If you are reading this, and I hate to use a cliché, but this one’s accurate unfortunately, then I’m probably already dead. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t gone looking for it, that I’d never gone face to face with the monster that haunts my every waking moment, and is so close to dragging me to hell. But it’s far too late to change anything, so the best I can do is to warn the world of what I have seen.

I had been captivated by a local urban legend. It was rumored that in Roanoke, there dwelled the so-called “Roanoke Child-Catcher,” a boogeyman-like entity that would kidnap children. Through my research, I learned that it had been spotted as early as the time of the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke, where settlers would blame the monster for the failure of crops, their missing cattle, and lost children. Even before the colonists arrived, there were Native American folktales of a child-eating demon that would cause nightmares when it was nearby.

Reports of the Child-Catcher’s appearance and behavior varied. Some described it as grotesquely tall, eight or even ten feet high. Others say it was the size of the children that it stole, only about four feet tall. Some said that it had long claws, or tendrils, or even serpents for fingers. A couple accounts described it as drinking blood like a vampire, and one account stated that it fed on fear. But there were a few constants in the Child-Catcher’s description. It was always depicted as having pale grey skin, a constant smile filled with sharp teeth, and, most notably, a disturbing lack of eyes. It seemed at first that the Child-Catcher was only a local legend. But then I stumbled on some unsettling similar legends. The Norse told of an eyeless troll that was cursed to forever be starving and would devour stray children. The Japanese spoke of a blind Oni (Demon) that would drag lost children to its lair, never to be seen again. The Egyptians wrote of an eyeless demon that would kidnap children and consume their souls. But the oldest legend was of an ancient Sumerian deity called “The Blind One,” that would lure children to the underworld and trap them there forever.

It seemed that almost every culture had a variation of the gruesome Child-Catcher. The pattern intrigued me so much that I set out to Roanoke, where reports of the Child-Catcher had been reappearing, as if he was returning to his old stomping grounds. How I loathe the fact that I made that decision, but alas, my fate has been sealed.

I traveled to the site where the Lost Colony had long ago been settled. There, after an hour of searching, I found a cave, damp and cold. It was the sort of place that a demon, like the Child-Catcher, would dwell. It seemed unusually dark inside of the cave, especially for the middle of the day. But maybe that was only a figment of my imagination. How I wish the rest of this tale was. I entered the cavern, flashlight in hand, and began walking through the pitch-black darkness.

I don’t know how long I was in the cave, or how far I walked, but it felt like an eternity, in both time and distance. The further I progressed into the cave, the colder it got.

Suddenly, my foot snagged on something. I nearly tripped, stumbling over. I turned around, my heart beating like a drum. There was nothing but the long tunnel back behind me. I sighed in relief. I lowered my flashlight to see what I had tripped on. Rather than a rock, or some uneven ground, it was a head. The head of a doll, its body missing. I picked it up, investigating it. The face was smeared, the eyes nothing but a grey blur and the mouth only a red smudge. What was the head of doll doing doing in the middle of a cave? I pushed the thought to the back of my mind; I couldn’t bring myself to think of it.

I continued to wade my way into the darkness, my flashlight scanning the ground ahead of me. The further I went, the more children’s playthings I found: balls, more doll parts, spinning tops, etc. I wanted to leave, but I felt as if some invisible force kept me moving forward and forward into the inky blankness of the cave.

I was almost ready to leave, to forget the cave and the toys and the Child-Catcher altogether, when I saw it. A human skull, staring back at me with its empty sockets, resting on the bones of a child’s body. Next to it was another skeletal child, and another, and another. Twenty of them, completely intact, piled with the bones of dogs and calves. I wanted to scream, I wanted to run, but I was completely frozen. My feet refused to budge, my throat not letting even the smallest sound loose.

I heard a hiss. A horrible, grating hiss that almost sounded like some sort of demonic laugh. I swung my flashlight to see that ungodly, demonic face. A terrible, pale face, with a grin full of sharp teeth like those of a shark, and thin lips like worms, thin to the point of grotesqueness. But where there should have been eyes, there was nothing, just more of its sickly grey skin. Even with its lack of eyes, the face seemed to be staring at me, staring deep into my soul. The demon opened its mouth and let out that horrible, hissing laugh.

I ran. I ran and ran as fast as I could, just to escape that monstrous pale face. I would have sprinted a million miles if I had to, just to get away from that wretched demon and its cave full of skeletons. Just to get away from it.

The moment I saw the light of the outside, I ran even faster, if that was even possible. As I emerged into the outside, I thanked God. I had escaped. I was safe.

I returned to my apartment and threw myself down on my bed. I looked up at the ceiling as I tried to forget that demonic face. Then, I saw it.

“Why are you running!?”

These were the words that had been scratched into the ceiling.

I’d already been caught.