Hey there!

I've got a special gift for you!

From: An anonymous benefactor

The only noise that could be heard was the slosh of the oars as they dipped into the water and slipped through the murky lake. The water lapped against the sides of the small rickety boat and your knuckles whitened as you gripped the stiff plank of wood that acted as your seat. You couldn't believe you were doing this. More to the point, you couldn't believe your friends had all bailed out and you were doing this alone.

For the fifteenth time, your eyes drifted towards the island and its pier just ahead. The nameless island was an utter mystery to the town. No one knew why it had been sealed off or what was on the small island. There were theories, however. Like many abandoned and unknown places, the island had become a ghost story that was whispered about in the dead of night. Ghosts, monsters, and ghouls. You had heard all of the different versions of the tale. But now you finally had a chance to see the truth of the place with your own eyes. Last week, a shocking announcement had arrived stating that Gaians could visit the island. You simply could not resist the curiosity that compelled you to go look.

Humming drew your attention away from the island and back to your guide. He called himself the ferryman, but the dingy little boat was far from a ferry. His clothes were a bundled mess of brown hues, his beard was as wild as his graying hair, and when he had laughed earlier you had spied a few missing teeth. In a single word, the man was sketchy. Nonetheless, he was the only boater who had permission to bring people to the island and back. The humming stopped and hazel eyes met your own. You quickly looked away, embarrassed for having been caught staring.

"Ye wasted a lot of time waitin' for yer friends." The ferryman's voice was gruff and blunt, "Ye won't have much time 'fore sunset."

You winced as you recalled the awkward thirty minutes spent waiting for your friends. You had toyed with your phone as you desperately tried to figure out where each of them was. Meanwhile, the ferryman had unflinchingly stared at you and repeatedly pestered that he wouldn't stay on the island once dark arrived.

"I won't be long." You glanced towards the sky as you spoke; the rays of the setting sun were beginning to tint the water orange. You really wouldn't have that much time.

More silence filled minutes passed and you were relieved when the boat finally reached the pier. Well, pier would have been an exaggeration. It was just a small structure of wood with a lantern hanging on a post to mark its presence. You were surprised that the planks of wood that made up the dock even supported your weight as you wobbled out of the boat. There wasn't a single piece that hadn't been warped and twisted by age.

"Be quick." The ferryman, not having bothered to help you out of the boat, was already leaning against a post and using the hanging lantern to light a cigarette, "I ain't gonna wait if ye take too long when I holler for ye to come back."

You wrinkled your nose at the smell and moved away. Leaving the dock, you spotted a rotting sign next to an old cobble path. Although the paint was peeling and mostly flecked off, you somehow managed to read the words. Graveyard Pier. What a cheerful name for the place. Suddenly, you grinned as renewed excitement filled you. You were actually here; at the place where so many stories were born from. Your friends were going to regret not coming. With a spring in your step, you walked down the path and further into the island.

Autumn leaves painted the ground orange and yellow. Around you the trees were withered, brown, and bare from fall's touch. The only noise you could hear was the crunch of leaves underfoot and the occasional sound as a dead branch fell from somewhere in the woods. Your eyes darted like a dragonfly as you tried to take in as much as possible in the short time you had. Ahead, you could see a cottage next to an arched open metal gate. You paused at the abandoned cottage, looking at the vines that crawled up its side. From above, perched on the roof, a raven stared down at you with beaded eyes and cawed. Annoyed at your curious gaze, it cawed again and flapped its wings menacingly. You blinked and backed away. You had absolutely no desire to pick a fight with a bird.

You turned back to the gate entrance and looked through. Tombstones were scattered across a field of dead grass and leaves. You now knew why this place was called Graveyard Pier. Hesitantly, you stepped into the graveyard. Most of the tombstones were broken or crumbling and many of the engravings were impossible to read. Clearly, there had not been a grave tender here for a very long time. You wandered deeper into the graveyard, careful of your footing. A few more ravens gathered along the ancient monuments and warily watched you. Trailing a hand to wipe a leaf off a plaque, you paused as something caught your eye. Turning, you frowned as you stared off into the woods.

There. A small light. Why was there a light in the woods? Your frown deepened as you crossed the graveyard to its edge. Closer now, you could barely make out something that looked like a structure. It was hard to tell with the thick brush and trees.

Stay or go. You weighed your options. A raven cawed behind you, almost sounding like a dare. Lifting your chin, you made your decision and walked into the woods. You had come this far already, no point in stopping now.

Branches snapped and scratched against leaves as you pushed forward towards the flicker of light. You could see there was once a path here, but it had long since been buried by nature. Ignoring the unease forming in your chest, you steadily continued until you finally reached the source. A candle in a window. The structure, a wood cabin, was derelict and filthy. The porch roof was tilted precariously to the side, one of its posts collapsing in on itself. Most of the windows appeared broken and boarded up. The only reason why the light from the candle was visibly was because one of the boarded planks of wood had fallen off.

You cautiously walked onto the porch, warily staring at the roof the entire time. The wood below you moaned under your weight as you approached the door. When you reached it, you suddenly stopped. You hadn't actually thought this far. Frowning once more, you raised your hand and knocked. The door drifted inward the moment your knuckle hit it. The door had not been fully closed.

"Hello?" You called out as you peered into the cabin.

No one replied and you slowly stepped in. The moment you did, you blinked and then blinked again. The inside of the cabin was spotless. You had expected dust, dirt, and spider webs, but the cabin was in perfect condition. Utterly surprised, you took a few more steps inside. The place looked like it could have been in a brochure. The only thing out of place was the gifting supplies that was neatly located throughout the room.

In an empty corner, dozens and dozens of small plain boxes were stacked. On the table in the center of the room were rolls of different colored wrapping paper and ribbons. Wandering over to the oak desk, you spotted a pile of crisp white gift tags next to a calligrapher's pen and inkwell. On the windowsill just above the desk, was the lit candle, flickering in the drafty air. Everything you saw in the room seemed fastidiously placed and organized.

You gazed thoughtfully across the room. This was someone's workshop. That was very clear to you now. Who it was or why they had set up in such an isolated and secret manner was a mystery. You faced the desk once more, searching its surface for clues. Your hand was just inches from the drawer when an unsettling feeling fell across you.

You were being watched.

The hair on the back of your neck was raised. A cold bead of sweat slid down the side of your face and you straightened. You could feel an intense stare focused on the center of your back. You did not want to, but you had to turn. Even though you knew this, it took you a few seconds to gather your courage. Just get it done and over it. Quickly and without forewarning, you whirled around to face the stranger and... And saw nothing. Breath coming in short bursts, you searched the room for someone. Your heart was pounding wildly in your chest.

There was no one there.

You shivered, wiping your clammy hands on your pants. You must have spooked yourself. Even as you tried to silently laugh it off, your body was still tense with anticipation. The feeling of being watched was still there. Your teeth started to chatter and you rubbed the sides of your arms for warmth. The sun must have been nearly set because it had become startlingly cold. Whatever the reason, it was time for you to leave.

Far quicker than how you had entered, you left the cabin and closed its door. Stepping off the porch, you froze. The crickets had started to sing and the woods had grown dark. Far darker than you thought it would be for this time of day. You'd have to use your phone light to get back to the graveyard. Pulling it from your pocket, you clicked its black screen to wake it up. A second later, you clicked it again. Glaring at it now, you tried the power button. The screen stayed black. This was unbelievable. Your phone was dead. Angrily shoving it back into your pocket, you stared at the black wall that was the woods. You would just have to make do. Swallowing hard, you started to walk away from the cabin.

"There ye are."

The unexpected voice nearly gave you a heart attack and you quickly spun around. The ferryman emerged from the woods yards away from you. A flashlight guided his way and he had a new cigarette in his mouth. He flashed the light at you, momentarily blinding you, and then squinted at the direction where you were going.

"Heh, I see the lady was right. Ye was going to get lost if you went that way." He blew out a cloud of smoke as he stared at you thoughtfully.

You paled as the full meaning of his words struck you. You didn't know what you would have done if that had happened. The first part of his words finally registered and you frowned. "Lady?"

"Aye." He nodded, "She came to me and said ye needed some 'elp. I guess she reckoned ye'd get lost." The ferryman fiddled with his coat pocket for a moment before pulling something out and tossing it to you. Startled by the unexpected movement, you barely managed to catch the box. It was a gift box. You recognized the size of the box and the wrapping paper from the ones you had found inside the cabin.

"The lady wanted me to give ye that. Not sure why she bothered." He shrugged and took a long drag of his cigarette. "Must've been in a kind mood t'day."

You barely heard his words, your focus on the box. Just as you expected, there was a tag with a small message written in elegant calligraphy

Abruptly the ferryman turned and started back into the woods, forcing your attention away from the gift. "We've tallied long enough! Come on!"

Looking from the gift then to the retreating form of the ferryman, you mumbled a curse and hurried after him. There was no way you were going to fall behind and risk getting lost again. You glanced back at the cabin, nearly walking into a tree in doing so. Someone had blown the candle out. Before you could think this over, the ferryman called out for you again. You thrashed through the bushes and branches as you rushed to catch up.

For an older man, the ferryman was quick on his feet and you struggled to keep up. By the time he reached the boat with you in tow, the sun had fully set and a crescent moon held reign of the sky. With a practiced hand, he helped you into the boat, tied the lantern to its stern, and then pushed off away from the island. Moments later, the noise of the oars dipping into the water filled the otherwise silent air.

You ignored it all and turned back to the gift. Shifting so you could catch some of the light emitting from the lantern, you turned the box over and began to read:

'Imagine my surprise when I arrived at my workshop today only to find a stranger inside. I forgive your curiosity and intrusion, however. Only this once. I expect my hideaway to be a secret best kept between us... It would disappoint me immensely to find another traveler fiddling amongst my gifts.

Yours Sincerely,

--- Phantom Anon

P.S. Forgive the ferryman for his uncouth behavior. He means well. This island is not meant for mortal lives when night has fallen. There are more than just ravens that stalk these grounds.'

Why don't you head over to your inventory and see what you got!
Gift: Stitched Harvest Hat User Image