The 8 hour drive had taken its toll. Everyone told me I was mad. That a drive that long after a night filled with drinks, tears, hugs and goodbyes from my nearest and dearest would have to be done over two days. Take a night to sleep off the road and do the remainder in the morning, they said. I knew better. Course I did! Well, I’m man enough to admit it, I was wrong.
After a treacherous drive along the never ending, snow-covered forest track, trying to shine my phone on my map whilst concentrating on not hitting any trees, I eventually found it. My cabin. My sanctuary. My forever home. This was it.

My second, or third, or fourth wind hit as excitement washed over me like a warm refreshing shower.

I’d always wanted to live off the grid. It’s just something that’s always appealed to me. I never had any social media, hell I only ever had a mobile phone and email for work. I never massively loved socialising, even as a younger man. I was at my happiest when left to my own devices. Some folks might call me a loner but I just enjoyed my own company.

After months of long, drawn-out conversations with my boss, he’d finally agreed. We both knew I was too good at what I do for him to say no, it would just take a while to break him down. Much to my smug delight, he finally broke.

It was agreed. I would be relocating 400 miles across the country to the coldest, remotest area I could find. As long as I had an internet connection for work with nearby access to food and whatever resources I needed, I’d be good. With my lists of books I had always wanted to read, an IMDB app-worth of movies I’d yet to see, access to music streaming and my note pads and laptop to finally write that novel I’d started years ago, I’d be a happy man.

After much internet browsing and telephone calls, I’d finally found the perfect place. Marvanarro, a small town in North Minneapolis with a grand population of 166. Shops and a town hall nearby, deep, snowy forests acting as a border to the town with large wooden cabins buried deep into the trees, it offered the perfect future secluded life.

After struggling with a combination of chittering cold hands and a stubborn frozen lock on my new thick wooden front door, I emptied my truck of my belongings, got a fire going and slumped on the couch. It was 9pm. I’d left at 10am that morning.

I must have nodded off.

Over the sound of the warm fire still popping and blistering away to itself I was awoke by the sound of my front door being banged on, no, hammered on. I scrambled across the couch to fix my bleary eyes on my laptop screen. It was 3.18am.

“Hello? Please, is there anyone there? Please help!!”

A woman’s voice. She sounded in danger. She seemed to be flitting between sobbing, shouting and banging on my door.

“Hello?” I shouted out. Still clamouring for my bearings, having been in such a deep sleep I was finding it difficult to shake the cobwebs.

“Oh thank god” she shouted. “Please help, I’m out here alone and I’ve got a flat. I’m so sorry to wake you but my phones out of battery and I saw the fire through your window – I thought you would be up”

I made my way over to the front door and peered out the peep hole. Adding to my already confused state, I couldn’t see a thing. It was pitch black.

“Hello?” I shouted again and got no response. “Hello? are you there? I can’t see you!” I was again met with silence.

Just as I raised my face back up to the peep hole, the door was pounded on again, violently. It shook hard against my face, forcing me to recoil.

“Look again” she sobbed despairingly. Without thought I pushed my eye back up to the hole and immediately fell backwards onto the floor in horror. Staring back at me were 6 or so figures, each wearing what appeared to be black plague doctor masks. Protruding beaks and black hollow eyes stared back at me through the peep hole.

“What the fuck??! I’m calling the police!” I screamed.

I was met with rapturous laughter from what sounded like more than the 6 or so I could see.

I ran over to my landline and dialled for the local police. As I did, my cabin was engulfed in lights and the roar of multiple engines filled the air.

Screams and woops could be heard as they disappeared down the off-road track leading to my cabin. I ran to the window and drew back the curtain in a bid to see if I could see a plate but they were already gone.

After an hour waiting for someone to pick up I was eventually advised I’d receive a visit from the police sheriff in the morning. He never came.

This incident, or a similar version of it happened off and on every few nights. It would start with the banging at 3.18am, there would normally be a woman’s voice who claimed to have a flat. Sometimes the plague masks were there, sometimes no-one at all. I was terrified to sleep.

During the day, in the cold pale sunlight, I would go out and look around, check the tyre tracks, look for any clues as to who this might be. I’d take a drive past the other cabins a mile or so up the road from me but there was never any sign of anyone around. Curiously some of the cabins looked burnt out or it looked like construction was being carried out on them, but still no-one. No cars. No dog walkers. Sometimes there would be 6 or 7 different tyre tracks. I googled and googled but found nothing negative about the local area.

I was too scared to mention it when I was out picking up food and other supplies in town. It crossed my mind to buy a gun but I didn’t have the first idea how to use one. Jumpy and paranoid, I almost knocked over a homeless man who stepped in front of me on the way out the store.

“Stop answering” he mumbled to me. He had a hood covering most of his face and all I could see was a thick unkempt beard and a scattering of teeth on the bottom row. “sorry?” I stuttered in reply. “Stop answering the fucking door to them Jimmy, they’ll give you the plague” He burst into a booming laugh as I hurriedly made my way to my truck, taking care to make sure he wasn’t following me.

Physically and mentally exhausted, between work I spent most of my days trying to get through to the police. Continually I was met with the same response. “I done told you before Mr, the police sheriff will come see you in the morning.”

But no-one ever came.

The last time I dialled them was when things took a weirder turn.

“Hello, this is Jake Burgess, I’ve called…”

“I know who you are Mr Burgess” the voice on the other end of the phone snapped. “I’ve told you the sheriff will come see you in the morning”

At this point the phone was normally slammed down on me but she left a pause to let me respond.

“Listen, I appreciate the sheriff must be very busy” I reasoned “but I’d really like to talk to him. I’m being harassed by…”

Again I was cut off half way into my sentence.
“Harassed are ya?” she said mockingly. “Another neighbly bob eating his own shepherd’s pie, toohoo ya smelly wombat.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“There was no-one at your fucking door Mr. Now fuck me off and water my weasel wire. Me and Cochise have got garden warden to shove in our pussies and rhubarb to shear, HA HA!!”

The phone slammed down.

“Garden warden? Cochise? What the fuck?” I muttered to myself. My spine was ice cold. A spider of fear crept its way up my back and onto my neck. I was more terrified than I had been during the 3am visits.


Drool involuntarily dripped from my face onto my bare toes. I knew that I wanted to stop it but the message didn’t seem to be getting from my brain to my body. I was slumped in a wheelchair, backed up against a poorly painted pale green wall. I faced into the room, looking out at 15-20 or so other men, similar ages to me, sat slumped in chairs too. Some had chess boards between them, some were staring at a TV buzzing with static, others just stared emptily out the windows.

Looking around I locked eyes with a guy staring back at me. His eyes were bright and alert, he was actively looking right at me. I couldn’t even get my arm to move to acknowledge him. My body felt heavy and kind of blurry like I had woken up in a bout of sleep paralysis. I raised my eyebrows at him, which seemed to do the trick. He wheeled over towards me and backed himself up against the wall right next to me.

“Hey” he whispered out the side of his mouth. “You’re new so I know they’ve got you drugged to the eyeballs. Don’t worry, your body adapts after a few hours.”

A huge bearded, burly man dressed in pale green medical scrubs marched into the room and looked over at my new friend sceptically.

“Shit” he said in response to this. He slumped his body down, similar to mine and groaned a little. Drool began to slip out of the corner of his mouth. The orderly, satisfied, chuckled and began to walk on, only stopping to slap the back of a man’s head, knocking him completely out his chair. The orderly laughed a loud, nasty laugh and walked on out the room.

“Listen, they’re drugging through the food. They’re trying to make out like we’re all crazy. They need to keep us here. I’ve not worked out why yet but I’m gonna.”

Confused I sat and listened, I didn’t have much other choice, my body wasn’t responding to attempts at moving. I realised that this was the first time I had felt lucid and could actually remember anything since I got here, wherever here was.

“I’ll speak to you at lights out, don’t want them getting suspicious. I know you’re confused, but listen, I’m legit. This place is fucked. You’re probably thinking I’m the crazy one. I’m not. You wanna know how you’ll know I’m not crazy? 3.18am? You were living in one of the cabins right?”



The visits in the middle of the night had begun to tail off. There was, however, a new development. Each morning when I’d wake up, I’d check my work emails, make a to-do list and stick my coffee on.

One morning as I went about my routine I noticed an email had landed in my junk folder from a I nonchalantly clicked on it, assuming it was would be my lucky day to have met a Nigerian Prince who just needed my bank details to make a million dollar deposit. It wasn’t. On the screen was a high definition photo of me lying asleep in my bed. Panic struck me like a hammer blow. A further look showed that the email had been received at 3.18am that morning.

I showered, dressed, jumped in the truck and hammered into town. Terrified at the idea of someone following me, I quickly picked up new locks for the front door, some planks of wood for the windows and a large sledgehammer for my protection. I had no idea if I could even lift it to strike someone in a struggle, but it helped me feel a little better about my safety.

Regardless of the lock changes and the boarded up windows the photos continued. Each morning I’d wake filled with dread to find another photo in the junk folder. “Smile” was the caption one morning. The photo showed me smiling at the store clerk when buying the locks. Another day there was a photo of my naked back as I stood in the shower. I was beginning to lose my mind.

It was at this point that I started to seriously consider the very large elephant in the room. Should I stay here? Is this why I came out here? Or should I go home? I knew I would get blasted by everyone who said I wouldn’t make it out here on my own but it was either that or end up as a stuffed head on some psychopaths wall.

I emailed Mark, my old roommate, and told him about the visits in the night and now the photos, I told him I was genuinely scared for my safety, that these people were harassing me and there didn’t seem to be any interest from the local police department.

From the minute I clicked send, I sat with my hand on the mouse, my legs shaking in anticipation. Thankfully it didn’t take him long to respond. He said he’d already rented my room out but I was more than welcome to sleep on the couch until I got something sorted.

Relief. Excitement. Panic.

I began packing immediately. By the time I was ready to start filling the truck it was night time, darkness had engulfed the forest surrounding the cabin.

An hour or so later I slammed the back door of the truck shut, jumped in and threw a middle finger up at the cabin. “Fuck you motherfuckers” I screamed in elation.

I turned the engine over. And over. And over.

It wouldn’t start.

I looked around. I was a sitting duck, sat inside a truck that wouldn’t take me anywhere, engulfed by darkness. Everything I owned was packed up in the back.

I was beginning to run through the merits of unpacking everything and getting inside to a warm fire when outside in the darkness a light flashed in my peripheral vision. I was sat frozen to my seat. Frantically looking around I searched the darkness for movement but I couldn’t see a thing. As I turned to look behind me, my cabin lit up from the inside. At the window a figure appeared, drawing back the curtain slowly. A female figure. She was dressed in black with a black hood lifted over her head but I could still see her smiling and waving as if I was a friend arriving for dinner.

It was then that it became apparent it wasn’t electricity lighting up the cabin. Flames had began to escape from the roof, flailing like a wild trapped animal. The woman emerged at the door, flames ripping and roaring behind her. She slowly, almost casually, approached the truck. I dived across the passenger side and slammed down the lock on the door. She stood at the other side of the window, laughing at me.

They say in life or death situations flight or fight kicks in, apparently not in my case. I was still frozen stiff, stuck to my seat, physically unable to move. The woman moved to the front of the truck and began to pour something around the perimeter. With one last gasp of hope, I flicked the keys one last time and the engine roared into life! My headlights illuminated her and we locked eyes. The smile disappeared and a look of panic appeared across her face.


“LIGHTS OUT!!” bellowed an orderly. At that, I was engulfed in darkness again, sat in the wheelchair in a cold room that had looked like it was last decorated in the 1920’s.

“Hey man” whispered a voice. I jerked my head round and round the room, trying to establish where it came from. “Over in the corner dummy” it said. I wheeled towards the corner of the room and ran my now working fingers up and down the wall. I felt a small hole in the wall. “There ya go” the voice said, sounding satisfied.

He told me his story. His name was Bud. He’d moved here to get some isolation. He’d lost his family to a terrorist bombing, running from his memories. On his first night he was visited by the plague masks just like I was. He’d received the photos of himself, just like I had. He’d decided that no amount of isolation was worth the terror and planned to leave. The last thing he remembered was trying to start the engine on his car. “All I can remember was turning the key and the smell of burning wood.”

“Shut the fuck up in there!”

I heard Bud’s door being banged on. I jolted upright and instinctively wheeled myself backwards away from the corner of the room, as if some evil being was going to emerge through the tiny hole in the wall we’d been talking through.

“We need to get out of here friend” whispered Bud again. “Don’t worry, I know a way out, we can do it together. Let’s talk tomorrow.”

On the “ow” of tomorrow I heard his door slam open. Hard, heavy footsteps thundered along the floor followed by four or five quick sickening blows which sounded like meat being tenderised by a butcher. A river of dark liquid began to slowly trickle under the wall into my room.


I floored the accelerator, wheel spinning hard in the snow. After a second of suspended acceleration the truck took off with a jolt, knocking the woman down underneath the tyres. I bumped over her with a sickening crunch and took off down the snowy path. In my rear view mirror headlights blinded my vision. There looked to be more than one set and they were gaining on me fast. With my attention fixed on the cars behind me I arrived at a corner much quicker than I remembered. I threw the steering wheel to the right but the back end of the truck had other ideas, the wheels went out from me, skidding across the snow. The back end of the truck hit something and came to a clinical stop. My head jerked forward then back slamming hard onto the head rest. My vision began to fade as I saw the black plague masks making their way towards the drivers side window.

PRESENT DAY – 11.30am

I sat backed up against the poorly painted pale green wall, looking out at my fellow doped up zombies staring at eachother, out windows or at a non-existent TV channel. This was day 3 since the incident in Bud’s room and I’d begun to give up hope that I’d see him again and, selfishly, hear the details of how he planned get out of here.

Some things had changed in that time though. I’d wisened up and stopped eating the meals. I was starving but it was worth it. I’d been able to drink plenty water and through a scintillating method of trial and error had established that the bread was clean. It wasn’t enough to sustain me for a long time but I didn’t intend on sticking around. The first chance I could get, I’d be out.

I had a plan.

I’d established that each night, an hour after lights out, an orderly would come in and search the room and check you were asleep. I had only been fully lucid for it for the first time last night but thinking back I’d been vaguely aware of it for the other nights too, I just couldn’t fully understand what was going on. Last night I was so uncomfortable with how close they had been to my face that I’d screwed my eyes as tight shut as I could. Tonight, I wouldn’t be so timid. Tonight, I’d strike.

PRESENT DAY – 9.00pm

The large man ambled in through the porch and eased open the kitchen door. Sweat already dripped off his brow as he removed his thick skiing jacket, scarf and hat, then as he entered the kitchen he was hit with a hot, bustling room of activity. “Hey Chamo, how are ya” said a young man with long greasy black hair and tattooed sleeves. He looked to be in his late teens or early twenties, a light bristling of dark facial hair dotted it’s way around his chin which hinted at a young man not yet comfortable enough in his skin to know that he wasn’t yet ready to grow a beard. He was sat at the end of a bench filled with similarly aged young men all facing a long rectangular wooden table, packing electrical goods into brown cardboard boxes.

“I’m good, Elvis” the large man, Chamo, replied “now that the naughty patient has been dealt with, the rest seem to be behaving themselves.” He dropped a red-stained bag on the kitchen counter, it oozed and pulsed until it seemed to settle in place. Elvis smiled uncomfortably and nodded at the bag on the counter, the older man didn’t acknowledge him. Elvis hesitated as he looked for the next words to come which he thought might impress his elder. “How’s the new one?” he finally asked. “Good, quiet.”said Chamo. “Find any decent shit in his truck?” he asked. Elvis nodded enthusiastically, “oh yeah we did Chamo, Gannock over there found a laptop, mobile phone and sat nav.” Chamo walked over and ruffled the hair of one of the other young men “Well done Gannock, you can have some time with the woman tonight after lights out, she’ll be drugged up and ready to go.” All the young men around the table let out mock sighs and protests as Gannock’s face lit up. “oh yeah Chamo! Thanks man” he said. “No problem. Listen, all of y’all keep working hard, get that shit online, get it boxed and you’ll get your shot too.”

He walked through the kitchen and into a darkly lit sitting room. Shutters were closed over the windows to avoid the glare from the low sun reflecting off the snow which surrounded the property. A woman sat in a large lounge chair in the room, her legs curled up and under her, she moved slowly and elegantly like a cat. Her long black hair covered up much of her face. As she turned to look at Chamo, it barely moved. “All done for tonight?” she asked as Chamo dropped himself down onto the couch. A fire crackled in front of them both, he rubbed his hands together and put them to the flames. “Yeah, I’ve got Cochise watching them but they’re all in their rooms now. An hour until lights out Lisa, you sure you’re up to doing the rounds at 10?” She bristled a little, “you kidding?” she replied “it’s my favourite time of night. I love skulking around those rooms whilst those freaks lie there, unable to move. You know I sometimes sniff them?” behind the hair she raised her eyebrows at Chamo coyly as if she knew this would rile him up. Chamo shook his head. He got up and approached her, cupping her chin in a large frying pan of a hand. “How’s the bruising?” she swept her black hair from her face to reveal a sea of purple, red and yellow bruising across her face and neck. “I keep telling you, I’m fine” she said “I got these painkillers, they’re helping.” She looked wounded. Not just physically but mentally, as if it hurt more that Chamo would think she wasn’t up to her job. “I’ll be fine” she said again. “OK” said Chamo “Did you call the insurance company? Everything go OK?” She nodded and sniggered a little. “Yep, he said that we’ve had awful bad luck this year, our tenth cabin to be burnt down. I almost couldn’t stop myself laughing. Anyway, I gave him the usual story, out of towner, mental problems, must have fell asleep with the fire on. Cheque’s already on it’s way.” Chamo smiled a satisfied smile. “God damn!” he whooped, running his hands together “I keep thinking that one of these days they’re going to come down here but as long as there’s shitty weather and snow in this forest, we can keep this going Lisa.” She nodded in unison.

“I’m heading upstairs for a lie down, I’ll be back down at 11 to check back in with you, make sure everything is as it should be.”


“LIGHTS OUT!” bellowed the familiar voice. I slowly lay down on the mattress. Staring up into the dark room I began taking long deep breaths through my nose and exhaling through my mouth. I hoped it would calm me down but my heart had other ideas, I could literally see my rib cage being played from the inside like a bass drum. Thud, thud, thud.

I heard room doors being rhythmically opened and closed down the corridor, one by one. The bass drum in my chest played louder and louder as the opening and closing of doors drew nearer to my mine. I heard the door from the room next to mine slam shut and the voice in the room muttered something about forgetting he was gone. So that was confirmation, Bud was gone. I took another deep breath, gripped the fork in my right hand so tight that I had began to draw blood and waited. The door adjacent to mine slammed shut again.

My door unlocked and footsteps entered, the door slowly and purposefully closed behind them. I felt a presence in the room and had to fight to keep my eyes shut. I wanted to know what I was up against. If it was the giant orderly who liked to slap people around, I’d want to know. Similarly, if it was that skinny looking ‘cook’, Cochise I think they called him, I’d fancy my chances. As these thoughts tornadoed their way around my mind, I felt the presence much closer to me. Same as last night, the person penetrated the radius of my personal space like a rocket brushing aside the clouds accelerating towards space. It was a woman. Or it smelt like a woman anyway. She ran her face up and down mine, sniffing my cheeks. She let out a sickening sigh of elation. She climbed up onto the mattress and lay on top of me. “You can’t do anything to me” she whispered into my ear.

Slowly, I opened my eyes, squinting to see through the black hair that covered my face. As she lay there on me, still, I reached up and plunged the fork into the back of her neck. She jerked up awkwardly and fell back off the mattress, I jumped up, locking eyes with the woman who had waved to me from my window that final night in the cabin. The woman who had tried to burn me alive. The woman I had run over in my haste to get away. She looked like she’d seen a ghost, I suspected I looked the same.

Fight or flight didn’t fail me this time, I mounted her and plunged the fork into her chest this time. She slumped to the floor, life seemed to seep from her eyes.

I opened the door to my room and poked my head out into the corridor. Complete silence. I tip toed out into the corridor, making my way past the other rooms. The whole place was a ghost town with the exception of some noise which sounded like struggling coming from the last room on the left. I cupped my ear to the door to hear what sounded like flesh slapping on flesh. Curiosity got the better of me. I slowly cracked the door open and peeked my head in and recoiled at the smell. The slapping of flesh on flesh only got louder. Inside, a young man was laying on top of a clearly drugged up woman on a mattress, thrusting back and forward. Without thought, I lunged towards the half naked man, grabbed him by the hair and slammed the back of his head hard onto the stone floor. His eyes looked up, vacant, as blood poured from the back of his head. The woman lay completely naked on her mattress. She clearly couldn’t move similar to how I was the first few days I had arrived but her eyes told me everything. They were terrified, frantic and darted around the room. I gestured to say that it was OK and covered her body up with her clothes. “Don’t worry” I whispered, “I’ll get help.” Her eyes shot wide with fear. “I promise” I whispered. I lay the blanket over her and dragged the lifeless body from the room and dropped it out into the corridor.

I tiptoed out to a reception area which lead to a large old fashioned archway and a large wooden front door. I opened it and sneaked out into the freezing cold night.

I ran across a garden area towards another large building. I found an unlocked side door and tip toed in. Fumbling in the dark I ran my hand along the walls searching for a light switch. Finally, I found one and flicked it on. Lights flickered on in a staggered pattern eventually illuminating what appeared to be a huge warehouse. Wooden crates and brown boxes with addresses plastered over them lined the room. As I looked around I counted 10 different states on the address labels. This appeared to be some sort of storage space for some type of shipping business. I came across a fire extinguisher lay by another door, grabbed it and slipped through into a wooden floored hall.

Behind me was a closed door with light bursting out from under it, shadows moved around behind it and the hum of voices filled the air.

I decided against taking on a room full of what I assumed were more rapists and black plague masked crazies and crept to the end of the hall, climbing a set of old dusty carpeted stairs. The landing at the top of the stairs led to one solitary white door. If I could find a set of car keys I could be out of here with no more bloodshed. The fire extinguisher in hand, I took a deep breath, paused on the door handle and turned it.

PRESENT DAY – 10.50pm

Chamo rolled over and checked the bedside clock. 10.50pm. Lisa must have returned by now he thought. He rolled back over and dropped his large slab-like feet onto the wooden floor. He sighed and pushed himself up. He’d been living like this for ten years now. He was young when he’d started with his Father and Uncles. It had been a buzz to creep out all the out of towners, see the terror in their eyes. Ten years later it was a business. A way to keep his sister safe and pay all the young mouths that relied on him for money. Insurance fraud and shipping out stolen goods online wasn’t the way he’d saw his life going, not to mention running an asylum with a bunch of drugged up tourists looking for their own little slice of the country life, but dammit it beat a 9-5.

He pulled on his trousers, threw on his socks and boots and looked up towards the door. As he did, he saw the door handle being turned from the outside.

PRESENT DAY – 10.51pm

I slowly opened the door and was met face to chest with the hulking large orderly and his scruffy beard. He grimaced at me, looking confused. Fight or flight grabbed a hold of me once more as I swung the fire extinguisher hard and fast at his chest. He stumbled back, grunting. With the cobwebs cleared he jumped straight back off his bed and grabbed for me with his giant hands. With no other option available I swung my right leg as hard as I could kicking him between the legs. This buckled him. He dropped to his knees in front of me and I followed up slamming the fire extinguisher over his head. His full weight slammed to the floor, face first. Looking down at him I realised that this man was the unkempt homeless man who I had bumped into when I was in town in that first month. This was no coincidence.

The blood coursed through me, adrenaline had brought me most of this way since I’d lay on the mattress, eyes clasped shut, but pure vengeance was now pushing me on.

I ran across the bedroom to the window. It looked out onto a wide open garden filled with abandoned trucks, cars and vans. Looking across them I spotted my truck. Some of my things were still in the back of it although it had clearly been looted.

I crept out onto the bedroom balcony and climbed down as far as I could before dropping onto the grass below me. I sprinted across the grass to my truck to see the keys dangling from the ignition. Unbelievable. I pulled the door and hopped in, flicking the keys to start the engine. I reversed across the grass and pulled the truck along the path around the house and past the building I’d escaped from. I pressed the headlights on before slamming both feet onto the brake, the truck skidded and thundered head first into the tree I had seen too late.


I woke up from what felt like the deepest sleep I’d had in months. Slowly reaching up to my chin I wiped away the drool and scratched at my stitches on my head. I tried to get up but decided against it. I was happy sitting here, there was something good starting on the TV so I sat and lost myself in it. The restraints on my feet itched but they didn’t bother me too much. My friend Chamo came across to make sure I was comfortable then gave me some more of my favourite sweets. My head slumped down in front of me, I was tired again. This move had been good for me, I was so chilled these days.

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