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The Madness
Paul, Age 13, Shanghai, China

The wind whistled through the trees outside, making them groan as if in pain. Robert Downing was reminded of the sinister former purpose of this ‘cottage’. He shuddered at the thought, and pulled his research closer to him. As he gathered up the files and archives, a small black book slid out of one of them. He stared at it carefully. He hadn’t known it was there. His experienced eyes analysed its condition, and he guessed it was around 50 years old. That was when the Clark-Hamilton expedition disappeared, in these very woods. Several years later, the mutilated body of Clark turned up, its face twisted in pure horror.

Robert shuddered again. Experts had speculated about the disappearance and this gruesome find ever since. None of the bodies of the other members of the ill-fated expedition had ever turned up. For a brief moment Robert felt he was out of his depth, in the middle of something bigger, but he brushed the feeling away. After all, he was one of those experts.

He looked at the book again, and picked it up. He thought he heard a noise outside, but dismissed it as the wind beating against the leafless trees outside. The book felt cold to the touch, and didn’t get warmer as he held it. He opened it and felt a sudden pain in his mind, his very consciousness. It was only there for an instant, but Robert began to feel odd. With some effort, he pulled himself together again.

The book was a diary, he realised. Belonging to Clark himself! Many people would pay a fortune for this, and it could solve the mystery of the expedition’s disappearance. Trembling with excitement and fear, he began to read:

Jan 15 1957
Dear Diary,
So far so good. Our search for the object is going well. The men are in high spirits as we progress towards the Cadaver Forest. Soon we will reach the edge. Can’t wait!

Robert frowned. He never remembered hearing about a search for an object. He thought it had been a scientific expedition. He read on with curiosity.

Jan 23 1957
Dear Diary,
The trip started well, but things have been steadily going from good to bad to worse. Morale is dropping, and there seems to be no end to these bare trees. One man has already deserted, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing him again. I can’t help feeling we’re going around in circles.

Jan 26 1957
Dear Diary,
We found John today, the deserter. His face was horrible to look at. What could have cause so much fear? I thought I heard a thump nearby. The men are in low spirits but too scared to desert. However, I think this whole cursed expedition is disturbing some of them. I’ll have to keep an eye on them.

Robert silently pondered over the fear in John’s face, before continuing:

Feb 2 1957
Dear Diary,
We’ve lost another man since I last wrote. I hate this forest! Poor old James Fairburn went out of the camp for firewood, but never came back.

Feb 3 1957
Dear Diary,
We found James’ body today, his horrible expression just like John’s. We all liked him a good deal, but no one volunteered to search for the cause of his death. Another thump was heard.

Feb 13 1957
Dear Diary,
Some of the men are really going mad now with fear and revulsion. I can’t blame them. We’ve lost two more men since I last wrote, and as our supplies are finished, we were forced to …urgh…eat them. I don’t care about the stupid object any more. We’re just trying to get out of here alive.

Feb 19
Dear Diary,
The camp is in chaos. Everyone’s turning on each other, but none dare leave the group. We’re not that mad. The men are delirious. We had to shoot Rutherford after he tried to hurt us. That thump again. Oh…no. The thump, the deaths, the madness. It’s coming closer. Oh, God. It’s coming. Don’t go into the woods! Don’t…coming…

The entry ended there, followed by a scribble and a simple drop of blood. Robert slowly put it down. He wondered. And realised. This was a torture chamber. It all came together…noise…He slowly began to laugh, and the hysterical noise filled the cramped room…

THUMP

Outside, the skeletal trees swayed in silent, mocking laughter.

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