13 Jan “I’m an Arctic Explorer and I’ve Found an Abandoned Toy Workshop” – Creepypasta
“When did they arrive?” Maggie appeared through the blizzard like a ghost, her footsteps and profile having been hidden by the sheets of snow and ice falling all around us. I didn’t jump, and once I realised she was looking at the cigarette in my hand, I merely nodded and offered her one. She surprised me by taking it and we stood quietly, eyes fixed on the spot on the horizon where we knew the ship was lying perfectly preserved.
“I had HQ send a drone over with more appropriate supplies,” I said.
“So we’re definitely staying then? Sebastian must be beside himself,” Maggie replied, following it up with a quiet chuckle.
“He’s certainly looking itchy,” I replied. “But personally I’d be fine never looking another piece of suet in the eye.”
“Utter torture,” she groaned, shaking her head. “I’ve been jogging ten miles every morning since I was 17, but these last few days have been something else. He just thrives off it though, doesn’t he?”
“It’s his schtick,” I replied. “What he does. He only agreed because he thought we’d never find the damn thing, and it’d be two weeks of solid trekking through Arctic winter. But he has his own fund-raising to do, and he needs to work up interest with littler treks like this one.”
“5000 calories a day,” Maggie said. “I don’t know how anyone could do it for fun.”
“Well at least the new supplies are better suited to camp-life. Plus,” I gestured with the cigarette in my hand as it burned down to the final few embers, “we can slip in a few little amenities now we don’t have to haul every last pound behind us.”
Maggie took a final draw and handed me the butt when she was done. I had an empty can of coke I was using to keep them in, personally unwilling to throw them willy nilly onto the ground.
“The ice is safe,” she told me, dropping a bomb like it was nothing. “In fact, it’s a few miles thick. We’ve just got the full satellite data through and… well, it’s quite intriguing.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“It’s not alone. There’s something else a day’s hike North. Hard, hollow, and big. I wanted to double check before I told you. It’s certainly a very odd finding.”
“Well we’ve got the ship to explore for now,” I said. “If Sebastian feels like it, he can burn off some calories checking out the second signal.”
I watched Maggie disappear back into the grey wind before returning to my own tent. Sitting down on my cot I contemplated the news she’d just delivered. My eyes drifted to the horizon again and again as I turned the words over in my mind. The ship was safe to board. The ship I’d spent years writing about, publishing papers on, researching… Hell, there was a scale model of the damn thing in my living room I’d made by hand as a young post-doc.
The Pinafore was lost with all hands during a barely discussed attempt at finding the Northwest passage. Standing at 80 feet long it was a Caravel, and thus one of the first European ships capable of Oceanic crossings. I’d spent years postulating that it was still frozen in the ice, just like the infamous ghost ship, the HMS Terror. A comparison I happily played up after the success of the fictional novel and tv show based on the lost Franklin expedition. One wealthy benefactor later and I was equipped with more money than my whole department had seen in years, along with the testy, but experienced, guide Sebastian. And somehow, against all odds, we found it after a brutal 7 day hike. Ever since I’d first spotted the mast from miles away, I’d been vibrating with barely contained excitement.
Knowing it was out there just waiting, well… I had no hope of getting to sleep. I stood up from my cot and grabbed a torch but kept it off, letting my eyes adjust to the dark as I checked camp for any signs of life. Certain that I was alone, I began my walk. It wasn’t a long way to go. We’d camped a few hundred metres away to keep clear in case the ship was at risk of cracking the ice, unlikely as that was. Still, it was dark and I got turned pretty bad after a few minutes. Even with my torch I started to feel the first twinges of panic, but I kept at it until, after twenty minutes of nervous fumbling, I finally saw the mast once more.
It was a barely glimpsed shape in the dark, a patch of white overhead that caught my torch and made me jump. Lowering the light brought the rest of the ship into view, and for a split-second I was dumbstruck with awe. The ship was close enough to nearly touch, and while I’ve seen bigger ships before and since, something about it made me feel breath-takingly small. It was as if the groaning of the ice beneath my feet belonged to the ship, and not the weather, like it was some great nautical beast crying out to me.
This ship had left shore in 1543 and never returned. And yet the word Pinafore was still written along its side, engraved in gorgeous detail on a plinth as long as I am tall. And right there, just a few feet away, was a ladder that enabled entry. I tried the wood and could have cried when I found it held my weight. I got two rungs up before I fell back down and bloodied my lip on the hull. I didn’t let it stop me. Even as the weather threatened to freeze me to the spot, I clumsily forced my way overboard and collapsed onto the deck shouting my laughter into the blizzard.
No one would be able to hear me anyway.
The ship was like black volcanic rock encased in glittering ice. Here and there bits of rigging and wood jutted out, so cold I’d imagine it would tear the skin right of my hand if I touched it. I marvelled at the sight of it all and made a slow and deliberate circle of the deck, letting out a tremendous laugh of joy when I saw the helm was still intact, wheel and all. I thought I would stop there but as the minutes ticked on it wasn’t enough. And when my foot caught the trapdoor that leading to below deck, I found my hand moving towards the latch before I’d had a single conscious thought.
It wasn’t easy to open, taking maybe an hour or two. But all things considered, it wasn’t as hard as it ought to have been. And when the door finally slammed open, landing on the deck with a terrible thunderclap it revealed a set of steps descending into total darkness. At the sight of it, I felt a small catch form at the back of my throat. The rigging of this ship had been snapped, the beams and masts broken and gouged, the wood splintered…
I was walking into a tomb.
The arctic is an alien place, the geography profoundly different to what we’re used to. Great obelisks of glistening white rock rise metres into the air, walls of snow lie ready to collapse, and a landscape rendered in pure blank white appears to the human eye as faintly abstract, almost surreal. The ground is not solid rock, but floating ice, and below it lies one of the most hostile and unknown oceans in the world. An ocean that is forever ever cut off from sunlight.
I took one last look around at the starlit deck and descended into the ship, the roaring wind fading to a whistle as I ducked below. The stairs led to a small hold with a single corridor that carried on to the fore of the ship where I knew I’d find the captain’s quarters. My intention was to head right there and ignore the little things along the way, except what lay in wait for me in the hold was no little thing.
I screamed when I first saw the head. It was a gaunt, eyeless, leathery thing twisted into a frozen grin of pain. A gnarled hand reached out towards me and I let out another shriek and fell backwards, sending the torch spinning out where it finally settled on the monstrosity before me. The scream died as I realised slowly that the thing was not moving, and it was not a single thing. A dozen heads lay crammed together, arms and fingerless hands shoved out in awkward angles, as if they were desperately groping for something that lay just out of reach. It was a pile of bodies, their limbs and torsos interwoven in a bone breaking display of torture and mutilation.
I let the mortal terror drain away but lost all desire to stay for a moment longer. I grabbed the torch with quivering hands and turned back towards the way I came. That was when the hatch slammed shut, and I found another scream of terror rising in my throat.
“Couldn’t have called me?” Craig said as I sat shivering under a foil blanket. I was clutching a small cup of hot chocolate, which Craig supplemented with a shot of Brandy when no one else was looking. I thanked him with an appreciative nod. “You know I would have given anything to be there with you,” he added.
“Then you’re as stupid as he is,” Maggie said, stepping down onto the ice as Sebastian started to follow her. “If I hadn’t wanted another cigarette I would never have realised you were missing. You’d have been trapped in there all night with that thing.”
Craig looked at Maggie and she nodded.
“Holy shit,” he said. “I’ve gotta go look.”
“Let him,” I said just as Maggie went to stop him. She rolled her eyes but let him go and Craig rushed off, catching Sebastian just as he took the final step down from the ship.
“This could have gone so much worse,” she said, expecting no reply. I imagined that would be the end of the matter, and I looked up eagerly when Sebastian sidled up to join the conversation.
“I uh… I owe you a bit of an apology there David,” he said, looking a little too pale around the edges. “When I heard you screaming, I thought it had been the hatch slamming shut and you were just scared. But Jesus, that is… no one wants to be locked in the dark with that thing. What the hell is it?”
“The crew?” I suggested. “Shame we didn’t bring any biologists with us.”
“Your toys can help with that, right?” Sebastian said. “You’ve got drones coming and going so often we could set up a department store.”
“We can take samples and return, maybe set up a video feed,” Maggie replied. “As a meteorologist, I definitely feel a little out of my wheelhouse. What about you?”
She asked me the last part, and I tried to think of whether anything I’d ever encountered came close to what I saw in the hold of that ship. When nothing came to mind, I shook my head.
“One fucked up Christmas tree,” Sebastian said with a dark laugh and I felt a shiver run down my back at his words. It really had resembled some kind of tree, and I filed the thought away in my head hoping it wouldn’t pop back up the next time I put my own tree up in my living room. “Hey,” he cried. “Maybe you can hook the drones up to it and just fly the whole thing back to town.”
Sebastian really didn’t like the drones. If he’d had his own way he would have had has doing the expedition with dogs and seal-fur boots just like his ancestors.
“That reminds me,” I said. “Maggie has something to show you. I think you might like it.”
We were told the worst thing to do was to touch or move it, so we didn’t. The mountain of frozen flesh and withered bone was obscured from view with some make-shift curtains Craig threw together, and we carried on working like it wasn’t there. Craig and Maggie took photos and made an inventory of every object we could find, carefully labelling and categorising each tong and blade for later expeditions. I tried to pour through these items to find something that might give a clue to the ship’s final fate.
A dozen or so men crewed the ship in its prime including a surgeon, a cook, a smith, and a cartographer. We found faded broken letters that spoke of mothers and wives, small figures sculpted from whalebone, and ancient bottles of homebrewed spirits stashed away under pillows. The ship’s surgeon and resident scholar even had quite the collection of shells that he’d carefully labelled. Here and there we also found a patch of floor stained suspiciously in the dark, or a blade embedded in a door or wall, but we tried to ignore the implication of violence.
The captain’s quarters were… well they were odd. I concluded that the ship had disappeared close to Christmas given the sprig of holly fixed to the ceiling. A small concession the captain had made to the season. But the desk was smashed in two, rope and twine lay all around the floor, and drag marks were visible along the wood along with a few scattered fingernails. There was also a discharged musket under the desk, along with a solitary half-gnawed human finger that lay close by. In the doctor’s quarters I saw that the cabinets were bare of the usual oils and tinctures employed at the time (useless as they would have been), though his diary spoke of nothing spreading amongst the crew.
There was a lifetime of work, and the details we captured guaranteed more funding than I could have ever imagined. We had our ghost ship, we had our thrilling and creepy details, and we had one great big inexplicable pile of corpses that would boggle some of the greatest researchers in the University. It was a little scary, but otherwise it was good news.
Sebastian had departed the day before and checked in regularly for the first twelve hours or so. After that he went silent, which we put down to the poor weather or his general single-mindedness. At the twenty-four-hour mark Maggie became a little itchy, and when she pointed out the silence to Craig and I, we found ourselves sharing her concern. We decided to try calling him on the radio and waited silently for his reply.
What came was a discordant series of clicks and heavy breathing.
“Sebastian?” Maggie asked. “Are you okay?”
But there was only the strange hiss of the radio broken by the occasional breath or scrape.
“Sebastian?” She cried. “Please respond!?”
We tried for hours until, eventually, his radio stopped returning any signal. Craig figured it may have died, or maybe Sebastian had turned it off and started ignoring us. But something about the strange noises had left us all feeling a little nervous. Maggie suggested that he’d just activated the radio by accident and we were hearing the sounds of his walking, but the breathing felt close and ragged, almost-animalistic like a man approaching death. Still, it was the best theory we had, and we agreed to wait a little longer.
The following twelve hours were tense. Eventually we stopped working and returned to camp, where we tried to contact Sebastian with a more powerful radio and updated HQ to let them know. The ship that trailed us along the coast sent a few drones over the area Sebastian was meant to be and reported no visible signs of the man. No big surprise there, we figured, given just how hard it’d be to find anything in the tundra. But the pit in my stomach grew heavier with each hour that passed without us hearing back from our guide.
After 48 hours it was decided we’d have to go look for Sebastian ourselves. We were moderately experienced in hiking and the spot shouldn’t have been more than a six hour ride away. It was Sebastian who had insisted on making the journey by foot, always eager to push himself to the limit, and chances were it had led him to some kind of misfortune.
“Is that a door?” Craig asked.
“I think it is,” I answered.
Maggie was on her hands and knees staring at the door that was no taller than my waist and embedded in a snowy banking. I reached out and rubbed away the ice and snow around the doorframe revealing a wall made of crudely stacked slabs of wood as thick as my torso.
“Who the fuck put a door here?” he asked.
“It goes deeper,” Maggie replied, hands cupped around her face as she peered through a small window set into the door. “I think I can see stairs going down.”
“Are we sure Sebastian was here?” I asked.
“Almost definitely,” Maggie answered, holding up a small shred of blue fabric that had been jammed into the door frame. It was the same unmistakeable baby blue of Sebastian’s wind-breaker.
“He’s not the only one,” Craig said, reaching into the snow to pull out a wooden knife bearing the Pinafore’s seal. “Looks like our ancient explorers came this way as well. And I don’t think it ended well.” I took the knife and noticed a faint trim of rust-brown red spattered along the edge.
“We’ll have to mark our path for the future,” I said. “And GPS tag this whole area for full excavation at a later date.” Maggie nodded and took the knife to add it to our inventory while Craig and I worked on opening the door. It took a little effort, but quickly popped open and swung inwards with a spine-tingling squeal.
The building had a roof so low we had to duck. The beams above us were roughhewn trunks with still-visible bark preserved by God-knows-how-long spent in the arctic tundra. It was a like a makeshift cabin, the kind of thing you’d find in the Canadian or Nordic wilderness. It had the sturdy appearance of Viking construction, and Maggie noted a few strange runes stitched across the inner doorway that I couldn’t translate or properly recognise, but they seemed faintly familiar nonetheless. The room itself was a good twenty by twenty metres with a worktop that ran along three of the walls. Maggie shuffled over and picked up one of the stools that was tucked neatly under the countertop, and holding it up, she showed it to be no bigger than my forearm.
“What the fuck?” she muttered.
“Is this a fucking joke?” Craig cried, calling our attention to a small wooden object he held in his hands. It was a hedgehog, or a carving of one, with little wheels instead of legs so it could be rolled along the ground.
“Could be some kind of fetish,” I mumbled, swallowing a knot of anxiety in my throat.
“It’s a fuckin’ toy!” Craig cried, laughing at the ridiculousness. “Is this some kind of prank Dave? Is this some fucked up PR stunt by the University because if it is, I’m not going to be happy.”
“I don’t know what this is,” I said. “But I’m not in on it, and if any of you are I’d appreciate you saying now.”
“Sebastian, maybe?” Maggie said, a quiver entering her voice. She was holding up one of his shoes, the fabric half torn, and the insides splashed with still wet blood. “Maybe this is all his doing? He was assigned to us by the University.”
I knocked a fist against the wall and I realised I could shatter my hands against that wood and not put so much as a dent in it.
“Seems elaborate for a prank,” I said. “We should work on the assumption that Sebastian needs our help. And if this is a joke, we can kick his ass afterwards.”
“Amen,” Maggie replied, and together we walked towards the nearby stairs. Footprints were visible in the thin layer of snow that had drifted into the building over the years, and we knew that if Sebastian was near then he must be somewhere below.
“I haven’t seen this before,” Craig said. “This kind of material.”
He was holding a toy horse crudely put together out of basic cylinders and squares. The material that covered it was a velvety sort of leather that was strangely soft despite the ice cold temperature. He turned it over in his hand and we both noticed a faded blue patch. I watched him squint at it for a few moments, and I reached out and gestured for him to put it down.
“What is it?” he asked ignoring my suggestion.
“It’s Erasmus,” I said, my voice a little hoarse. “The patron saint of sailors. You should put that thing down.”
“Why would someone paint that onto a toy?”
“They wouldn’t,” I replied. “But they would almost certainly have tattooed it onto the arm of a 16th Century sailor.”
His eyes went wide and he dropped the toy with a disgusted cry.
“Fucking hell!” he cried.
“That’s not all,” Maggie said. “I think this is bone.” She held up a small carving of the baby Jesus, no larger than my thumb, made out of a yellowing ivory. “Any guesses as to where it may have come from?”
“Many arctic cultures make carvings out of seal bone,” I suggested.
“How many of them make fucking toys in a workshop built for hobbits!?” Craig cried. “Am I the only one who wants to pin the tail on the donkey and make the connection here?”
“Do you have any ideas?” Maggie asked, looking over towards me.
I shook my head.
“Maybe an old European colony,” I said. “Someone came out here to try and… I don’t know. Some religious fanatics maybe? Someone who wanted to recreate the myth?”
“Out of human skin?” Craig asked. “And where the fuck is Sebastian?”
The floor we were on was a lot busier than the last, crammed full of desks and tools for woodworking and carving, many of which lay strewn about the floor. Somewhere below us the walls must have collapsed and that was where the ice was coming from, as the snow that covered the floor was noticeably thicker here than above. We found no obvious sign of Sebastian except for some signs of disturbance amongst the snow that led, once again, to another set of stairs descending into darkness.
“That bodes poorly,” Craig muttered.
Sebastian’s ice-pick was embedded in the floor up to the hilt. A few strands of hair were still threaded around the blade, along with some coils of rope identical to the kind in the Pinafore.
“As does that,” Maggie said, gesturing to the Christmas tree. Not only had the toys in this part of the building grown more demented, depicting men with huge phalluses and women tearing their breasts open to reveal ribs and lungs and hearts, but an ancient, withered tree stood dominating the centre of the room. Its limbs were decorated with withered black prunes and charcoal rope that would have been familiar to anyone who’s seen what centuries of decay can do to frozen human remains. The baubles were organs, the tinsel intestines, left out to freeze dry over centuries of exposure. One of the baubles, however, was fresh, making red velvet slush of the ice below.
“What is it?” Craig asked.
“I think it’s a kidney,” I said. Steam was rising from the dripping piece of offal that sagged from the tree branch. “It’s still warm too.”
“The eyes on that doll,” Craig said, swallowing nervously in the cold. “Do they look familiar to you?”
I turned to the toy he was staring at, its haunted face lit up by the intense beam of his torch. Its expression was remarkably well carved, seeming almost life-life were it not for the obvious colouration of hardwood. The eyes, however, were far too human, and the irises a crystal blue that was, indeed, quite familiar. Unable to ignore his curiosity, Craig reached out and gently poked the glassy orbs.
Only they weren’t glassy. They were soft. And Craig’s finger came away with a faint trickle of viscous fluid that lingered on his skin.
“They’re still warm too,” he gagged. “Oh God they’re his. They have to be!”
We did, eventually, find Sebastian. He was alive in a sense, although on his very last breath. He had been cracked open like a Turkey and left to air in the freezing cold. His skin and bones were pulled apart with expert precision, his face a pallid mask of terror. He was conscious but could only wail and cry. Blinded and terrified, he initially tore his hand away when Maggie reached out and took it. He was naked, seconds away from freezing to death. And Craig almost draped his coat over him instinctively but stopped at the realisation it would be resting directly on top of his exposed chest cavity.
He was alive for no more than a minute as we crouched there. He did not speak, no matter how often we asked our desperate and frightened questions. The only sense we got of what he was going through was the relief that passed over his face when he finally died, as if he had awoken at last from a terrible nightmare and was free of the terror.
“I thought ol’ Nick was a saint,” Craig said, wiping the snot and tears from his face after we’d all had a good cry. “If this is his workshop it’s a pretty fucked up place.”
“Could be some lunatic who’s settled up here,” Maggie said. “Some serial killer with a demented Christmas fixation?”
“Doesn’t explain the sailors,” I replied. “The knife by the door, the tree, the toys so clearly made out of their remains. How could that be a serial killer?”
“So what are we saying exactly?” Craig asked. “Santa’s elves went off the straight and narrow? Is that it? What the fuck does any of this even mean?”
“Does it matter?” Maggie replied. “We need to get Sebastian back to basecamp and then we need to get out of here, ASAP.”
“Sebastian might not be an option,” I said, looking over the still steaming remains of his corpse. “I don’t know about you but I don’t want to spend another second longer in this place. And as awful as it might seem, we have to weigh up our responsibilities to the dead against our responsibilities to the still living.”
“You mean us,” Maggie said.
“Yes.” I nodded. “I mean us. We won’t help him by hauling him up four floors and across fifteen miles of open Arctic tundra. But we can at least make our lives a little easier by getting on with it and calling in help as soon as possible.”
“What are we going to tell them?” Craig asked.
“We’ll figure it out,” I replied.
We returned to camp a few hours later, taking a few of the less-terrifying artifacts for testing. The ride back was a silent and eerie affair, and Craig mentioned more than once he was thankful it was still light. We managed, with some effort, to get back just as the sun was setting. Watching the approaching night cast a dreary gloom across the magnificent tundra, I found myself agreeing with him. All of us wanted to be somewhere safe, somewhere secure. And the thin tents of our camp offered little enough protection against the elements, let alone whatever else may lie beyond. But they were the best that we had. As if to emphasise this point, when I arrived I noticed them flapping in the wind and dreaded the night I’d spend int here.
“How long till the secondary team arrive?” Maggie asked.
“A few days,” Craig replied. “We could ride out ourselves using the snowmobiles but I don’t fancy my chances without Sebastian. Not to mention…”
He left his words hanging in the air. I knew what he wanted to say. Not to mention whatever else may be out there.
“It’s going to be a long wait,” Maggie said.
“It is,” I replied.
We all spent the night in the same tent, listening to the storm pick up until it felt like we were an island alone in the endless dark. At one point we were woken up to the sound of something outside, and we waited carefully until it stopped. I don’t remember when I fell asleep, but it must have been late. I couldn’t have slept more than a few hours before Maggie was shaking me awake to the blinding light of morning.
“David!” she cried. “Craig’s gone! He’s gone! I can’t find him anywhere!”
I threw myself out of my sleeping bag and crawled out of the tent. In one swift movement I took in the destroyed equipment and torn open tents. Something had come sniffing through our camp, and it hadn’t stopped looking until it found what it wanted.
“Do you think it was a bear?” Maggie cried. “With the ice shelf melting they’re coming farther and farther in land every year and there have been more than a few—”
She stopped when she saw me bend over and pick something up. I held it up for us both to see – a piece of rope made of rough-hewn twine unlike anything we’d brought with us. It was an exact copy of the kind I’d found lying around the Pinafore and the floor of the workshop, except this one was stained with a bright red patch of blood.
“Fuck,” she whispered. “Where do you think he went?”
The storm had cleared up and the morning air was so crisp we could see the mast of the Pinafore all the way from camp.
“You don’t think…?”
“I do,” I said. “Look, the snow is disturbed along the path. Maybe if he was lost or confused and got lost, he might have relied on the markers we left to find his way to the ship.
“You know what Craig would say right now, don’t you?” Maggie asked. “He’d say that’s bullshit.”
“Let’s hope he’d be wrong,” I replied.
We were half-way there when we found the box. It had been gift-wrapped and left alone in the middle of our path, its top clear of snow. Small footprints, the size of a child’s, led away from it back towards the Pinafore.
“This is too weird,” Maggie said.
I bent down and noticed the name tag etched with meticulous cursive. Wilcuma Géowineus, it read.
“Welcome old friends,” I said, doing my best to translate. “It’s Old English.”
I pulled on the twine that bound the plain brown paper around the box, and the whole package unwrapped with elaborate ease. Each face of the box fell down one by one, and Maggie let out a terrible cry.
“Oh God!” she shrieked. “What the fuck!?”
It was Sebastian’s head, his mouth stuffed with blood-sogged straw while his hollow eyes glared at us with terrible pain.
“Craig,” Maggie cried, her hands cupped around her mouth as she yelled into the open door of the Pinafore’s deck. “Craig!” There were no more gifts lying in wait for us aboard the ship, and no sign of our friend on the deck. At one point I nearly told Maggie that he was probably in the hold, where it’d be safe and warm. But the words died in my throat. I couldn’t keep clinging to such a hopeless idea.
“Come on,” I said weakly. “Let’s head down.”
The hold was unchanged since we were last aboard. The pile of corpses entwined in a desperate orgy of violence still stood over everything else in the room. Something about the eyeless faces burned its way into my skull, and once again I wondered how exactly they’d suffered such a horrible fate.
Maggie and I were silent in our search for Craig. I couldn’t bring myself to cry out for him, and neither could Maggie. It felt useless, and some small part of me kept telling myself to stay small and quiet, hidden from view. Don’t call attention to yourself, it said. Don’t cry out.
We checked each one of the ship’s rooms – every quarter, every hold, every cupboard and closet. Until at last we both converged on the Captain’s quarters, and our breath caught in our chests as we noticed the door wide open. Craig’s clothes were in a pile, a few metres past the threshold.
“Craig!” Maggie cried, rushing forward. I nearly joined her, but at the last second some flicker of motion stopped me. Before I could warn her, Maggie she was on the other side, reaching down. The door slammed shut and by the time I reached the door, a distance that was barely two metres, she was screaming in unspeakable pain. It was a gibbering howl of terror and agony that filled me with such horror I could feel the corners of my vision blur and turn black. My muscles became weak and my stomach damn near fell out my ass. As it was, I could feel a warm stream of urine trickle down my thigh and calf. I wanted to push on. I wanted to slam into the door with all my rage and strength and rescue my friends. But my legs betrayed me. They screeched to a halt and before I even realised what I was doing, I had turned on my heels and was fleeing the other way.
The strangest plan formed in my head. I can’t say how or why it came to me, except that in the end it was probably the only that saved me.
The pile of corpses, as horrifying as it was, was large enough to allow entry in some places. One place in particular came to mind. A small nook, barely large enough for a person. But I went for it, sprinting into the room and crawling on my stomach backwards so as to slide underneath the mountain of rotten bodies. The feel of ice cold fingers sliding along my trouser leg, hooking on pockets and poking my chest and back, was enough to nearly make me cry out. And when one of those fingers broke off and lay resting on the back of my neck, turning moist and clammy from the warmth, I had to fight to keep myself from vomiting.
I managed to wrench a few arms free of their place and covered myself as best as I could. And then I lay there, suddenly aware of the terrible deafening silence of the ship. The weight of my decision to flee settled in during the long seconds, and I was forced to reflect on the piss that was still soaking into my underwear.
I could have been there hours, or maybe just minutes. In the scheme of things it was but a moment although it didn’t feel like it. Eventually something sounded out from the corridor and I heard the terrible squeal of a door swing open. Awful voices spoke in an ancient Germanic form of old English, turning my stomach with the sound of phlegm and inhuman cadence. Whatever I saw move past was not a human, I can say that for sure. But neither was it in my field of view for long enough for me to say what it was. I think there may have been two. I’m not sure. I may have blacked out because the next thing I remember was Maggie’s face glaring at me with terror. She was gagged with straw, just like Sebastian had been, and her eyes had been brutally carved out. Except unlike Sebastian she was sweating and shivering, occasionally letting out a small trembling cry of confused pain. I know it’s impossible, but I swear she was looking at me. I swear she knew I was there…
She started to thrash and it amused her captors. One of them approached her seizing body and, still laughing, bent down to stick a small red bow to her forehead. It muttered something to its friend and together they hauled her towards the ladder. I couldn’t see what happened next, but I never saw her again. There was no sign of her in the ship, or anywhere else. There was some rope lying on the deck, and I imagine she was bound and hauled up to be taken back to the workshop.
I was in there for two days and eventually hypothermia got the better of me. By the time the second expedition arrived and pulled me out—screaming in terror when I’d first cried out at the sound of their voices—the bodies around me had started to freeze to my skin. It tore away like duct tape leaving long stretches of black necrotic flesh lying beneath. Two fingers on my left hand were gone, two on my right. I still have respiratory problems and my remaining fingers have lost all but the most basic coordination. Which, at the very least, has put an end to my smoking habit.
My story wasn’t exactly met with the warmest reception. The official story is that Sebastian became lost hiking to the second signal—which was determined to be nothing more than a fluke according to later scans—and without a guide the rest of us succumbed to hypothermia and suffered severe delusions. Blood-soaked snow along the base of the Pinafore raised some suspicion, all of which was aimed at me. And in the end I had to leave my post at the university after rumours that I’d killed Craig and Maggie in a deranged moment of cabin fever refused to die down. I don’t think it helped that when I’d first awoken and pulled my face free of the frozen wood beneath me, I left a chunk of my right cheek behind. I still look ghoulish, scaring even myself when I look in the mirror.
I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore, that’s for sure. Not that it matters to some people. As we approach yet another jolly season I’m forced to revisit this terrible adventure again and again. And now as if to make it worse, someone has been having fun at my expense.
I received a gift – a plain wrapped box with a familiar twine wrapped around it in a neat bow. It was small, far smaller than the one that had contained Sebastian’s head. And it opened to reveal one of my missing fingers, quite likely left behind when they tore me out of my frozen tomb. I thought it would stay there, a little piece me locked forever in that nightmare hole, frozen stiff to the side of some medieval sailor. There was even a little tag.
Êow Winstre Ðês, Géowine.
The words sent shivers down my spine.
You left this, old friend, it read.