It seems, nowadays, that Ichor Falls is a town stricken by plague. Certainly the atmosphere — the thick fog, the ever-barren trees — these things lend themselves well to horror stories. But now, with the unexplained deaths… the local stations would have you believe it’s the act of some sociopath, that the police are “breaking the case wide open.” It’s far from the truth. If you asked me, I’d say it was The Locksmith, but most Ichor Falls residents are too young to know of that horrible event — I myself am too young, in case you thought that was the wind-up to some fanciful tale. But I’ve always been fascinated by this town’s history — morbid curiosity, I guess — and have taken a look at some rather ancient correspondence tucked away in the town hall archives.
Here’s the history lesson.
In 1832, a plague of a different sort passed through Ichor Falls. Children were dying. The cause? Nobody knew, not really. These deaths would always come by night, certainly never when somebody was around to notice. The only symptoms were redness about the neck, as if by strangulation, and the broken home those deaths would leave behind. It reeked of murder. And no family was spared. Even old Mayor Cuthbert, who by now was well into his twilight years, lost his beloved daughters to this night phantom. Enter Ernst Hallock.
Ernst wasn’t the town locksmith; lockmaking generally fell on the Blacksmith, who was more than happy to add them to the horseshoes and wagon wheels that had made his business such a success. No, Ernst was a vagabond, a transient who appeared in town around the time the plague had set in. Naturally, the city fathers began to point fingers, but reason kept them at bay. After all, they’d never caught Hallock in the act, and furthermore, there was no reason to believe this man was a murderer; from all accounts, Ernst was a pious, kind-hearted peddler. The minds of men, however, are as weak as they are fickle, and the slightest provocation will often set them astray.
One night, the city fathers, led by Reverend O’Connor, decided to hide in and around Ichor Falls’ various shadowy cloisters, watching for any suspicious figure that might force his perverse will on yet another child. It was then that they heard a shriek, and, running toward the lake, found a shaken Hallock hovering over the body of Johnny Jones, a local boy. The boy was dead, and exhibited a certain mark upon the neck, one they knew well. Voices roared and raged, and fists pumped wildly as the crowd grabbed at Ernst and took him into custody. The only voice that couldn’t be heard was Hallock’s — Hallock was a German, and knew only so much English as to profit from whatever trade he might take up. Add to this his quiet and unassuming nature, and you had a man almost completely unable to explain himself. And when you’re a man who has been damned for the slaughter of a town’s children, this is probably a skill you should have.
The punishment was harsh for Ernst Hallock. Oh, most certainly he would be put to death, but it was the manner in which this death was brought about that is most disturbing. In among the documents I’d read on the grisly subject, I’d happened upon a technical drawing of a suit. It was a suit completely of steel, very reminiscent of the Iron Maidens of yore. There were only two openings in this terrible contraption, one for each eye, and a long series of locks ran down the back, to hold forever what poor soul was condemned to languish inside. Ernst Hallock, apparently, was that soul. On November 3, 1833, Ernst Hallock was encased in the suit, and dropped into Lake Cuthbert by five men. George Grenville, one of the five, described it thus:
“A terrible sight was his body, a mass of iron with eyes fixed on none but myself…even long after we dropped him, the echoes of his hoarse screams could still be heard…”
Of course, several years later, it was discovered that the murders were not actually by the hand of man, but by a curious pestilence spread by rats that would frequent what grain storage Ichor Falls kept. A disease that, as you might have guessed, left a flush redness on the necks of its victims. Remorseful, the five men who executed Ernst Hallock searched the lake to give the man a proper burial. He couldn’t be found, but then, the lake was quite deep.
Nowadays, you still hear the odd sighting of a “man in a suit of metal” drifting about in the night. Reports vary as to the exact look, but most agree that the rusted creature moves in slow, uneven steps, dragging his eternal prison with him across these horrible valleys. Perhaps he moans — it’d be hushed and quiet beneath that deathmask, and nobody’s gotten close enough to hear for sure. The ravages of time, too, have corroded his shell, and “wet, bleeding flesh” can be seen through what small holes exist. But most striking are the eyes — eyes yellowed, nearly green in color. Eyes that betray their lustre of life with the deadness and severity of their gaze. Eyes that scream, with the shrillness and intensity that echoed and echoed up from the depths of that lake. Does this mean The Locksmith is killing the residents of Ichor Falls? Not necessarily. But I figure he’s thirsty for retribution — and besides, only a few weeks ago putrid Lake Cuthbert was completely drained to establish a new housing community nearby.
Guess what wasn’t at the bottom?