Jeff Gibbs, KA, USA
Iam 31 years old now, but I can remember that day in the woods some 19 years ago like it was yesterday. My best friend at the time, Paul, and I were out exploring some woods near his grandmother's farm in rural SE Missouri in the United States. Not being too far from the Ozark mountain range, the terrain is hilly and well covered with thick, tall green trees.
That area of Missouri, and all the way up to Kansas City, is well known for having hundreds, if not thousands, of limestone caves. We were a few miles east of the farm, on god only knows whose land, when we discovered a dilapidated old shack, not more than 15 feet by 20 feet in size. Only 3 of the 4 walls remained, and the roof was caved in along the side of the missing wall. You could still go through the front door and walk a few feet into the structure, but that was about it. Being curious 12 year olds, we did just that.
From all indications it looked like an old shanty or shack built by some wanderer or recluse. It was very crudely built, with uneven log sizes and dried mud or clay as mortar. There was evidence of a fireplace and we could even a see the headrest of a mostly hidden handmade bed in the corner, the rest obscured by the roof that had collapsed forming a wall-like barrier blocking any further exploration.
We rummaged around where we could and noticed a lot of twigs and rocks laying around the mostly dirt floor. No one had lived there for quite some time as it had been exposed to the elements for years. We left the little shack and decided to head back to his grandmother's farm for lunch. As we rounded the back of the shack, we were stunned to see strange markings carved into the wood on the back wall. Most were weathered beyond recognition, but you could still make out some. They were blocky and were made up of a lot of connected lines and geometric, yet asymmetrical shapes. There were also strange markings that to us looked like ancient Sanskrit writing, but not quite. I can't remember any specifics so its pointless to try and draw anything that resembled what we saw for use as an example.
To further the mystery, not more than 20 feet from the back wall of the shack was a large decrepit wood platform that seemed to be covering a large hole. We walked over to it and bent down to examine it more closely. There were similar markings all over the platform. They were weather worn and hard to make out. I poked around the edges of the platform and could feel air escaping.
"I bet this is covering an entrance to a cave." I said.
"Let's just see about that," Paul said.
He got up and found a large rock that was strewn about with others around the hole. He lifted it over his head and thrust it down on the platform. Not even likely to withstand a punch with a bare fist, the rotted wood splintered into pieces and revealed what we had assumed. After we cleared away more of the wood, we could tell it was an entrance to a fairly large cave.
Timidly, we both stuck our heads into the cave to see how deep it was and were pleasantly surprised to see that the initial slope into darkness was shallow and walkable. We'd have to duck, but we could manage to explore this cave without much hassle. Excited about the prospect of exploring our "own" little cave we decided to rush back to the farm and get flashlights, a little rope and grab lunch while we were there.
We ran as much as we could and got back to the farm in just under an hour. The sun was directly overhead and the late summer sun was hot. On the way there, we decided not to be wholly truthful about why we were grabbing flashlights and rope, if we were even caught doing so, because as far as parents goes, Paul's were conservative. Enough so not to allow cave exploring without supervision, and they weren't likely to drag themselves all the way out there for our benefit. We quickly ate lunch and were lucky enough to get all of our needed supplies in one of the out buildings completely unnoticed. We grabbed two flashlights, roughly a 100-foot loop of rope, and a canteen of water and headed out back towards the cave.
Paul and I wandered a bit trying to relocate the shack and the cave entrance, as it wasn't near any telling landmarks. After zigzagging a bit, we finally crested a small hill and found the shack and nearby cave entrance. This time, however it had a more disquieting look to it. I couldn't put my finger on it at the time, but things just didn't look right ? or smell right and even worse, feel right. Despite that initial wave of uneasiness, Paul and I were too determined to let silly circumstances get in the way of another adventure.
We stopped a minute to examine the strange markings on the on the back wall and remained mystified as to what they were or what they meant. Since Paul has explored a few more caves in the area than me, he opted to go in first to light the way. We tied the rope to a dead tree trunk a few feet away from the entrance and dropped the rest of the length into the hole. Paul lowered himself to the edge and dangled his feet into the hole. He pointed the flashlight down, confirmed it was more of a downward slope than an immediate hole, and then slid slowly into the darkness. Standing over the hole and peering in after him I waited for his comment that it was safe to follow. After 30 seconds or so, I was greeted instead with a brief shout of terror from Paul, followed promptly with a gasp of relief.
"What happened?" I shouted.
"Well, I thought the hill was going to last for awhile and all of a sudden it ends with a steep drop off?but luckily the drop is only 3 or 4 feet." He answered. "It's safe to come on down now, just go slow and watch for the drop."
Not exactly comforted, I obliged and grabbed the rope and began my own descent into darkness. I found the drop off and lowered myself slowly. Once standing I could look up about 30 feet at the small hole that we entered through, or look forward through a cave tunnel that resembled a vein in a coal mine except that it was littered with stalagmites and stalactites. It was about 5 feet high and 8 feet across. It was damp inside but there was no standing water. That meant it went on further and deeper than what we could initially see. We carefully walked through the obstacle course of cave formations and entered deeper into the cave. The tunnel ran steadily down hill, deeper into the dark abyss.
As we clamored down deeper into the earth, I was stunned by the total lack of evidence of bug and animal presence. Even in small caves, you'll find animal droppings and spider webs. But this cave was totally devoid of life. Another strange thing we noticed as we delved deeper and deeper was the temperature. It was not getting cooler like one would expect. Even a few feet underground, temperatures in caves can drop to as low as 50 to 60 degrees. The temperature in this cave was still just as warm, if not warmer than outside on the surface. The air was also stagnant and stale. It was as if you had to breath twice as deep to get the same amount of air you would normally. All in all, these things didn't add up as we explored, they are just things we noticed and talked about later after our experience.
We continued on downwards through this long shaft that resembled a spiral staircase without the stairs until it narrowed considerably and began to drop steeper. It was still nothing that required rope or safety equipment, but now it required more direct attention. At this point we were roughly 150 to 180 feet underground, nothing to sneeze at as far as caves go and we wondered why there wasn't more evidence of other cave explorers. "Surely this cave was worthy of exploration," I thought to myself. We continued spiraling downward until we had long lost site of the opening to the cave.
After 15 minutes or so of steady descent, Paul and I finally reached the bottom of the spiraling tunnel as it simply came to an end. It would have been the end of the expedition if not for the small opening near the floor. It was a scant 18 inches high and just a foot or two across, but it was just big enough for Paul to lie down on his stomach and stick his flashlight and head through.
"Cool!" he said excitedly. "It's another chamber. I think we can fit through this hole. Let me try."
With that, he shimmied and squirmed, but eventually managed to work his way through the hole. Knowing I was a hair thinner than Paul, I knew I wouldn't have much trouble. After a little squirming and shimmying myself, I was through. I brushed myself off as I stood fully erect and looked around with my flashlight. The chamber had an eerie feel to it, but nothing seemed odd or out of the ordinary at first.
The ceiling was at least 30 feet high and the room itself was probably 35-40 feet in diameter. The rock in here was relatively smooth as the floor was also clear of stalagmites. One would guess this room was hollowed out by a swell in ground water, but had remained dry since the water had receded. We searched around the walls with our flashlights until I suggested we turn them off to see how dark it really was (a fun thing to do deep in caves since there is no other dark that can compare). I turned my flashlight off first, then a few seconds later Paul turned his off as well. You could imagine our shock when we could still see each other faces in what should have been complete and utter darkness.
There was no discernable light source, but an overall reddish luminance to the room that was unnoticeable with our artificially lit flashlights. The walls seemed to glow and pulse a deeper and brighter red with each passing moment, almost as if we were waking them up from a long slumber. We turned our lights back on and began to search the room for clues as to why the walls were glowing. Off in one corner, my flashlight made a grisly discovery.
I discovered what appeared like small chunks of bone and tattered clothing surrounded by a nearly shattered and broken skull. Just a few feet away, there was another skull, this one neatly sliced in two, and again scattered next to smaller chunks of bone. In this pile, I could see what looked like a lacy hem of a girl or woman's skirt. Paul had also noticed what I was staring at and looked on in equal disbelief. Just as I started to approach the remains for closer inspection, I heard a sound to chilled me to the bone.
I distinctly heard a girl's voice whisper in my ear, "Get out!" and then an even more desperate, "Run!"
Completely freaked, I turned to Paul who had obviously heard it too, and we began to inch our way closer to the room's exit.
Then the floor of the chamber began to tremble and a very faint humming drone began to resonate through the chamber. Being completely terrified already, we didn't want to stick around to find out what the hell was about to happen. I took off back towards the entrance and Paul quickly followed suit. The ground was shaking so badly, I was afraid there was an earthquake or that the chamber was going to collapse down upon us.
I was the first to make it to the chamber's exit, which seemed little more than a mole hole now and start squirming and squeezing through. Paul was yelling for me to hurry and I obliged, skinning my knees and elbows as I forced my way through. Once I was back into the tunnel I turned around to help Paul. He was almost frantic, trying to squeeze through. If I didn't know better, I would have thought that hole was shrinking right before my eyes. Paul struggled and struggled and I dropped my flashlight to help pull him through with both hands. Paul screamed in what I thought was agony from me tugging too hard, but he looked up at me with complete terror in his eyes.
"Something is touching my legs! Something is touching my legs! Pull harder!" He screamed. With all my strength I yanked him once more, and with that last tug he finally squeezed through. As I saw his feet come through the hole I noticed with the light from my dropped flashlight what resembled a hand releasing its grip on Paul's calf - a hand without really being a hand. It had the rough shape of an oversized hand ? or paw? with no discernable fingers or shape. It was almost like a shadow, transparent, yet with a solid shape. That was all I saw of it because the second Paul was up and running, I turned and ran as well, leaving my flashlight there near the hole. Since Paul still had his light, I yelled at him to wait for me and he slowed just enough so that I could follow his footsteps. All the while, the droning noise hum grew louder and louder. The glow from the room below began to illuminate the tunnel from behind us as a sick smell of rotting meat and bile began to overtake us. It was so strong it stung our noses.
We scrambled up and up, running as fast as we could. The spiraling effect of the tunnel was disorienting and the fear was starting to take it effects on us. If Paul wasn't tripping on something or banging his head, then I was, and the escape to the surface seemed to take forever. We had made enough turns and climbed enough that light from below should have been left far behind, but instead it seemed to be getting closer? and brighter, lighting the tunnel below in a sickly blood-red light. We finally reached the long, straighter tunnel that led to the eventual ledge and slope to the cave's exit. Paul and I were able to finally pick up speed and put some distance between us and the light from below, almost, but not quite outrunning the overpowering stench. However, the droning sound still continued to grow louder and even higher pitched, like a teakettle approaching the boiling point.
Paul and I reached the ledge and slope at the same time and were shocked and horrified to see nothing but darkness. We had only been in the cave for about 30 minutes total, meaning it was still mid-afternoon outside. Paul aimed his flashlight up at the where the hole was and what we saw chilled us to the bone. Our rope was gone and the hole was covered with the same plank wood that had covered it previously. Paul and I both jumped up to the slope and began to drag ourselves upwards towards the exit. It wasn't so steep that we couldn't traverse it, but for every two feet you gained, you slid back down a foot, so it was slow going. The light from below was again beginning to encroach on us and the droning was louder and higher- pitched still. We finally reached the exit and began to explore options on how to get out. We pushed and pushed on the wood covering, but there seemed to be an enormous amount of weight on it.
We started screaming for help, pounding on the makeshift trap door. The light below seemed to be just around the last corner from the straightaway tunnel and finally it turned, rushing upwards towards us, flickering with a blinding speed and intensity. Just as we needed to cover our eyes from the brightness we screamed at the top of our lungs. Instantly, the light faded to darkness? like it fell from the ceiling down to the floor as a wave of water would. The droning hum stopped and the stench faded as well. The only sound that could be heard was our own heavy breathing.
"What in ? the hell was ? that?" I panted out, trying to catch my breath that was lost to fear.
"I don't know, but let's get out of here." Paul answered as he began probing the edges of the cave exit for a hole or something we could use as a starting point. Feeling momentarily relieved, we both started pounding on the trapdoor once again.
Then without warning or notice we heard a horrible crash below us followed by a sound that gives me nightmares to this day. A horrible, almost demonic gurgling sound came storming up the tunnel. Paul's flashlight immediately went dead and we were thrust into complete and total darkness. The gurgling grew closer and closer and now we were too scared to even scream. I remember pressing myself against the rock wall and remaining there, frozen in fear, reduced to no other capacity than to just listen. I could not speak. I could not move. I could not see. All I could do is listen as the gurgling began to transform into more of a primal scream as it flew up the tunnel towards us like a freight train going 200 miles per hour. The air grew searing hot and a putrid wind swirled around us. My hair stood up on end and as the scream seemed to pierce my body. It was as if a young girl let out a tortured scream directly in my ear.
I was about to pass out from either fear or stress when we felt something semi-solid surge past us, exploding through the trapdoor like an invisible missile. Shards of wood rained down us as sunlight flooded in and exposed Paul and I to each other's mortified faces. Almost reading each other's minds, we shot through the exit? me first, then Paul. We quickly stood up and brushed ourselves off, not knowing whether to run or collapse, we just stared at each other waiting for the other to make a move. Just then, a shoddily dressed man came around the corner from the front of the shack. His hair was long and unkempt and he had deep lines crisscrossing his face.
Despite our initial reaction to run in fear, there was something about the man that made us stay, something non- threatening and almost peaceful. As he approached us slowly, we heard the screaming entity quickly returning as if it had simply burst through the exit, completed a small loop around the woods and was returning to finish us off. We could hear trees snapping in the distance, as that thing was bulldozing anything in its path. Again, strangely frozen in fear, Paul and I stood nearly frozen, powerless to stop the thing rushing towards us and powerless to move. The old man stopped his approach towards us and his concerned face transformed into one of steeled determination. He raised his arms into the air as if he was reaching for the clouds and began sternly chanting some language I did not recognize or understand.
The howling scream crested the hill and we could finally see a dark shape, almost like a black cloud of soot without just enough form to be called solid. It flew down the hill, toppling the small trees that stood between it and the old man like match sticks. The haggard old man blocked the entity's path towards us and chanted those strange words again. This time, they seem to echo and reverberate through the woods like a howl of a wolf.
The creature slowed, and as if it had legs, seemed to take a step back. Then a light again began to emanate from the entrance to the cave. But it was not the sickly blood red light that was there previously, but a white light, almost too bright to look at directly. The creature appeared to struggle against it, but fruitlessly, and it was literally dragged back down the hole, letting loose a deafening scream in protest. The light seemed to envelope the creature as it reached its grasp. The screaming wail was silenced and the light retreated back down deep into the cave with its prisoner as quickly as it appeared.
Stunned with disbelief and shock, Paul and I just stared at the old man. He walked over to the hole and with a wave of his hand, the broken covering was once again made whole. The markings that we had seen earlier gradually reappeared and looked freshly carved into the wood. Once he felt his task completed, the old man again took notice of us and asked if we were okay. Paul and I both looked at our bodies as if we were checking for any number of untold wounds. Outside of skinned knees and elbows, we were both just dirty and dripping with sweat, so we merely nodded.
"You two nearly met your end there," said the old man.
"Who? I mean ? What was that?" Paul stammered.
"It was evil ? cruel and eternal. You could call it a demon or you could call it the devil." He paused for a second and then continued. "It is both ? and it is neither," said the old man as his voice trailed off. "What's important is that it didn't get to ? feed ? again. It grows much more powerful if it gets to feed."
With that, the man drew a sad look on his face and stepped back towards the shack. He crossed in front of us and walked to the rear wall facing the cave entrance. He chanted a few more lines of that strange language and the marks on that wall seemed to disappear and reappear again, only looking freshened and newly carven. He then walked around the shed and out of view. Paul and I again glanced at each other and for the first time, seemed to have full use of our bodies back. Full of questions, we raced around the half-collapsed shed to get some more answers.
We were more than stunned to discover nothing but emptiness. Only a few seconds behind him, there was no way he could have walked out of view and he certainly wasn't inside the shack either. We called out to him, ran clear around the shed, even ran up the hill to see if he had tried to run away. No sign of him anywhere. No footprints and no sounds. It was like he had disappeared into thin air.
Now thoroughly baffled and confused, we re-entered the shed to verify he wasn't hiding in there and this time we even pushed our way through the collapsed part of the roof. Behind the sunken barrier we found what we were looking for. A dilapidated and almost completely decomposed corpse of a man wearing identical clothes to the old man who had helped us just a few minutes before. He was holding an old black and white photograph in a dingy and broken frame.
Paul slid it from under the man's hand and held it up to the light. It appeared to be a much younger version of him, along with what appeared to be his wife and a daughter. They were standing in front of a nice farmhouse and looked genuinely happy together.
Paul gently slipped the photo back under his hand. Then, I noticed something else near the foot of the so-called bed he was lying in. I bent over and brushed off the dust and could tell it was a book. I opened it up and flipped through the pages. It was a journal or diary of some kind.
"I'll bet we'll find some answers here," I said as I slipped it under my arm. "Let's get out of here."
"I couldn't agree more," Paul said.
And with that we pushed our way back out of the shed and made a beeline for his grandmother's farm, which seemed an eternity away. We hardly spoke on the entire trip back there, each of us reflecting on what had happened and reevaluating many of the thing we had previously believed and held true and how those ideas had been shattered by what we just experienced. When we got there we quickly cleaned ourselves up with the garden hose out in the backyard and went inside. Paul and I each drank several glasses of water after noticing neither one of us had returned with the canteen. To this day I have no idea what happened to it or the rope! They simply must have been lost in the struggle somewhere.
Once we felt refreshed and comparatively safe, we took the old tattered journal up to the spare bedroom and began to pour over the pages. Most of the stuff we read concerning the cave and what was down there we didn't understand at the time. Most of the pages were littered with discombobulated thoughts and gibberish, and his handwriting was difficult to read. It wasn't until revisiting the journal several times over the years later that I was finally able to make some kind of sense of what had happened around that cave.
From what I could tell, the man, his wife and daughter moved into the area and built a nice house while farming the land they owned. This dates back to the late 1890s. Then one day, the daughter went out exploring the woods with a friend who lived near by. This was a regular occurrence because according to her father, she was rather adventurous and was always traipsing out in the woods in one direction or the other. After spraining her knee in a fall and having to be found after she couldn't make her way home, her mother and father always made her go with someone else. Anyway, her and her friend went out one fall day, and neither of them was ever seen again.
The man and his wife, along with the friend's family, searched the woods that night and all the next day. The local sheriff and his deputies, along with other concerned families from around the area joined the search as well. Despite all those people's efforts, the girl and her friend were never found. Two weeks or so later, refusing to give up, the man and his wife were still canvassing the woods around their property. During the search, the man and his wife discovered the entrance to a cave that no one knew existed. Fearing their daughter made the same discovery, they decided to enter and look around.
The journal then describes a horrifying scene. Just a few feet into the cave, the mother apparently found a ribbon that their daughter frequently wore in her hair. It was covered with dried blood. Distraught and overcome with grief, the mother began running down deeper into the cave. The man, slowed by a limp from a recent ankle sprain of his own, was unable to convince her to wait for him or come back later with help. He begged her to return, but she just ignored him and ran down the same dark tunnel that Paul and I explored, yelling for her daughter. Knowing his ankle would prevent him from delving too far into the cave, he decided to remain near the entrance and wait to hear his wife beckon him or return with whatever she found. He would never see his wife alive again.
He could hear her screaming out their daughter's name, Emily, over and over again, despite the fact it was getting fainter and fainter as she descended further into the cave. Then, without any prior indication something was wrong, he heard his wife let out a blood-curdling scream. Closing his eyes in sadness and despair, thinking his wife had just discovered their daughter's body he yelled out to her, but never received a response. What he got instead was a taste of what Paul and I endured.
He described a very similar event to the one we experienced, starting with the earthquake-like tremors deep in the cave, except from his perspective from near the entrance, it was much more subdued. He yelled down to his wife for her to return, fearing a cave-in as we did, but again, he heard no answer. Then he described hearing a high-pitch wail coming up the tunnel, an inhuman sound he knew couldn't be human. Fearing it was some kind of wild animal; he pulled himself out of the cave and scuttled quickly over the nearby hill, crouching behind a stump to see if anything exited the cave from a hidden perspective. He heard the wail growing louder and louder and described seeing a sickly red light emanating from the cave, and as it faded, a black shape shot out of the cave like a cannonball.
The shape shot up in the air at least 50 feet and then glided back down to earth, holding something in its appendages. It was the one-armed torso of his wife. He recognized the torn, bloodstained blue dress that draped off of it. The man described the horror of seeing this as being all most too much to bear, but something beyond his control forced him to look on. The shadow creature continued to feed on his wife's body, slashing it into pieces, as it seemed to swim in the blood. It was if the creature needed blood instead of meat. The man also described the creature becoming more "solid" as it writhed in the blood, consuming what it could.
Realizing that this creature had just murdered his wife, and recently his daughter and her friend, he quietly turned and slinked down the backside of the hill and broke into a dead run back to his homestead, ignoring his swollen and sore ankle. Enraged with anger and grief, the man burst into his house and grabbed his shotgun. He stuffed as many shells as he could into his jacket and loaded the gun. Bent on revenge, he began the long run back to the where he left the creature, still devouring the remains of his wife. When he finally arrived back at his hidden vantage point he could tell the creature was no longer around. He carefully inched down the hill towards the grisly scene just outside the cave's entrance. Blood stained the grass and leaves, his wife's tattered dress was shredded into unrecognizable threads. There were small pieces of entrails and flesh scattered about, but nothing big enough to be recognizable as human.
Overcome with grief, he fell to his knees and began to sob uncontrollably. He stayed there for several minutes, just running his fingers through the blood-red material, occasionally finding something recognizable like a hair from her missing head stuck to a piece of tattered fabric. Images of his wife and daughter flooded his mind and again he became enraged with a primal anger. He stood up, raised his gun into the air and yelled out to the beast for it to come for him. He yelled down into the cave, he yelled up into the air, he yelled at the top of his lungs for it to come. It didn't take long for it to answer his call.
Screaming over the hill behind him tore the creature, now almost entirely solid. He described it as a thick-skinned, black beast, trailed by a wispy, dark mist that seemed to roll off it like steam rolls off campfire doused with water. It eyes burned a deep red and pierced his glaze like two hot pokers. The beast plunged towards him, it arms extended with giant scythe-like appendages ready to slice him in half. He calmly leveled his shotgun and waited until the last second, when he could feel the beast's hot breath on his face until he pulled the trigger. The creature's upper body exploded into a cloud of black dust. The creature's lower body, separated from the upper half continued on, slamming into the man and pinning him to the ground, knocking the wind out of him.
It writhed and convulsed on top of him as he struggled beneath its weight. Slowly, it too turned into weightless black dust, falling off of the man in chunks of dried ash. He was eventually able to stand up and brush himself off. As he gathered his breath back and looked around, he felt a strong breeze materialize out of nowhere. It wasn't so much a wind blowing him in the face, as it was a force of suction behind him, pulling the air around and past him. He braced himself against a small tree and watched as the dusty remains of the creature gathered once again into a faint shadow and dragged itself back into the hole. He shot at it right before it left his sight, but his shot simply blew through the dust cloud and struck the cave entrance's wall instead. It was no longer solid, just a dark cloud as he explained it. The man ran to the entrance and looked down into the darkness, and he heard a faint wail and then silence. With that, he turned and limped home.
According to the journal, he then visited the family of his daughter's friend and tried to explain what happened. Saddened by the news that their child was likely dead as well, the friend's mother and father returned to the site with him. They saw the blood and tattered remains of his wife. The friends' father, referred to as William, kept insisting that it must have been a bear of some kind, and that the event that followed was merely a figment of the man's enraged grief. Unable to convince him otherwise, he did get him to help cover the cave's entrance with logs and dead tree branches that they collected. They piled it deep enough over the hole to prevent anything from getting in or out until a more permanent structure could be built.
Details followed about the funerals, about building a solid and permanent covering to the cave entrance hole, about how no one would believe him about the shadow creature. Everyone in the county thought he had lost his mind upon seeing the death of his wife, and he drew more and more withdrawn from his surrounding townsfolk until he was essentially a recluse. However, he remained determined to find out what it was down in that cave. He searched through the town's library, through medieval reference books, to the bible, to even mythology books. Nothing was ever found to describe what he had seen and experienced.
It wasn't until one winter day, some months later, when he heard a knock at the door that he got his answer. His journal explains that a local Native American, whose parents had stayed behind when their Arapaho tribe was forced out of the land on onto a reservation in Oklahoma, had heard of his story. He claimed to know the origin of such a creature; that it was an old tale passed down through his tribe, which had lived on the surrounding land for thousands of years. They referred to it as a Gros—lor (at least that is how it was pronounced according the man). It was a "soul eater", a creature of untold origin and power that hibernated for decades and came out to feed on people or their "souls" only to return.