(OJ Note: This particular short story was inspired by a walk in the beautiful woods of White Leaf Cross in Buckinghamshire. I felt a certain Lovecraftian vibe with this tale, and may push it further. Hope you enjoy.)
“Never go to Tumorville,” they say, but no-one ever listens.
First of all, it isn’t even actually called ‘Tumorville’. That’s just a colloquial name due to it’s unfortunate effects. Geographically, the area is known as Tummon Wood, a vast number of acres stretching as far as the eye can see. Filled with rolling hills that give away to extraordinary vistas charting every inch of the small towns and villages surrounding it. I, myself, am from the tiny hamlet of Carvany, and my jaunts into Tummon Wood were legion.
As a child, much joy would be had in hiking through the dense woodland. Tall spires of bark would reach toward the sky, flanking you in an ominous fashion. You never felt truly scared, though, as the blue skies above would shine down and make the land around you greener than anything ever seen before. Through thick bushland, and great valleys, you would find yourself only a little lost, before finding one of the many tracks created by cartographers before.
It became quite the destination to go, for families and the adventurous, but you always felt there was something more lurking beyond. For every moss-covered branch that stuck out of the ground, there was always a patch of land that you’d never have seen before. An untouched paradise that glowed with the glory of nature.
That, tragically, was how Tumorville was discovered.
The story has been lost in time, but I believe it began with a youngman known as Terence Fitton. Young Master Fitton had been frolicking amongst the fauna, and come across a large expanse of green land that had not felt the feet of man before. It was much like any other clearing, except for the large, protruding mounds that dotted it’s terrain.
Master Fitton did what most children his age did when greeted by such a sight; he jumped and skipped and enjoyed this discovery with a naïve glee. Why, tellers of the tale suggest he spent hours in that area, just enjoying himself much as a child would.
It wasn’t until the call of his mother took him away, and several nights passed into the ether, that young Fitton was struck with a plague no doctor had ever seen before. Giant boils and pustules grew upon his skin, from toe to nose, and caused him much pain and distress. The medical professionals who tended to him were confounded by such as sight. His face became a pile of growths and gruesome stains, and the worst was only yet to come. The screams that pierced the habitats surrounding his home, were inspired by the bursting of such growths and warts. A vile, brown ooze flooded from them, and stank so bad that it induced nausea in all those who came near the poor child.
Naturally, his life was not for long, and upon his death an autopsy was performed to ascertain the cause of this plague. The horror evolved, as his tiny, blighted body was opened up, to find all internal organs struck by the same sickness. Everything, from his heart to his muscles, were covered in firm, flesh-like swellings, with several rupturing to produce the same brown rot.
Immediately, much concern came over the possible spread of such a disease, but after a few months of gestation, nothing came. The people of the surroundings villages breathed a sigh of relief, and simply mourned to grotesque passing of such an innocent life.
Of course, such things always come to pass again, and soon enough a band of hikers had come across Tumorville themselves. Within a week, they were all taken down by the same malady as young Fitton, and ultimately the same fate. Vile contortions, wrecked by a cancer that now had an obvious cause. Many experts in the field of the geographic were curious as to investigate this area; they wished to experiment on it, and find out why it caused such horrors upon the human body.
Naturally, precaution was the word that was enforced, and each of the folk who chose to investigate took it upon themselves to make sure they were not infected with the same pox. When we saw them walk the streets, on their way to Tummon Wood, they looked like beasts from the future; bedecked head to toe in strong, and secure, materials that were an imposing black, with instruments around their face to prevent any infection.
Everyone hoped they would find something, but no-one expected what would occur.
Their adventure was closely monitored by each of the town and village elders surrounding Tummon Wood. Our own, Clement Watt, would watch from a safe distance as they went inside the clearing, and inspected the mounds.
When poking away at one of the natural growths, a botanist by the name of Pickering was taken aback when it seemed to react to his probes. Alas, the curiosity that this caused was only to seal his fate, as the mound burst forth some of the vile pus that infected the corpses, and leaked into his clothing. Soon enough, he was coughing blood and collapsing to the floor, while the others there could only watch their fellow man suffer.
Pickering was, to his extreme pain, to become a guinea pig of sorts. He was taken back to the medical facilities, and tested upon while in dire agony. The pustules grew at an advanced rate, and he would cough up more of that horrible brown ooze. In fact, his death was quicker than that of young Fitton and the hikers, and his autopsy provided a most horrible public display.
By now, even I had been introduced to investigate this natural terror. I was a man of science, this was true, but my practices were of such a manner that I was struck out of my community. Some men, especially those with practical minds, refuse to allow people like me to succeed. We are seen as worse than the horrors that are born.
And yet, we often are the ones who are called upon the most.
It was Harken, the head of the team designated to look into Tumorville, that relented to my hire. He knew what I was capable of, and knew that he didn’t want me anywhere near Tummon Wood.
There I was, however, on a bright day in June, looking out across the same views that I had enjoyed as a young man. The same views that would have filled the heart of young Fitton, as he indulged in his childish inquisitiveness. Looking over the village I called home, and it’s neighbours, I wondered aloud how they would find me, after I indulged in the ways of my own, particular science.
With coldness, no doubt.
Harken led me in, along with a team of fellow botanists and geologists, to Tumorville. I did not enter the area itself, yet stood outside and viewed the hideous mounds that protruded from the Earth itself. They looked like the sort of disturbances one would associate with rabbits and moles, yet I was informed that no animal was to be found within a cubic mile of this place.
It was then that I had my first theory, and one that gave me early derision.
If you were an intelligent man, and partook in the various local history books found at your local library, you would find that in the history of our little community, there was much darkness under the surface. Tummon Wood, especially, was home to all sorts of black arts and dark deeds, and I proposed that alchemists of the past had used this area, Tumorville especially, to indulge their nefarious ways.
I was questioned as to how this would affect the land, and all I could offer was something born of the metaphysical, rather than the firm. That, possibly, the alchemists had become one with the nature around them, and entered into a cult-like state that, ultimately, caused a great rot to be placed here. That rot, that utter foul darkness, was condensed in the area known as Tumorville, and has bred ever since.
Of course, such theories are scoffed at, and Harken then submitted the question of how it caused infection within people. I, myself, could not give him firm answers, only to suggest that whatever cruel nature lurks below the surface, would be one that could lurk under the skin of man.
Naturally, such ideas were put aside for the more practical ones. Even my suggest, of digging under the mounds, was firmly put into the negative. After the death of Pickering, any attempts to disturb the land had fallen on deaf ears; no-one wanted to risk their life in any name, let alone science.
All I could was watch, as Harken, along with a couple of other science minds, donned their suits and invited me in. A chill came over my spine, and I refused their offer, instead looking to observe in these stages. Their entrance was calm and without event, until they tried to grab something from the topsoil of the land.
Inman, a keen geologist, wanted to see if there were any curious minerals in the Earth, that would cause such disease. His theory, such as it was, concluded that it could be an after-effect of the manufacturing that had evolved recently. Experiments in minerals and elements that we still did not truly understand, and that had already caused much sickness across the country. Nonetheless, Inman wanted to clarify his theory with a scraping of soil, especially from the mound itself.
The crowd around me gasped, as the ground below his feet collapsed to bury him up to his waist. At first, everyone was simply in shock, and mild hysteria. The sight of Inman trying to force his way up from the ground became almost farcical, especially when Harken and the others tried assisting.
Then, the sickness struck.
One can only speculate how it started, but an intense fear warped his features before his struggles became more desperate. He began shouting of something crawling around, and up, his leg, before he went very still again.
With one, mighty retch, his face-mask filled with the very same brown pus of before. The stench was overwhelming, and it took all my senses to save myself the same expulsion. The crowd could barely watch, but I kept my eyes firm. What I saw would stick with the mind forever, as Inman’s face bloated with a number of gross growths, and his suit tore with their immense evolution upon his body.
Soon, his very protection had been destroyed, to leave behind a body made host to a serious of cancerous tumours that split the skin and seeped out the brown rot within. Inman was still living through this whole ordeal, his earlier screams breaking into a pathetic whimper. He was in pain, this was without doubt, but he knew he was resigned to his fate.
Harken looked at me, and demanded that I help in some way. I could have postulated that my position was the same as that of a spectator, and by entering the area known as Tumorville, I was risking infection myself. Instead, I located a nearby log, and used every ounce of my strength to hurl it in Inman’s direction.
Upon impact, I saved him from the pain that he was enduring, as his body burst with a loud splatter. The smell was, well, I can’t quite put into words.
In his madness at these events, Harken began to accuse me of murder, but I remained calm in the midst of these accusations. He had asked for help, and I had provided it. Alas, there was to be no discoveries made from Inman’s sacrifice, as his burst body simply sunk into the ground, not to be found. The smell that came from the hole was so powerful, one could barely step even 3 feet near it.
Upon calming, every remaining man of science who had an interest in Tumorville, agreed that further investigations were ill-advised. In fact, and the opinion stands today, I suggested a horrifying scenario; that the land known as Tumorville would not remain in it’s present state, and instead would begin to grow.
Within mere months, I was proven to be correct. Those that travelled the woodland within a mile of it, reported the same sickness that struck young Fitton. Even Harken, daring to get to the bottom of this mystery, went as far as he could, before the malady took him as well.
His last words to me, that remain embedded in my mind this day, were simple.
“Find out what lurks beneath,” he said, “and make sure no-one ever, ever, goes to Tumorville.”
I tried to heed his final breath, but the visions that Tumorville, or Tummon Wood, provide, as well as the beautiful nature around it, are as intoxicating as the finest ale one can find. While I would fail in the latter request, I vowed never to give up on the former. My theory remains, as Tumorville grows and grows. One can see it, in the mounds of land that appear over the course of weeks, upon the delightful green pastures. The sickness continues to take life, but mostly travellers who fail to heed the warnings of the locals.
As for what lurks underneath Tumorville, I remain stoic in my conviction that it’s cause is not born of the standard mind, but living outside of it. I was recently put into contact with a scientist who, using curious equipment I have never seen before, suggests we can survey the land below. He has already given me one bit of curious news; that under Tumorville is a number of tunnels and caverns never known before by any local.
He suggests that he can get me a machine that can enter the area from the side, but I shiver at the thought. I have read the books that he hasn’t, and I know the minds that dared to play with beings of a celestial plan beyond ours. The ones who, when given the opportunity to look God in the eye and defy him, did so.
I still do not know for sure what Tumorville is, or how it came to be. All I know is the disease it causes, and that it does not stop. It will not stop. And, that ultimately, my fate will be in going to investigate these caverns and tunnels, and finding something that I hoped never to see.
The darkness that I have been researching all my life.