In my last feature on Creepypastas, I looked at the mysterious, otherworldly entity Zalgo, a web horror adopted by thousands of Internet users around the world.
This week we turn our attention to an equally mysterious and unsettling series of tales about a number of diabolical artefacts with hidden but devastating properties.
This week, I look at The Holders.
The exact origin of The Holders series is difficult to ascertain, although the (somewhat damning) Encycyclopedia Dramatica entry on the series claims the posts originated on the /x/board at 7chan.
However, the wiki for the Protectors of the Plot Continuum (PPC) states that the initial 13 stories were ‘Originally conceived by someone on 4chan's /x/ board (or possibly /b/, or /tg/, no-one really remembers exactly)'.
Either way the oldest post I’ve found online is one on the 4chanarchive that was originally submitted to the /b/ board on 1 January 2007.
But what are The Holders?
Much can be discerned from the first story of the series, as it introduced numerous elements that would become a mainstay in the series.
That story, The Holder of the End, follows in its entirety below.
In any city, in any country, go to any mental institution or halfway house you can get yourself in to. When you reach the front desk, ask to visit someone who calls himself "The Holder of the End". Should a look of child-like fear come over the workers face, you will then be taken to a cell in the building. It will be in a deep hidden section of the building. All you will hear is the sound of someone talking to themselves echo the halls. It is in a language that you will not understand, but your very soul will feel unspeakable fear.
Should the talking stop at any time, STOP and QUICKLY say aloud "I'm just passing through, I wish to talk." If you still hear silence, flee. Leave, do not stop for anything, do not go home, don't stay at an inn, just keep moving, and sleep where your body drops. You will know in the morning if you've escaped.
If the voice in the hall comes back after you utter those words continue on. Upon reaching the cell all you will see is a windowless room with a person in the corner, speaking an unknown language, and cradling something. The person will only respond to one question. "What happens when they all come together?"
The person will then stare into your eyes and answer your question in horrifying detail. Many go mad in that very cell, some disappear soon after the meeting, and a few end their lives. But most do the worst thing, and look upon the object in the person's hands. You will want to as well. Be warned that if you do, your death will be one of cruelty and unrelenting horror.
Your death will be in that room, by that person's hands.
That object is 1 of 538. They must never come together. Never.
This story, the original (and what I feel is one of the best) sets up much of what is to follow.
Each of the Holders series focuses on one of a number of items (at first 538, although in later entries that figure increases to 2538, albeit with the caveat that 2000 are lost).
It details the manner in which you are to locate one of the Objects.
To this end it details a specific location (often: In any city, in any country, go to any mental institution or halfway house you can get yourself in to). A key phrase is then uttered to gain access to a hidden part of the institution, whereupon the seeker will face a test of their bravery, wits, sanity or any combination of the above. This often involves direct contact with the Object’s guardian (the Holders), a mystical and dangerous entity. The encounter inevitably involves asking an important question, just the asking of which sheds light on the Objects themselves.
The final line reveals a key detail about the Objects, furthering the mythos.
It’s a nice take on the growing modern genre of urban fantasy, a la Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, in that it establishes the framework for a pretty epic series of tales (at least 538!), yet it doesn’t bog the reader down with much in the way of intricately plotted characters and history.
No, the Holder of the End is so clever because it shows just enough creativity to capture the attention but remains vague and mysterious enough to spark the imagination of the reader. It works by mentioning that most terrifying of intangibles — the unknown — and encouraging us to think about the horrors that the story simply hints at. It’s a tried and tested technique in creating strong fiction and it works. Our own imagination is far more powerful in evoking a mood than even the strongest prose.
And spark the imagination it has, for the first few Holders stories were soon spread throughout the web, with fans penning their own entries in the series. The Holder of the End can be found on the usual big Creepypasta sites, while there are numerous Holders story readings on YouTube, in multiple languages to boot.
It even turned up on various message boards with people asking whether the story could possibly be real!
Eventually The Holders became so popular that on 22 December 2007 the website theholders.org was created, to collect and catalogue each of the Holder’s stories.
Not only does it include a tale for each and every one of the Holders Objects (yep, that’s over 500 stories of varying quality. And yes, I read every single one as research for this feature. Every. Single. One.), it even includes spinoff stories about the Seekers, those brave or foolish individuals who have made it their life’s work to track down and collect these infamous Objects, whether it be to see that they are reunited, to prevent this reunion or for personal gain.
As some of the items impart special powers and skills to those who collect them (such as the Cloak yielded by the Holder of Hate or a newfound agility that comes from besting the Holder of the Speed), this means that accomplished Seekers themselves can become extremely powerful. They can also become corrupted and something more, or possibly less, than human. There are a series of stories about the monstrous Jack Empty, something somewhere between a Seeker and a Holder, the hateful Mr Filth or even worse abominations such as Edo Edi Essum, a demonic entity that features in a series of tales based in the Holders universe.
However, it is key elements suggested from the original Holders mythos that has led to the creation of some of its most enduring sublegends.
Chief among these is Legion. As early as the story of the Holder of Deception, it is stated that the number of Objects is not as it seems. It was from this that the idea of more Objects beyond the 538 exist, which leads us to the now widely accepted figure of 2538.
This story comes from that of Legion. He was said to be a fantastic seeker, one who sought and confronted Holders for fun and accumulated no fewer than 2000 of the Objects. However, he has since disappeared and with him, so have those Objects. But stories persist that Legion is not truly gone, nor are his accumulated Objects…
The other great mystery of the series is that of Him. A demonic entity (perhaps Legion, probably Satan but possibly even God himself), He ruled and (as is stated in the story of The Holder of the Past), when the Objects are reunited, He will reign again. It is His blood in the vessel mentioned in The Holder of the Grail, while The Holder of Cruelty claims that it is Him that you will be guided to when all has Blackened (itself a reference to the disease that serves as the Object in The Holder of the Afterlife). Perhaps most terrifying of all, it is stated that, eventually, He will triumph (unsurprisingly in The Holder of Triumph).
This is some pretty deep and rich material here, right?
Of course, the primary mystery, THE one thing all readers will end up wondering is WHAT exactly are the Objects?
Having read through the entire Holders series (Every. Single. One.), that question still remains unanswered.
The nature of the objects is intangible — some are actual physical items that can be held and touched, some are without physical form and others don’t even exist until the very act of Seeking brings about their creation.
We are also able to piece together some key facts about their history and eventual destiny. It seems they were once alive and together, possibly in a single form. They were once peaceful and benevolent, but something happened, causing them to become corrupted. It seems this something is certainly the work of Him. Even now they are tied to Him, some still seem loyal to Him, while some of the Holders are certainly His servants.
When this happened a terrible atrocity ripped through existence, leading to the slaughter and obliteration of thousands of innocents.
Following this cataclysm the Objects suffered, having been burnt, tortured and frozen. Now they are beginning to thaw, but they have missed the predestined date at which they were to be reunited so now they yearn to be together again. What’s more they have become angry and full of hate, so, even though many of them will bequeath fantastic powers to Seekers who gather them, they are not to be trusted and many require a cruel sacrifice.
As for the gathering, the series contradicts itself somewhat with this. At different times the stories state that this reunion is inevitable, that the Seekers will determine if they ever come together AND is destined to be thwarted by somebody, possibly a special child created of the objects.
One thing that is certainly a lot clearer, however, what will happen should the Objects be together once again. In this case we face to complete and utter destruction of all existence. The End of Days.
Reading between the lines it’s easy to formulate theories about the series. My favourite addresses the decidedly biblical nature of the stories (especially the various references to demons surrounding the Objects), claiming that the Objects are fallen angels, He is Lucifer, their corrupter, the cataclysm was the war in Heaven that saw them cast out and stating that when the Fallen are gathered together under His leadership we shall see the final battle that will end it all. That the birth of a special Saviour shall play a major role in these events only strengthens this claim.
This is certainly as sound a theory as any, but even this has its faults. The references to Them throughout the series seems to be about the collective consciousness of the Objects, but could just as easily be referring to something else. If so, what are They and what role do they play?
What’s more, this theory ignores the Lovecraftian Edo Edi Essum and his allies and servants. It also ignores some of his sworn enemies, including the powerful entity Balance, an individual tasked with maintaining order and preventing the chaos that would allow the Objects to reunite. It also forgets the references to the Black King, the White King, Yochanan and, well, the scores of other characters introduced in the various spin-off stories.
Of course, the main reason that it’s so tough to come up with any definitive coherent theory for the series is because there is no one individual guiding it or creating it. Much like the story of the Rake, this is a collaborative endeavour, with each individual adding their own mark to the story, layering on new and exciting pieces of the mythos.
THIS is the true strength of the Holders. It’s an imaginative tale of a mythical quest about heroic but flawed characters, corrupted villains and mystical, unknowable powerful artefacts… and it belongs to us all. Anybody can contribute, anybody can adapt the mythos for their own ends and anybody can play a part in continuing to spread the story.
The Holders allows the writer a deal of creativity, whether it be in spinning off a complex story arc of your own or even in the way that a Holder’s tale can be told. Not all are told using the traditional format, with some being told from the point of view of the Holder, the Seeker or even the Object itself. They can be relatively self contained or include multiple references to other stories, whether it be an Object that requires a Seeker to hold other Objects to obtain it or one that requires direct contact with one of the expanding cast of characters on the fringes of the mythology. There have even been a number of parodies of the series (such as the hilarious Holder of Dick). The only limit is the storyteller’s imagination.
Ultimately, these stories are OUR stories, the stories of the fans.
Every. Single. One.
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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.
Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.