Oh, the farmer’s markets. They have a charm of their very own.
In times of industrialized farming, giant supermarket chains, and online stores, they feel like a remnant of the past.
At a farmer’s market, you can still interact with traders face-to-face and buy fresh produce as well as homegrown vegetables.
It was one curious flyer that drove me to such a market last summer.
It was a flyer of the ‘Annual Bonfire Market’. It was supposed to be held at a small, rural village. When I checked Google Maps, I saw that it was about an hour and a half away from my home.
The flyer didn’t specify much. It mentioned the date and location and that it was supposed to start at five in the afternoon.
Two things caught my interest. First how professionally the flyer was made. Second, that at least a hundred different market traders were attending. It seemed to be quite the event.
After thinking about it for a while, I decided to take my chance and attend.
You see, during the summer my sales usually plummet. There’s not much you can do about it. What most people are looking for are cold drinks or other refreshments. People like me, who are selling meat products, are out of luck.
There are a few events that can still net you a profit, even in summer, but those are few and far between.
So whenever I find out about a new event, I at least attend it once to see if it’s worth the effort. This ‘bonfire’ event made me think of meat and barbecue, so it sounded promising.
When I arrived at my destination, I was quite a bit confused. It had stated that the event was held in a small village, but I saw nothing but a single building: a huge, old farmhouse.
Was this the place? I double-checked the address, but I was, without a doubt, in the right place. My confusion only left me when I noticed the other cars and sales-vehicles nearby.
I parked my truck near the farmhouse and started to search for the organizer. I’d had no way to call or register beforehand, so I wanted to make sure that they allowed newcomers to attend as well. I was pretty sure they would. In all my years as a market trader, I’d been sent away only a few times.
There were quite a few people around, some as lost as me, others busy with preparations.
It didn’t take long for me to spot a stout, balding man, walking from group to group, gesticulating and giving instructions. I was sure I’d found who I’d been looking for.
“Hey there, my name’s Meier. I’m selling salami products. I’m not a registered participant of your event, but I’m sure you still have a place for me available, right?”
The man measured me up and down with his tiny, bead-like eyes before a sly grin appeared on his face. He licked lips once, twice and then, opened his mouth to speak. I saw blackened, rotten teeth.
“Oh, not registered yet, well, you’re not alone my friend,” he said, almost slurring every word.
I don’t know why, but his way of talking and his whole demeanor was pure weird. I’d seen quite a few strange characters over the years, but no one like him. He rubbed his hands almost constantly and I could see that they were sticky. His cloth, too, stuck to his greasy body. It was nothing short of disgusting, and I had to fight the impulse to inch back.
“Now, now,” he finally said, “I’m sure we’ll find just the place for you.”
With that, he led me towards a nearby dirt path and ushered me forward. I did my best to always be a few steps ahead of him so he wouldn’t touch me.
“Well, why don’t you put up your stand right over there, next to one of our other newcomers?”
He pointed at another man who was busy setting up a market stand a bit further down the path.
“Eh, okay, thanks. What about the car? Do you have a designated parking area or something?”
For a moment the man looked at me a bit puzzled, as if he didn’t understand my question, then he shrugged.
“Should be fine if you park it next to the market stand,” he answered disinterested before walking away.
For a moment I looked after the guy, shuddering as the image of his disgusting teeth and greasy skin popped back into my mind.
“The hell’s wrong with that guy,” I mumbled to myself.
Once I’d driven down my car, I started to unpack. The owner of the market stand next to me was quite a few years older than me. He greeted me with a handshake and introduced himself as Martin.
“You never been here either?” I asked him as I unloaded my truck.
He shook his head. “Found out about the whole thing a couple of weeks ago. Wouldn’t even have come here if it wasn’t for the wife. She said I should go and try and, well, here I am. Guess we better make the best of it.”
I nodded. “Well let’s hope any customers show up at all. Feels like we’re in the middle of nowhere… I thought it was supposed to be in the middle of a village and not a random farm?”
“Hah, thought the same thing,” he started, “tell you what, I thought I’d gotten the wrong address. Drove around in circles until I gave up and asked someone.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t follow the wrong damned dirt path and end up in the middle of the forest like me. Was pure luck that I found my way back out. Damned Google Maps didn’t help me one bit!”
When I stood there, in front of him, cursing like that, he burst out laughing.
We kept up the chit-chat for a bit while we both readied our market stands and put up our goods for display.
As I kept looking around, I noticed that there were only about two dozen traders here in total. The flyer had promoted it as this grand event with at least a hundred. Where was everyone? What I saw here was barely at the level of a small weekly market. How could this be a special, annual event?
I wasn’t the only one who seemed to have doubts. Many of the other participants looked as skeptical as me.
Once I’d set up everything I decided to have a quick look around and find out where the toilets were.
When I arrived back at the old farmhouse, I saw that people had been quite busy. There was now a massive bonfire in the center of the yard. Next to it was an on open meat smoker, on which various, different pieces of meat were presented. Some seemed smoked already, others were still raw.
As I made my way around, I noticed the stares I got from a tall, lanky guy. He’d been busy cutting apart a chunk of meat when he saw me and eyed me curiously. I tried to smile at him, but his empty stare was a bit unsettling. As I walked on, I could tell that his eyes were following me.
I was about to enter the door of the farmhouse to look for the toilets when I almost ran into the organizer.
“May I help you?”
“Oh, I just had a look around. You’ve got quite the selection here,” I started, “but I was wondering where the toilets are.”
“The toilets,” he said in a pensive way, almost as if he’d trouble to remember. All the while the skinny butcher kept looking over at us.
“Tell you the truth, my friend, we’ve got a bit of a problem in the back. It’s all clogged up at the moment, you see. If it’s not too much to ask, why not go over there, by the trees?”
I waited for him to reveal the joke, but he didn’t say anything else. All I saw was the same grin he’d shown me before.
“To tell your market participants to piss against the trees,” I lamented to Martin once I was back at my market stand.
The older man thought it was the most hilarious thing in the world. He kept telling me it would’ve been much worse if I’d to take a shit instead. I couldn’t help but join in with his laughter.
To be honest, I wasn’t bothered by taking a piss outside, I was a guy after all. It was the lack of organization and the disinterested behavior that dumbfounded me. None of it was normal.
Time moved on, soon it was five and soon a quarter past five. Wasn’t the event was supposed to start at five? Where the hell were the customers? Was this whole thing a bad joke?
It was another couple of minutes later when I saw a group of people walking down one of the many dirt paths. Did they walk here? We were in the middle of nowhere. There are no houses anywhere nearby as far as I could tell.
As they approached my market stand, I greeted them and present them my samples, but they didn’t even look at me. It wasn’t just my stand though, they ignored all of them. Instead, they made their way straight to the farmhouse and soon vanished out of sight.
“They sure have great customers here,” Martin joked next to me.
As the hours ticked away a few more groups arrived, but they all went straight for the farmhouse. We got a few stares, but that was about it.
I saw that one of the other traders was about to start packing things up. Within moments the stout organizer was next to him, pleading with him.
“Things only really start when the bonfire is lighted, my good friend. Most people won’t even arrive before the sun set. Come, stay a bit longer! I promise you won’t regret it!”
From my market stand I watched the spectacle and listened. I sighed and took a look at my phone. Sunset was in about an hour. Might as well wait a bit longer.
As the sun slowly set the whole place seemed to become completely engulfed in darkness. There were no street lights or flood lights around. The only sources of light I could see where the few market traders who’d brought their own.
This twilight created the illusion that the whole place was shrouded in darkness. It felt almost as if this entire area was now isolated from the rest of the world.
Because of this, the arrival of new people came almost as a surprise. The organizer seemed to have told the truth, things only got going now, that it was dark. Before it had only been a handful of people who’d trickled in, now dozens if not hundreds arrived.
As I stared at these groups I thought I saw a few weird things here and there. A few times I caught glimpses of shrouded, hunched over figures. In the dark, it was almost impossible to make out how tall they were. For a moment I thought the outlines below their shrouds were shifting.
It wasn’t only these shrouded figures that were a bit strange. The people, in general, seemed to be a bit… different. Their faces, their demeanor, almost everything made them appear as if they were inbred. It was almost as if they were a step lower on the ladder of evolution. As bad as it sounds.
After a while, I shook my head. It must be the lights which were playing tricks on me. Hell, I’d been to a ton of village fairs and markets and to be honest, people in rural areas are always a bit different. Not that I ever minded it, they were still friendly and jolly people.
Here things felt different. I don’t know what it was, but the atmosphere felt strange. It was almost as if there was an odor of insincerity in the air. As if you know that all those people here were just pretending. What it was they were pretending though, I couldn’t say.
My thoughts were interrupted by a noise coming from the farmhouse. Moments later I saw how light erupted from the yard in front of it. They must have lighted the bonfire. As if to prove me right I heard how loud laughter and the sounds of excitement and exuberance cut through the air.
It was clear enough that I’d not sell anything right now. There were only a few lone stragglers that still arrived, but those too hurried to the bonfire.
It was soon that my curiosity won me over. I told myself I’d have a quick look around and go watch the bonfire as well.
Making my way to the yard was quite the feat. The whole area was utterly overcrowded with people. Once I’d made it, I took a glance towards the bonfire, but I couldn’t see much. There were way too many people in front of me. The only thing I saw were long, wooden sticks that were held towards the flames, roasting big chunks of meat.
I watched for a while, but then I saw the open door of the farmhouse. Not going to piss against a tree again with all those people around. I was sure they’d unclogged the toilet by now.
I had a look around the small entry room, but it was almost entirely empty. Haphazardly I decided on the hallway to my right to look for any sign of a toilet. As I walked on, I saw nothing. There were a few rooms, but their doors were either locked, or they were empty. Finally, the hallway led into a vast, dark area. I couldn’t see a thing though.
After a short while of fumbling around the walls, I found a light switch. The moment I hit it I realized that I was in a storage room for the meat. All around me carcasses dangled from meat hooks. The smell of flesh was almost suffocating. I was about to turn around and leave the room when my eyes focused on something that shot ice through my veins.
There, right at the back, dangling from a huge meat hook was without a doubt a human torso. I saw the bloodied neck, the shoulders, as well the stumps were the legs would’ve been.
I stood there, frozen, telling myself this must be a joke. It was a prop to scare the kids or play a trick on trespassers who snuck in here. There was no way this could be real. I looked through the room to convince myself. It was clear that all the other pieces of meat in here were animal carcasses, right?
They were not.
There was another torso to my left, a lower body at the far right and a bit down the row dangled a lonely leg. Did this mean all those other chunks and pieces around me were the same as well? Were they all… human?
Dear god, what was this place? What had I stumbled upon here?
I couldn’t think. All I could do was stare at the horror around me in disbelief. There was no way, was there? This had to be-
“Goddamnit, who the hell’s in there? Is that you Rainer? I thought I told you if I ever saw you nibbling on one of them again, I’d beat the living shit out of you!”
Oh god, someone was coming! What the hell do I do? I almost rushed towards the exit of the room but realized I’d run straight into whoever was coming. I took a few steps back into the room, then a few more, then I hurried to the back.
I couldn’t see any other exit, no doors, no windows, nothing. I had to hide. But where could I even hide? Right then I saw an old, metal cabinet. Within moments I ripped at the doors and thanked God when they opened. I was inside in a second and closed them behind me again.
It didn’t take long for someone to step into the room. From the small slit between the doors, I could see who it was. The skinny butcher who’d measured me up before.
“Now where the hell are you…?” he asked with not just a bit of malice in his voice.
As he looked around and scanned the room, I didn’t dare move. I didn’t even dare to breathe, afraid he’d hear it. I felt like an animal in front of a headlight, like prey in front of a predator.
The empty eyes of the guy wandered from carcass to carcass, and he slowly started to step into the room.
Oh god, please don’t let him notice me, I prayed. Please don’t let him notice me. I repeated this over and over in my head. Then a new thought popped into my mind. Did he know I was here?
He stepped further and further into the room, pushing the meat, no the bodies aside as he did. With each step, he got closer to the cabinet. Any moment now, I thought, any moment now.
I almost screamed out, almost jumped from the cabinet in blind panic, when I was saved by a boy. He suddenly stumbled into the room. The skinny butcher jerked around, walked towards him and slapped him across the face.
“Didn’t I tell you to turn the damned light off in here? What are you even doing back here? If you did grab a bite again, I dare you…”
“But I did-” the boy started.
He didn’t get to finish what he was going to say because the organizer’s booming voice was heard from the hallway.
“What’s the hold-up, we need another one, quickly, a woman this time!”
“Right away,” the skinny butcher answered. “Get this one over there,” he yelled at the boy, and when he didn’t move right away, he slapped him again.
Still sitting in the cabinet, I watched as the boy took down part of a female body and carried it out of the room. The skinny butcher stayed for a bit longer. He looked over the bodies, counting them.
“Not too many left, guess it’s time for the main event soon.”
With that, he turned off the lights and left the room.
I can’t say how long I sat inside the cabinet. I was shaking, shivering and trying my hardest not to hyperventilate. Any moment now, I thought, the lights would turn back on and I’d see the butcher’s face right in front of the cabinet. Or the stout organizer would drag me from it with his greasy hands to sink his black, rotten teeth into my flesh.
For long minutes I fought to keep the fear at bay and to keep myself from panicking. Only once I’d calmed down and had made sure no one was around, did I dare open the doors of the cabinet.
With light steps, I made my way back into the hallway. I’d barely crossed the first few meters when the same boy from before came running into my direction.
He stopped and stared at me. His eyes were wide and almost empty. I could see that his head was hard at work trying to decipher the situation. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, which made my heart skip a beat.
“Men are to the right, women to the left, got that?” I said in as hard a voice as I could muster.
For a few nerve-wracking seconds he stared at me, thinking, but then he seemed to give up, nodded and ran past me.
I almost dropped to the floor as the strength left my legs. I slumped against the wall, breathing heavily.
I couldn’t rest though. I had to go on. I had to get out and stumbled onward.
Outside the noise rose up again. It became jubilation as I heard hundreds of voices scream up with excitement. It turned into a wild cacophony before the sounds of utter chaos erupted from outside.
I was back in the entry room. I took one step towards the door, but they’d see me, wouldn’t they? No way could I risk that.
Instead, I stormed down the other hallway. There had to be a different way out! I went for the first door I saw, but it was locked. The next one I tried led me into a room that was trashed and almost entirely covered in blood. I almost vomited at the sight.
I almost threw the door shut again when I saw the butcher in the entry area. I almost jumped into the room, hoping he hadn’t seen me.
At that moment I saw something. Lying on the floor in the room was an old, dirtied jute shroud. The same type those figures wore.
I’d no idea if it would even work, but there wasn’t anything else I could do. I picked it up and quickly shrouded myself into it, hoping I could trick them and get out of here.
“Who’s over there? I dare you, Rainer, if you’re fooling around again, I-”
He broke up when he saw me. His face distorted for a moment and he inched back a step.
“Oh, I didn’t… it’s served outside, there’s nothing in here anymore,” he said in an almost scared tone.
I didn’t say anything. Instead, I pulled the jute shroud as close around me and hurried outside.
I stopped in my tracks when I actually saw the horror that was going on. I’d seen the bodies, sure. I’d heard the organizer call out. I knew what must be going on. Yet seeing it for real was different.
I saw the wide eyes and open mouths of the visitors. I saw how they stared at the body parts and chunks of meat roasting on the long wooden sticks. Human body parts and human meat.
The bright fire revealed the true nature of their faces. I’d thought of them as inbred, but they couldn’t possibly be human. Their mouths were too wide, their faces too different. Those people, no, those creatures here, were something entirely different.
They pushed against each other, reached out into the flames to get the glistering piece of meat. I felt nauseous watching as they gorged themselves on human flesh. They smiled in ecstasy as grease and blood ran down their misshapen mouths and faces.
Some looked more like humans, while others were caricatures. They had long mouths with giant teeth and swallowed arms and legs whole. A few were as small as children, and yet others reminded me of beings from myths and folklore.
Worst though, were the things hidden under the shrouds. Only once did I catch a glimpse of one of them. I saw a disgusting, leathery face with a beak instead of a mouth. Just for a short moment did the one eye of the creature focus on me, before it turned back to the chunk of meat it was holding.
I had to get away from here. It was only a matter of time before I’d get noticed!
As best as I could, I made my way through the cannibalistic monstrosities around me. I squinted my eyes, to not see what was going on and focused only on the edge of the crowd. That’s where I had to go. That’s what I had to reach.
Each step was worse than the one before. It meant pushing on against nightmarish creatures and new surges of terror. I desperately held on to the shroud, which had been ripped away almost twice. I ebbed forward step by step, but as I reached the edge of the crowd, I realized that the nightmare wasn’t over.
Guess it’s time for the main event soon.
That’s what the butcher had said. As I saw the area around the farmhouse, I knew what the main event must’ve been. I had been us, the traders.
As I looked on, I saw the remains of market stands and sales vehicles. The whole area must’ve been overrun by the frenzied mob due to its thirst for human flesh.
The air was heavy with a stench that I wouldn’t dare to describe. For a moment I couldn’t fight the urge to vomit, then I forced my body to move on.
Here and there I saw a few stragglers. Creatures feeding on the few pieces that remained of the market traders.
I heard screams from nearby, proof that someone else must still be alive. I didn’t dare to look.
It wasn’t long before I found the remains of my market stand.
My breath was ragged, coming out in hard intervals as I dragged myself towards my car.
It looked as if it was still undamaged. I prayed that I was right, I prayed.
A quick look around revealed that there were only a few creatures around. They were searching through the nearby meadow, most likely for the one market trader that hadn’t been around, me.
Finally, I reached the car. With one swift motion, I hit the key to unlock the door, ripped it open and jumped inside.
It took me only a moment to start it, but I’d already been noticed. The first of the creatures rushed towards the car and hit the door right when I locked it. In berserk fury the thing beat down at it. There was the heavy creak of metal before the glass window exploded into a thousand pieces.
I hit the gas, but for a moment the car didn’t move, then monstrosity outside had to let go.
I exhilarated the car and sped down the dirt path. I was past the remains of the market stands, then I was at the farmhouse, then I was past it. I was about to thank god for having made it, when I saw something standing next to the road ahead.
It was one of the shrouded figures. Within a moment the shroud flew up into the air. I heard a bloodcurdling scream of rage and fury. Before I closed my eyes and hit the gas, I saw it. I saw the nightmarish truth of what lay hidden under these shrouds. It was a giant, hulking mixture of human, bird and something else. There were too many limbs, there was scared, bulging flesh and feathers. Eyes closed and high on adrenaline, I floored the gas. I heard the scratching of claws, the tearing of metal and for a moment I was sure that was it. That the thing had caught me in its grasp.
But I wasn’t stopped. The car rushed on, and I heard the thing rage behind me. I didn’t dare to look back.
I didn’t look back for as long as I drove on. It was long past midnight when I finally dared to stop the car. Via the navigation system, I made it to a nearby petrol station. It was from there that I called the police and reported the whole incident.
I’m not sure what I’ve told them that night. I must have been a nervous wreck, babbling and yelling about cannibalistic murders.
I can’t remember for how long they questioned me.
When they finally went to check on the farmhouse, they found it completely abandoned. Nothing was there. No people, no cars, no market stands, nothing. Worst of all, no proof that anything had happened.
For the past half year, I’ve seen a shrink. He’s been trying hard to convince me that my story can’t be true. What I thought I saw that night hadn’t been real. He’s telling me there were no creatures and no murders. It was all in my head.
I really want to believe him. I want nothing more than to accept that it was all just my own delusion, a hallucination conjured up by my own mind.
I can’t anymore though. Now that the new year started, I decided to attend markets again.
It was just yesterday that I saw a stout, balding man who was giving out fliers. The moment his small-bead like eyes focused on me, I knew who he was.
The moment he gave me a sly grin and revealed his blackened, rotten teeth, I knew he’d recognized me as well.