01 Feb I’m an investigator and hunter of the paranormal. I think it’s time to take care of these lists of rules people keep finding.
I’ve been an investigator and hunter of the paranormal for longer than I care to remember. Studying lore, protecting the innocent, and destroying malicious entities are just a few of the job’s many requirements. In my younger years, training day-in and day-out with my uncle, I thought we were heroes and that I had the greatest job in the world. Now that he’s dead, along with most of my friends and family, I’m not so sure. The monotony of endless travel and cheap hotels, the guilt of not being able to protect my loved ones when they needed me most, the burden of saving others – it’s more weight than I ever thought would rest on my shoulders. More weight than most men can bear to carry.
But enough about that. You don’t need to hear some sob story. This isn’t about me. This is about my latest adventure. One I almost didn’t come back from.
A few months ago, while digging through various news articles and police reports for choice words like “bizarre” and “unexplainable,” I came upon a tabloid piece about a man – Jack – on a business trip. He apparently became hysterical and attacked his boss – Colter – in a hotel lobby. When asked why, he simply said that Room 371 – the room Colter was assigned at the front desk – was “no ordinary room” and anyone staying there was “in grave danger.” He said he was trying to protect his boss by explaining the situation while pulling him away and out of the hotel. Colter resisted and fell to the floor, breaking his arm. He didn’t press charges, but, needless to say, their business trip and relationship was no more.
Normally, I stay away from these kinds of things. More than not, they tend to be the product of nut cases. This one had all the makings of an over-tired, over-worked man on the verge of mental breakdown. Still, it piqued my interest. With no other pressing cases on the table, I decided to look into it, if for no other reason than to placate my curiosity.
A quick bit of research revealed that the Covenwood Inn – the hotel where Jack and Colter were staying – only had two floors with room numbers ranging from 101-256. There was not, nor had there ever been, a Room 371. This wasn’t enough to build a case, but it was strange nonetheless.
I couldn’t find any contact information for Jack, but I found an email for Colter on a site dedicated to networking for investors and business leaders. He responded, but only gave me a brief account of the incident, not wishing to discuss specifics. In his summary, however sparse, even he described being handed a key card for Room 371 before Jack grabbed him.
The plot was thickening.
Next order of business was to call the hotel. I did this on three separate occasions spread out across the week with three different aliases and spoke with three different staff members ranging from entry-level to management positions. In the hunting business, this is known as the Rule of 3. Provided you can sift through the bullshit and identify the potential truths within, it allows for a higher chance of information retrieval without raising suspicion. It works even better if you can act and change your voice accordingly.
Call #1 was to the hotel manager. As I suspected, no matter how persistent I was, she would not comment on the matter.
Call #2 was made to lower level management in the form of Tammy, a shift supervisor. She wasn’t working on the day in question but had heard a lot about it from co-workers. She said Jack was a lunatic; kept screaming about a list of rules in his hotel room. I wanted to pry for more, but we were disconnected. I’m fairly certain I heard the manager come over and scold Tammy before the line went dead.
Call #3 was to the front desk. For this one, I decided on a back-handed approach. I would attempt to book the non-existent Room 371 to see if the clerk would bring up the incident on his own.
Upon dialing, the voice that met my ear was steady and emotionless.
“Thank you for calling the Covenwood Inn. How may we be of service?”
“Is it possible to book a specific room?”
“Of course, sir. Which room would you like to stay in?”
There was a brief pause and the faint sound of tapping at a keyboard.
“Room 371 is available tonight and every night going forward. When would you like to book your stay?”
Impossible. Did I call the right place? Was my information wrong?
“So you’re saying Room 371 – that’s THREE, SEVEN, ONE – is available?”
“Yes sir. Tonight and every night.”
“And this is the Covenwood Inn in Massachusetts?”
“Indeed it is.”
“And your hotel only has two floors with room numbers 101-256, right?”
“How then is there a Room 371?”
There was another pause, this one considerably longer than the previous.
“Thank you for calling the Covenwood Inn, where we always hope you enjoy your stay. Goodbye.”
Well I’ll be damned.
Despite my doubts, it looked like I had found my case. I just needed to do a little more research before going out on a full-fledged hunt. Most entities travel. It’s doubtful that this one struck once and then moved on. If I could find its signature and establish a pattern, I could probably pick up its scent and predict its next attack. All I had to go off of was Tammy’s second-hand account of Jack screaming about a list of rules. That would have to be my starting point.
And down the rabbit hole I went…
Five days of non-stop research and I stumbled upon the mother load of paranormal activity. Dozens of accounts of mystery survival guides left in apartments, hotels, and workplaces – strange sets of rules with a sizeable body count left in their wakes. My next move was clear. I had to call Al.
Al was an old soul who had been around the paranormal block more than a few times. His hunting days were behind him, but he was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. If anyone could shed some light on these lists, it was him.
Al’s recognizably scruffy voice cut through the receiver after just one ring.
“Henry, you bastard! How the hell have you been? Glad to know you’re still alive after all this time. Would it kill you to pick up the phone once and a while?”
“I know, Al. I’m sorry. Caught up in the gig. You know how it is. How’s your heart? Still giving you trouble?”
“Of course, of course. But you and I both know I’ve been through worse hell than a few clogged arteries. To what do I owe this call, anyway? I’m sure you didn’t reach out to discuss my declining health.”
“I’ve uncovered something big, Al, and I need your help.”
“Must be big if you’re calling me instead of diving in head-first with no parachute like you usually do.”
Al was referring to a particular case we worked together years ago; his last one in the field. I was a foolish and cocky son of a bitch. We followed a bad tip I received from a less than reputable source and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a dense forest surrounded by a coven of dream walkers. They’re nasty creatures with an appetite for children’s nightmares, only attacking the waking under the light of a full moon, which just so happened to be the case on the night we went out there. It was a trap and we walked right into it.
We managed to kick and claw our way out, but just barely. Al took most of the onslaught. I carried him out to the main road where we were picked up by a passing truck and brought to the hospital. The physical damage was healed, but Al was never the same after that. He never said as much, but I swear he blamed me for what happened. Even if he didn’t, I did. I can’t ever forgive myself for that one.
“There are these strange survival guides being left in random locations across the country and they’re racking up quite the body count. I don’t know if it’s-“
Al interjected with a heavy sigh.
“I know exactly what you’re talking about. You should probably swing by my place to talk more about it.”
“Al, you’re across the border, over 300 miles from where I’m-“
Al was a stubborn man and a lonely one at that. He probably just wanted a visit and I couldn’t really blame him. After all, I was the reason he turned into an old hermit in the first place. Whether it was the guilt over breaking his spirit years ago or my lack of options, I made that drive and crossed state lines on my way to see Al. If anything, it would at least be good for him.
It was just how I remembered it. A perfect little cottage tucked away in the middle of nowhere, far away from the outside world. Not the house you would expect a hunter to live in, but that’s how Al liked it. Small and quaint. I think it reminded him of his late wife, Ellie. She used to talk about a dream home like this one, if memory serves.
Al rushed out to greet me.
“There you are, you bastard! Get over here!”
He pulled me in for a bear hug. I reciprocated, happy to see him in person for a change.
“Alright, Henry. Let’s go in and talk shop.”
We dislocated and Al brought me inside where I sat on the sofa. He brought me over a TV dinner – a common meal in our trade – and a beer before sitting down in the chair opposite me.
“Okay, Al. What do you know?”
“This is big, you were right about that, but…”
He threw me a concerned look, indicating I might not like what he had to say.
“Come on, Al. I drove hundreds of miles to hear this. It better be good.”
“Out with it, Al.”
“Good news is I know what we’re dealing with.”
I swear the man dragged out simple responses just to keep me from leaving too soon. That, or he enjoyed dangling fresh meat over my head just to watch me swipe at it and miss. Probably a little of both.
“And the bad news?”
“The truth is I’ve been tracking this thing for years. You’re not going to be able to catch it, kid. Its course is completely random. By the time a headline shows up, she’s already moved on to another town with no trail of breadcrumbs to follow.”
“Yes, she. Could be a he, but you and I know males are pretty rare. It’s a witch, Henry. And a powerful one at that.”
Al went on to explain that the lists of rules were agreements between the witch and her victims. Contracts that needed no signatures to be “legally” binding. Once the rules are read and comprehended by the victim, the agreement takes effect. If one or more rules are broken, a supernatural calamity will befall the victim, usually resulting in their death, at which time part of their life force is absorbed by the witch. With each soul piece she takes, she becomes more powerful.
“Why do folks break the rules in the first place?”
“It’s all part of the design. Most of the rules are simple spell traps dependent on time triggers. To most people, it’s nonsense. Even I, with my vast knowledge of the paranormal, would be hard pressed to ‘not use the bathroom after 11:22pm’ just because of a list I found on a motel dresser.”
“How do you know all of this, Al?”
“I learned most of it from a man who stayed at an AirBnB near Cape Cod. He found a list and broke each and every rule but still managed to make it out of there alive. He even gave me the damned thing.”
“What?! You mean you have it right now? You’ve been holding out on me this whole time?”
Al walked over to his desk, opened up a drawer, and pulled out a sheet of paper. He then walked over to me and tossed it on my lap.
“It won’t do you much good. I’ve examined it more times than I can count.”
It was beautiful in a morbid sort of way. I had been studying the case for so long, it felt amazing to have a piece of the story in my hands. A physical piece of evidence I could inspect with my own eyes.
“Feels different from normal paper, wouldn’t you say, Al?”
“It’s papyrus. I imagine the other lists are made from it too. Necessary for the spell.”
I turned it over and noticed a dark splotch near one of the bottom corners.
“Al, what’s this?”
“A stain, I guess. Probably wine spilled from the last guy who had it.”
That wasn’t wine. I was sure of it.
I raced over to Al’s book shelf and grabbed a copy of Demonic Dealings by Jack Grovewood and began flipping through the pages.
“Al, what do we know about witch deals?”
“Aside from these ones, they’re verbal contracts between a witch and a human. One wish granted in exchange for a piece of their soul. Why, what are you getting at?”
I found the page I wanted and scoured the text until I came upon an image.
I held up the picture of two hands dripping red over a chalice.
“And how are the deals sealed, Al?”
“With blood from both parties. We know all of this, Henry. This is different. She doesn’t need permission and there’s no wish granted – you break a rule and you’re toast. That’s it.”
“Clearly this type of contract doesn’t need blood from the victim, but what if it still needs the witch’s blood to bind the soul piece to her when it’s done?”
I held up the list and pointed to the dark spot. Al thought it over for a moment before it all sank in.
“You genius son of a bitch! Are you saying we have the witch’s blood right here?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, Al.”
“But what does that matter? We can’t cast a summoning spell without fresh blood – no older than two months. I received this ages ago.”
“I know. But there’s no statute of limitations on blood pacts. That’s how ghosts are able to make deals with demons, witches, and the like. If we create our own list with identical ink and paper and smear some of this blood onto it, it should work the same and bind the witch to the deal. When we break the rules, she’ll have to show up to collect. Then, well, we kill her.”
Al shot me a dirty look.
“Are you insane? Another one of Henry’s misguided tightrope walks. Glad I’m alive to see this one. We don’t know the conditions of the spell – there could be more to it than this. You want to risk it backfiring, or worse, it actually working and us getting ourselves killed by the most powerful witch we’ve ever gone up against?”
As the words rolled off his tongue, I sensed the excitement in his voice. He was dying to work another case after being on hunter’s leave all these years.
“Al, are you in or not?”
He turned his head for a moment and then turned back to meet my gaze.
“You bet I am.”
Another week of research and gathering materials later and we had what we needed; witch killing instruments (stakes soaked in the dead sea and welding torches), and a new list of rules uniquely equipped for Al’s cottage:
1. All lights off by 10:41pm
2. Leave the bedroom door closed at all times
3. Do not step outside after sunset
4. If anyone knocks at the front door after 3:45pm, do not answer it
5. If your television set is on, do not tune in to channel 9
After spreading a sample of blood from the previous list on the back corner, we got to work breaking as many rules as we could.
Twelve hours passed. We left the lights on all night, opened the bedroom door, tuned the TV to channel 9 (which was just plain static), and walked outside after sunset. Then we waited for an inevitable knock at the door. It never came. We waited and waited and waited, sitting on the sofa with stakes and torches in hand, but there was no activity. None whatsoever. Even without the knocking, something should have happened. We had broken four of the five rules.
At 2 o’clock in the morning, Al turned to me and shook his head.
“Looks like it was a bust, kid.”
Just as I was about to swallow my failure and admit defeat, a gust of wind pushed the front door open and a clean-cut man in his 50s – gray hair, gray mustache – waltzed in with a smile on his face. It looked as though it was a male witch after all.
“Hello boys. Looking for me?”
Al and I raced over and pushed our stakes through him. There was no effect. We then held our torches up and attempted to burn his skin. Again, no reaction. This was not good.
With a flick of his wrists, the man was able to swing us through the air and pin us against opposite walls via an unseen force. No spell recited. Just pure, powerful magic.
“Is that any way to treat a guest?”
We tried to break free, but it was no use.
“I didn’t have to show up, you know. Using my blood was a good idea, but your list was voided the moment the ink touched the page. Without my handwriting, the thing’s useless.”
He cackled as we squirmed.
“I just couldn’t resist seeing this for myself. Two humans meddling in my affairs? Attempting to draw me out of hiding? What ever did you think you would accomplish?”
He shut the door behind him, walked over, and sat down at the sofa where we had previously been seated.
“And the stakes and fire – what a great laugh that was! You know, as a powerful witch, I can ward myself from just about anything. With enough soul shards, you can pretty much render yourself invincible – and I have plenty to spare.”
“What do you want?!”
I screamed out, impatient as ever. Al looked at me wide-eyed, almost as if to say, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Punishment, of course. You may not have broken the rules of one of my actual contracts, but that doesn’t mean I can’t dole out some just desserts.”
Just then, there was a knock at the door.
“What’s this,” the witch said in a delighted tone, “It looks as though we have more guests! Please, come in!”
The door swung open and two figures walked in. Two figures I recognized. It was none other than my uncle and Al’s wife. They walked over to us and the witch released his hold on us.
“Aren’t you happy to see your loved ones, back from the dead?”
Without warning, their forms changed. Their finger nails changed to claws that bent and curved towards the carpet. Their mouths opened at unnatural angles, revealing rows of sharp teeth that protruded outward. Finally, their eyes met at the center of their heads creating a single pool of yellow light swirling into itself, a life all its own.
Then, they attacked.
Al and I jumped and darted around the room, but it was no use. They were too fast, and their arms too long. No matter what we did, they kept on pulling us in and tearing away at our flesh, bit by bit. Before long, we were both being tightly squeezed in their arms, our pained cries echoing through the house.
“Oh, what’s wrong? Don’t you humans live for tender embraces? It doesn’t get any more loving than this.”
Just as our spines were about to break, Al did the unthinkable.
“Wait! I want to make a deal.”
All at once, the creatures loosened their grip and the witch spoke, just as surprised as I was.
“Oh, now that’s something I didn’t expect. Tell me, Al, what did you have in mind? A piece of your soul for your safety? Sorry, but that just isn’t worth it. I rather see you bleed.”
Al looked over at me as a singe droplet rolled down his cheek.
“Let the kid go and you can take me now. The whole damn soul. It’s yours.”
The creatures vanished and the witch’s face lit up.
“Al, what are you doing?! You can’t-“
The witch put his fingers together and my mouth was clamped shut.
“Sorry, kid. I’m getting too old for this. I’m tired. My wife’s gone. My daughter’s gone. You’re the only family I have left.”
The witch chimed in.
“You have yourself a deal.”
Al looked over to me one last time with a smile. At this point, my face was soaked in tears.
“I never blamed you. I may not be your dad, but I would have been so proud to call you my son.”
And with that, they disappeared and I never saw them again.
I fell to the floor, breathless. It was over. There was nothing I could do…
Somehow, some way, that witch will die. I will bleed his corpse, rip apart the flesh, bury the bones, and salt the earth if I have to. And I’ll tell you what, I’m going to save Al while I’m at it.