anguish wadding his face into an unrecognizable mass.
“Jake,” Dad pleaded, as he rushed into my room, “do you know where Brad is?” The look on my face gave him his answer, and he all but collapsed onto the floor. “Where’s your brother- do you have any idea where he could have gone?”
The look on his face stole my very resolve. I shook my head slowly, as the events of mere hours before came rolling into my mind. How could I even begin to explain to him that Brad was gone forever, taken by something that for all manners shouldn’t even exist? A thousand questions roiled in my mind, threatening to drive me mad as none of them offered any sensible explanation as to what had transpired during those uncertain moments that would forever be etched into my mind. I wanted to comfort him, but what could I say? I felt the moisture gathering around the base of my eyes and tried to blink the tears away before Dad knew that I wasn’t saying what all I knew. I placed my hand on his shoulder and apologized, still not understanding why they didn’t hear the uncanny events that took place the night before. He returned the gesture, a look of pain washed over him as though the gravity of Brad’s disappearance had bore down on him.
I lowered my head as I saw the anguish in his eyes, then turned and trudged out of the room. My feet carried me down the hall to Brad’s room, where Mom just sat on the bed staring out the open window and holding Brad’s pillow in her arms like one would a teddy bear. Worry creased her face and tear streaks stained her cheeks, as she mumbled silently to herself. I regarded her with a cocked eyebrow; a look that she knew reflected my lack of understanding of the situation.
“Did he say anything to you,” she asked out of the blue? My face contorted into a look of confusion. “Did he mention anything about running away, Jake?” Her gaze came to rest upon me as though I might have some answer that she was missing. The truth was, I did have answers, but it was not anything she was going to want to hear.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Mom” I answered wondering if I should tell her about Brad’s worries?
“You and he were up at Devils Whispers till after dark yesterday,” she urged the conversation onward. “Did he tell you he was running away?” She presented a note that was written in Brad’s handwriting, a note that caught me unawares. They had covered their tracks to make Brad’s abduction seem like a runaway case.
“Brad would never run away, Mom,” I said firmly, “this note is crap; it’s not even his!” By that time tears were running down my face and Mom knew there was indeed more to the story. At first I refused to talk about it, trying to make them understand that, what I was going to have to tell them I had a hard time believing myself even though I saw it happen, but when they got infuriated with me for not getting on with the story, I had no choice. It all came out in a rush, like too much water forced through a small hose. I told them of how he felt like he was being followed since Halloween, how he heard odd rustlings, in the underbrush alongside the roads near dark. I told them of the rapping, tapping, and scratching at his windows and all he had told me. I even told of the events both in the trails near Devils Whispers and the taking of my brother last night. When it was all said, you could hear a pin drop. To this day I don’t know if they thought I was kidding, whether they believed me, or if they even checked for themselves; for after that day, they really didn’t speak to me again.
For several months after Brad’s disappearance, Mom and Dad made and posted missing child posters, appeared on talk shows and special news reports. They were even approached by Hollywood producers who looked to make a film about Brad’s disappearance to help spark some new light on the matter while they profited from our tragedy. Our family never fully recovered from that fateful night; my parents and I grew farther apart, and that spring I graduated from high school. I spent my summer traveling to nearly every library and occult bookstore on the east coast, hoping beyond hope that I could find a way to bring my little brother home again- if he was even still alive. Despite my extensive research, I found nothing that would lead me any closer to finding my little brother, for no one knew anything about what I was looking for, and those few who did only glanced around nervously, then refused to talk about the matter. By the time I went to college, I had nearly driven myself insane, obsessed with the search to answer the odd questions that always seemed to remain just beyond my grasp.
You see, I too was once a skeptic, but I quickly became a believer after when I saw the creatures that took my brother. They weren’t human; shoot, they weren’t even associated with anything of this world, but they were crafty. They made sure that Mom and Dad wouldn’t wake up when they were taking Brad from his room, only I figure, I woke up before they could do the same to me. Now, here I am years later, talking to you. Oh don’t worry, I can tell by the look on your face, you know exactly what I am talking about.
You are no stranger to the odd sounds, the feeling of being watched when it appears that no one is around, and more importantly, judging by the way you glance around every time something moves just at the edge of the woods, you know what it is to be followed by something you can’t see. So take it from a man who lost his brother by not listening to reason even when it seems like nonsense. They’re after you too. Safeguard your house against evil. Here’s a bag, stop at the graveyard by the old chapel just down the road and gather dust from the headstones. When you get home sprinkle the cemetery dust about your windows and doors. According to legend, this will bar their entry for a time. When you are out after dark, sprinkle it behind you and it will make them lose your trail. This is the only defense I have to offer; I know it sounds ridiculous, but according to all the research I have conducted over the years, it is as sound a plan as any.
Oh, yes it is beginning to get dark; you’d better be on your way. Make sure that you get that cemetery dust like I told you. I don’t know if you believe me or not but either way I hope you find the answers you’re looking for. Well I’d best be going myself. You take care now, and do as I told you, but be warned- The Goblins’ll get ya, if ya don’t watch out.