The next day, all members of the Gang gathered inside the Shed. Andy took the journal of William Hershey in his hands and began sifting through the pages. He had to be careful because the pages were fragile. William's writing was beautiful, they saw right away that he took great care in writing his journal. As Andy got towards the end of the manuscript, he saw that the writing became more and more ugly and haphazard.
This was a clear sign of distress, he thought and tried to find the page where the relevant stuff was written. After a few minutes, he found it. It wasn't hard because it was the first page with the bad handwriting. So Andy started reading:
'May 13th, 1771:
My dearest and most beloved wife had been accused of witchcraft. I am furious, how absurd! How can the people of this town be such fools? Annabel is an exceptional person and a good soul. How can these clearly misguided people accuse her of cursing anybody?
It is true that she and her dear mother have been indulging in strange herbal medicine experiments which are largely unknown to me but I doubt that they were cooking up potions or curses to kill other people.
There will be a trial tomorrow where I hope that her name, and mine, will be cleared so we can walk with our heads held high.
She is devastated and now crying in her room. I tried to comfort her but it was of no avail. Poor soul, such a young and pure-hearted woman shouldn't be allowed to suffer like she is suffering now.
If anything happens to her, I will punish everybody who had something to do with her harming. I pray to God that it will not be necessary and we will solve this misunderstanding tomorrow.
May 14th, 1771:
I can't believe it! She had been found guilty and sentenced to death through burning at the stake. Were my prayers in vain? Am I such a sinner that God wouldn't listen to my prayers? Or is it that she is indeed guilty?
It doesn't matter, she doesn't deserve this faith. The only ones deserving it, are the people who had wrongfully convicted her. Curse them! Oh, my dear Annabel! I can't bear losing you.
They arrested her and put her in a cell. I don't understand why such great a haste. Are they so afraid of her? I stood in front of her cell until the guards had to forcefully throw me out.
Her mother is also concerned, she doesn't cry, however. I've never seen her crying. Me, on the other hand, I feel weak and choking. It's awful, it's hell.
March 15th, 1771:
The execution will take place tomorrow. I don't know what to do. I talked to many influential people, some of them my good friends but they all said they cannot help me. I am lost and I can't do anything else but think about the cruel torture this poor little soul must endure tomorrow.
Isn't there any other solution but praying to God to end it quickly? I can understand that some people have died in horrible ways and the authorities and the residents of Linden need a scapegoat but is this right? I think not! The trial was quick, the people demanded her to be executed.
I will keep praying for a miracle. I have to trust in God because nothing else can help us now.
March 16th, 1771:
Oh, my God! My dear God! Why did you let this happen? Was she really a sinner? Poor Annabel. At least I thank you that you gave her strength in the last moments of her torture so she could speak and show everybody her strength.
When they brought her to the stake I ran towards her but four men jumped on me and tried to hold me down. This proved to be a difficult task for them because I struggled fiercely. Finally, one of them had to hit me on the had. I passed out and woke up when they were already lighting the fire.
At first, she seemed in great agony, as she screamed and screamed. Her screams were breaking my heart but then the screams became laughter. She didn't seem to feel much pain, though the fires were blazing around her with fervor. When I thought that it will be finished, she raised her head and spoke in a voice of great strength and resolution.
"Avenge me! Avenge me! The one damned to the flame shall rise again. Let the shadow be unleashed!"
Then her head lolled and she burned. The smell of charred flesh filled the place and onlookers were cheering. Damned, they will all be damned!
But the words she had spoken, I don't know what they had meant but it was the strangest thing that I've ever heard. And the smell of sulfur in the air...that was strange indeed. Where that smell had come from, only god knows.
Was she really a witch? She was talking about some demon for sure, it couldn't have been anything else. I hope that it isn't true and her words were only the result of her agony.
It doesn't matter now. I've been left alone. I've been robbed from my love and now I'm sitting here at this midnight hour watching as a strange fog is gathering outside.
I searched for Annabel's mother but I couldn't find her. Who knows where she's hiding so we don't see her tears? Maybe finally she gave in to the anguish and she's now crying, mourning for her daughter. She's been composed and resolute as always but now she might have lost her fortitude.
March 17th, 1771:
The authorities have been here today. They had led my innocent wife to her gruesome death and they are now coming for me. One of the town's residents had disappeared last night and they are accusing me. He was one of the most vehement accusers of my wife and they suppose that I had something to do with his disappearance.
They had left empty handed because everybody in the house testified that I've never left the house all night. When they asked about Esther, Annabel's mother, I told them that she's sleeping and I didn't want to disturb her. In truth, I have not the vaguest idea where she might be.
All of this didn't really matter because I had to lay Annabel's remains to rest. The funeral was quick, we placed her in the family crypt. No priest accepted to hold a sermon, however quick, so we all said a few words to honor her then we prayed together.
The ceremony was hard for me to bear and I broke out crying. I am ashamed of myself because a man shouldn't cry but on the other hand, I loved her very much.
March 18th, 1771:
What a weird day! Things are beginning to become very strange. I've finally decided to take my beloved wife's possessions to the basement. I couldn't bare seeing all the things which reminded me of her. I asked the servants to gather everything, pack them in crates and carry them down.
As soon as the first servant, Julius had gone down, he ran back up with a concerned look on his face. He said that there is a doorway in the wall and a stairway leading down towards the cemetery. His words struck me like a hammer because I wasn't aware of any secret chambers or doorways in the house. First I thought that he had drank too much liquor but I didn't feel the faintest smell of wine on his breath.
I went down and saw that Julius was right. There was an opening on the left wall, the whole basement was permeated by the smell of wet earth and decay. It was coming from down there, no doubt. I ordered the slaves to gather torches and we went down. Julius was with me and of course Eli. Even the big and fearless Eli was reluctant to go down but when I raised my voice, he complied.
I ordered Cornelia and Susannah to stand near the entryway and never leave until we come back. I also ordered them that if we don't come back in one hour, they must hurry to my best friend, Archibald Cook and summon him at once.
We entered the corridor and saw that it was long and dark. I don't know who might have built it and why but somehow I felt that it had to do something with my wife's death and her mother's sudden disappearance. We reached a heavy door made of oak which was hard to open. Behind the door, we found a great chamber with an altar and a pit in the middle. There were bones scattered all around, human bones and skulls and puddles of water. It was even dripping from the ceiling in certain places.
The pit seems to be deep because we threw stones in it and there was no sound of them hitting the bottom. Eli had a spare torch which he eagerly lit then he threw it inside. We carefully watched the ring of fire fall and fall and fall until it became a faint yellowish-red point.
It was at least a mile deep but I'm sure it went on for more. This explained at least why the wells in this area are dry, all the water had seeped in the pit. We took a step back and looked at each other in wild amazement. None of us had seen such a thing and I bet that none of us ever will. I saw both servants make the sign of the cross, Julius even uttered a quick prayer.
I'm wondering now how on earth could somebody dig a hole this deep. What manpower or devilry could have done this? Devilry? Witchcraft? No, that cannot be true!
The altar was next to the pit. It had two strange symbols on it, one of them looked like it was red with dried blood. Blood which looked pretty fresh, maybe a few days old. When I examined the bloodied symbol, I saw a book which had been placed on the altar. A black book with strange writing and even stranger drawings. Some of the pages were complete jumbles, I couldn't understand anything of what was there. Other pages seemed understandable but we didn't linger around in that godforsaken place to read more.
We searched the place some more but found nothing of importance, only an iron door which opened into another corridor. This corridor appeared to lead towards the cemetery. I didn't want to follow this other corridor so we headed back. I saw that Julius and Eli were glad that I wanted to leave.
Nevertheless, I took the book with me. It is now here on my desk waiting to be studied.
March 19th, 1771:
It's early morning, I couldn't sleep a minute but at least I finished studying the book. I can't believe the amount of nonsense written in it but somehow I feel that it is true. That strange fog...
This book is one of many which deal with witchcraft, necromancy and various conjuring spells to summon evil spirits. So was my dear wife a witch after all?
I wonder how this cursed book got in my wife's hands, what devilry is at play here? If what is written in the book is true then this town is facing great danger.
The book talks about one demon in particular, The King of the Valley of Shadow, or the Shadow itself. It is not a possessing demon, it does not take over the souls of people. What it does instead is more frightening, it digs up the dead every third night to give them one more chance to do something their wondering souls desperately want to. I've never heard of such a thing. Only those who are at peace cannot be resurrected. I hope that my dear Annabel is at peace.
This demon, the book says, is a cemetery demon and can be summoned or unsummoned by self-sacrifice. The demon's power is in his spade. It was forged in hell and given to him by the most powerful demon lords who reign over the of eternal fires. Oh, God help us!
I don't know what to believe now. I was already devastated and then I've found this book which further unsettled me. Annabel's words, which she had cried before her death are still worming through my mind. She had said that the shadow will rise again. Had she been referring to the abomination from this book? I hope not but all the signs lead to the most terrible conclusion.
We'll see tonight what happens. If the fog comes again and tomorrow there will be people dead or missing, then it will be clear. I will light a few candles and then try to sleep. I ordered Julius and Eli to make sure that everything is locked and that this night they should stay awake until sunrise. I let them sleep in the afternoon so they won't fall asleep during the night.
March 20th, 1771:
It is true! Oh, God, it is true. The demon is real. The fog came again, it was the third night. People reported screams sometime after midnight. Two men were killed in the most savage way possible. I can't even write it down, it's so horrible.
I feel responsible for everything that is happening now. How can I stop it, I wonder?
If this goes on like this, everybody will be dead soon. I have to do something. Maybe if I could somehow destroy the spade, I can end the demon's reign. But will it work? Maybe I should kill myself and end it all. My life is in ruins anyway.
March 21st, 1771:
I talked to Julius and Eli and told them everything. They have been my loyal servants for a long time and I trust them. Both of them agreed to help me no matter what path I choose.
But first, I've decided to see the demon with my own eyes. The book advises against looking into its eyes because it can curse you with otherworldly illnesses but I want to see it. Tomorrow night we will go down into the catacombs and we will try to follow it. God help us all!
March the 23rd:
Yesterday, after writing my testament, I went to church together with my two faithful servants to say our prayers. We could have said them at home but somehow I felt that I can't be close to God in this cursed house.
Not long before nightfall, the mist began to engulf Linden. My heart sank and I clutched my crucifix like never before. We went down into the underground place and placed torches all around the central hall. There were torch holders on the columns so this proved to be an easy task. After all the torches had been placed in their proper positions, we hid behind the great oak door. We left it open just enough so we could take a peek inside. The waiting was agonizing. Knowing that at any moment, a powerful and merciless force will come out of that bottomless pit, was terrible.
What are we in the face of such a force, what are we in the face of darkness? If you look into its endless depths, it grabs you with its tentacles and drags you down into hell.
Finally, the waiting had ended. We heard movement from the pit, something was scaling its steep walls with a speed which was out of this world.
It reached the surface, we heard the sound of heavy feet stepping onto the pit's stone rim. Silence, we couldn't yet see the demon because one of the columns was in the way. We felt that it could smell us, it was a strange feeling deep in our bones. A terrible sensation of vulnerability gripped us but we stood motionless behind the door.
The demon made a few steps forward, it appeared in our sight now. It was tall and black, wearing a black leather coat which was ragged and half-way melted into its skin. The demon held a spade in its bony hands. We cringed as the faint smell of sulfurous death hit our nose. So this thing was truly coming from hell itself, God, help me!
It turned its hideous face towards us. The lipless mouth showed black teeth. They looked like those of a man, not sharp and pointy as you would expect from a servant of the Devil. Not only the lips, but the nose was gone too. The death-like stare was chilling our bones. I told my servants beforehand not to look into the creature's eyes and they complied. It was hard to resist but we didn't look into them. From what I could see, they were yellow and menacing.
It turned its black skeletal hands upward and all the torches blew out in an instant. We froze with fear. Darkness surrounded us, we couldn't even look at each other because it was so pitch-black. Maybe God was on our side because we heard the heavy steps depart. Julius sighed in relief then both I and Eli let out a heavy breath which was locked inside us for some time.
The iron door squeaked and then we couldn't hear the steps anymore.
I decided that I have to follow the demon. I don't know what came over me but I needed to know what it is doing. As long as we avoided its stare, we were safe so Eli lit up his spare torch and we went into the great hall. We took great caution at every step. What we were doing was a dangerous endeavor and I was wondering why Julius and Eli were following me without question. They must have been afraid but, nevertheless they stood by me.
We went through the iron door and walked carefully along the long corridor. It took us some time to reach the abrupt end. A wooden ladder stood adjacent to the wall and a rectangular opening was visible. I climbed up and stuck my head out. My surprise was great because I recognized the crypt bearing the Hershey name. This is where my mother and father had been buried and one day I will be too.
I will go to sleep now and continue tomorrow, I am exhausted both mentally and spiritually.
March 24th, 1771:
I couldn't get a good night's sleep. My dreams were filled with devils from the pits of hell and the dead. The dead which were walking among the living again to mock God's work.
So, after recognizing where we were, we climbed out into the crypt. The door was open, tired moonlight was riding on the snaking fog outside. I signaled Eli to put out the torch then we headed out. The night's chill didn't surprise me, I knew that with the fog usually came the cold too.
The cemetery awaited us. We stepped outside and we felt no wind blowing. The air was deadly calm, our hearts, however, were not. Stay close, I whispered to my faithful servants then we began walking down the road, into the cemetery.
We had to trust our ears, our eyes were almost without any use in the thick fog. I assured the two men that the demon will not hurt them, however, I wasn't sure of it myself. How could I know if everything in the book is true? I had to trust the words it contained and, of course, God.
The walk was short because we heard distant shoveling from between the graves. Eli signaled us that the sound is coming from his left so we went that way. The shoveling sound came closer and closer. We walked with great care, in order to diminish the sound of our footsteps. I had a feeling that somehow the demon knew that we were close. It might have only been the fear but I knew that it felt us.
We froze when we saw movement a few yards ahead of us. It was the demon, a black shape inside a grave hole working tirelessly to throw the earth outside. Hiding behind some graves was our only choice. For some time, the shoveling continued. We were watching but could only see the faint shape of the demon as it was doing its hellish work.
Suddenly we heard the spade hitting something hard, it was the coffin. It bent down and we heard the breaking of wood and saw pieces of it flying out from the hole as the demon ripped the coffins' lid. It walked out of the hole on the western side and faced east. A few seconds have passed then the hellspawn creature slammed the spade into the earth with great force.
Strange runes appeared on the spade's handle, on the lower part. They were of fiery color, just like the demon's eyes. We heard rumbling and felt a slight tremor immediately after the spade hit the ground. It was like the earth itself screamed in pain.
We were watching breathlessly the unfolding of the following unholy events. A hand reached out from the grave. It was hard to see but we all knew. Then another hand, then the head and upper body of a cadaver appeared. It was a horrible sight and the painful moaning coming from the dead man's throat was unbearable to hear.
The living dead came out of the grave and stood on two bony feet. It looked up at the demon, their stares met and stood locked for a little time. Then the dead man walked away towards the town. It was a slow and shambling walk but we knew now that when this unholy creature reaches its destination, it will raise a hell never witnessed before.
I felt sorry for the poor soul who will be visited this night by the living dead. I was determined to wait. I signaled again towards my men so they understand that I have no intention of leaving. They both understood and expressed no objection against it. The demon didn't move at all, it was waiting. We didn't move either, we just waited.
Two or three hours had passed before anything unusual happened. Until then, the night was deadly silent. The dead man returned but not alone. It was dragging another man by one if his hands. This other man didn't move, we assumed that he had fainted. The corpse stopped beside the grave and waited for the man to wake up. When he did wake up, it grabbed him by his shirt and lifted him up in the air.
'No, please no!' cried the man in horror.
'Remember me, Jeremiah?' spoke the dead man in a voice which seemed to come from hell itself.
'What's happening? Leave me alone!' the man cried and began thrashing, punching and kicking but it was useless.
The cadaver threw him in the grave. He hit the bottom with a muffled thud and uttered a painful cry. The dead man went after him and spoke again.
'Do you remember me?!'
'Y-y-yes, I remember you. I'm sorry...' he began to cry.
'Sorry for killing me? Ha-ha-ha! Then I shall be sorry for tearing you apart!'
'Please don't kill me!'
'No! I will do more than that. I will drag you to hell with me! Your soul will be fried and the flesh is going to peel from your bones. You will cry in vain as the fires will consume you again and again....without end. Eternity is a long time to burn in hell.'
'Oh, God! Oh, God!'
'No, my old friend! God is dead...but I'm alive!'
Then the cries, oh, God! It was unbearable. The poor man was dismembered alive. He screamed and screamed...I can't even write about it anymore.
After the ordeal was over, there was silence. The demon began shoveling the earth into the hole. It looked like an unholy ritual. Why couldn't it just raise its blackened hands and magically put the earth back? After the demon had finished, it walked out again to the same spot where it had cast the first spell. I saw it raise its hand as if casting some unholy spell then it slammed the spade into the ground. The runes lit up again but now in a different order. Everything had slowly fallen back into place. It looked like nothing had ever happened. My God, this demon has such great power, I couldn't believe my eyes.
The demon pulled out the spade from the earth, turned its back on the grave and departed into the fog. Then there was only silence and the lingering echo of pain.
March 25th, 1771:
Again, I couldn't sleep well. I almost couldn't sleep at all last night. I kept hearing the poor man's screams and seeing the demon's face. I don't know what evil force drives this abomination but I have to stop it somehow, even if it means that I have to commit suicide. God forgive me for even thinking about such a horrible act but I feel responsible for everything that is happening now.
I know now with great certainty that my beloved Annabel was indeed a witch, her mother also. After Annabel had been cruelly murdered, her mother avenged her by summoning to most horrific demon she could. This is why she is missing, she is in the pit. It is now my duty to put an end to this curse because innocent people will die. I will talk to Julius and Eli to make preparations. I want my death to be known as sudden and I also want my burial to be quick. They should use a false body because my body will be in the pit. I will also talk to my good friend, Archibald, he has a high status in town, just like me. I know I can trust him with life and also with my death. He will help Julius and Eli with everything.
I will also talk to a talented locksmith to create a mechanism in my crypt which will seal the hole leading to the underground passage and to also close the one in the basement. I shall ask him to put a lever inside my coffin which will be the only means to open up the passage. This way it will be closed for a long time.
After everything is in place, I shall ask my two servants to accompany me to the underground hall and be by my side when I die. I shall reward them generously.
Until then I have to attend to the preparations.
March 27th, 1771:
I can't believe this! That damned demon resurrected Annabel. My dear God, why are punishing me so severely, what have I done to anger you?
I'm down in the underground hall with Julius and Eli and we are staring at each other hopelessly. I locked everything this night but it didn't help. Why Annabel? Oh, God, why her? Why can't you let her rest?
Not even in my wildest nightmares did I think that she will come back. It doesn't matter because she is pounding at the oak door now. She is crying for me, she is lonely in her death.
She entered the house somehow and we took refuge in here because this night I'm going to make my sacrifice. I will end it tonight, I can't bear this. I feel the smell of her burnt flesh and it breaks my heart to know how much she had suffered and is still suffering after her death. Good bye and God help us all!
The kids looked at each other but nobody said a word.
'Wow,' Chris broke the silence, 'what a story!'
'Yeah,' said Jess and sighed, 'but how does it help us to know who summoned the demon first? William sacrificed himself in order to send it back to the pit so we didn't learn much...'
'The spade,' said Andy, 'the spade is the key. We have to break it...somehow.'
'Genius!' said Chris with a sarcastic undertone.
'And how do you wanna do that?' asked Danny with obvious disbelief.
'I don't know yet. Let me think...'
'Sorry but I have to go,' said Nate, 'my mom is gonna kill me if I'll stay out too long without eating something.'
'I'm going home too, I have work to do,' said Danny and stood up.
'All right then,' replied Jess, 'let's meet tomorrow and see what we can do...if we can do anything.'
'We have to,' finished Andy and they all left.