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I don't know what to call this. An urban legend, paranormal activity, an unsolved case. I don't have all the details, but I have to write this somewhere. I have to tell the story of the Gifting Man.

Windshaw was a small rural village deep in the fens. Nowadays, it's practically a ghost town, but back when I lived there, it was home to maybe a hundred people. Me and my older brother lived there for most of our childhood, and I'm pretty sure he still does. I left as soon as I turned 18. Because of the Gifting Man.

The Windshaw Gifting Man was a man who supposedly gave presents to the children in the village. Nobody could be sure of how he got in, or when he would come, but he always did. As children, we all loved it - it was like a second Christmas. The Gifting Man left all sorts of presents - sweets, dolls, all sorts of hand-crafted wooden toys. Despite this, he was also a force of punishment. "Do as you're told or The Gifting Man won't give you any gifts." Similar to Santa, if you were awake, the Gifting Man would not come. This led to a few older kids spreading rumors that the Gifting Man was just our parents, a similar thing to what we would eventually learn about Santa. I was a firm believer in The Gifting Man for most of my childhood, and when I was ten, me and a few other kids went on the visit.

Supposedly, The Gifting Man lived in a dilapidated wooden shack on the outskirts of the village. Our parents firmly told us to never go there, as to not disturb the Gifting Man's work. This made perfect sense to me as a child, but my other friends weren't so believing. One dark night in November, a group of five of us met up after school to prove the Gifting Man's existence, or debunk it. We were all ten or eleven, and armed with flashlights, we braved the trek to the visit. That's what we called it, the visit. To us, it was as if we were discovering the secrets of the universe. After we had made it across the cabbage field, we made it into the vicinity of the Gifting Man's shack. There were smashed windows, caved-in roof, everything. We snuck inside, and I remember to this day that it stank horrible. A mix of petrol, feces and sawdust. The shack was filled with little wooden carvings, which cemented the fact that this was indeed the Gifting Man's dwelling. Beyond the shelves of toys and rusted tractor parts, there was a wooden door, hanging slightly open. We dared each other to go and see what was on the other side, and eventually one boy did. His screams still haunt me.

In the next moment, I just remember running back through the field, flashlight shaking wildly, and my brother beside me. When we got back to town, the boy, Oliver, told us what he saw. Apparently the Gifting Man was horribly tall and thin, wearing a long black coat and a crumpled top hat. He had a massive burlap sack on his back, but his face... his face was wooden. All terrified, we went back to our respective houses, and our parents demanded to know where we were. We lied convincingly, but in a small village where every parent knows each other, word got out quick that we went to visit the Gifting Man's shack. Our parents gave me and my brother... well, a 'stern talking to' is an easy way to put it. After that, we all tried to forget about the visit. It was even harder to forget when the Gifting Man visited Oliver and left a skinned rat.

From that day onward, we knew that we had made a horrible mistake. The Gifting Man always left real gifts, toys and sweets. After the skinned rat, the gifts got worse. A dog skull. A piece of skin. My parents made sure every door and window was locked each night, which me and my brother did not object to. At the age of eleven, I began to understand. Somebody is coming into each of our houses and leaving gifts. And last year, we made him angry. Who knows what he would do? As it turns out, none of us knew what would happen next.

It was a night in April. Neither me nor my brother could sleep, and with no internet, we read books under the dim beams of our flashlights. Then I heard something downstairs, a squeaking of hinges, and then a crash, like a piece of furniture falling over. My parents were both fast asleep, but soon, they began to wake up. Me and my brother clamped our hands over our mouths as the sound traveled through the ground floor of our house. There was another crash, and a wheezy muttering. I stifled a scream as I heard my parents, both awake, run downstairs. I heard a yell, and then for the first time in my life, a gunshot. I didn't even know my parents had a gun. As I clutched my ears, my brother pressed his face to the window. As he would later tell me, he saw the Gifting Man run away from our house on all fours. Our parents came in soon after and explained that a burglar had broken in. Me and my brother knew the truth, but kept silent.

In the morning, we went downstairs to find a rotting cat head on the kitchen floor. It was the head of our cat, Stumpy. She had been missing for weeks.

On later inspection, our door's locks had been completely broken off expertly. Whoever had broken in had been doing it in this fashion for years. In the days that followed, every adult in Windshaw had to attend some kind of meeting in the village hall. None of us kids were involved, but one or two managed to listen in and relayed to us what they had gleaned. Something was planned at 10PM that night, and it involved the Gifting Man's shack. We all made an oath to meet in the village center to see what would happen, and we did. At 10 on the dot, me and my brother snuck out into the streets. We had no worry of disturbing our parents; they were out, 'around a family friend's house'. The fourteen-strong group wandered through the now-empty streets, and we managed to catch a glimpse of another large group walking up to the Gifting Man's shack. We watched from afar as the old building was set ablaze. Quickly rushing back to our homes, we were soon greeted by our parents, who explained to us very simply, and very sternly that a terrible fire had broken out in the Gifting Man's workshop, and he would not be leaving any more gifts for a long time. Me and my brother were relieved, in a sense.

For all of my teenage years, I wondered about The Gifting Man, and who he really was. It was clear that whatever he was - ghost, skinwalker or god knows what - was killed the night of the fire, by all of our parents. If they all knew that he lived up there, and that he could easily break into our houses... why didn't they act sooner? There were so many questions and nothing made sense. I knew my parents; if I asked them anything they would deny it - they were just those kinds of people. For various reasons that I won't go into detail about here, I left Windshaw when I was 18. I never planned to go back, but, well... I did.

Ten years after I had last lived there, I returned to Windshaw. I was 28 now, and I had changed a lot. So had the village. The once-bustling community had been reduced to only maybe sixty people. I went to my old house first, where my brother still lived. After my dad died, my mum moved to a retirement home in the city, leaving my brother with our property. He didn't expect to see me back here, but greeted me nonetheless. As he gave me a tour of the village and all that had changed, my eyes fell on the Gifting Man's old shack - or at least, what remained of it. Now it was just a pile of burnt wooden planks and sheet metal.

As if he knew what I was thinking, my brother immediately stated, "Nobody goes up there anymore."

He wanted to continue the tour, but my mind was still fixed on the Gifting Man. What if he was still alive? I kept asking questions about this, but I got no answer. Eventually, my brother finally cracked.

"Look Mike, I don't know anything about that Gifting Man bullshit. I just want to put it behind me. We had a fucked up childhood because of that. If you really want to know about him, you can ask Mum."

It was an answer enough. He gave me the address of the retirement home she was in, and I left Windshaw as soon as I came.

Arriving at the retirement home, my mum didn't recognise me at first. However, as soon as she realised who I was, she was eager to talk. I felt a little bad, abandoning all my surviving relatives for a new life in the city, but now was the time for answers. As soon as I asked about the Gifting Man, her emotion changed. Nevertheless, she revealed to me the truth.

The Gifting Man was once a carpenter, and a locksmith on the side. He made little toys and trinkets in his spare time, giving them to the children of Windshaw. Everything changed when he was caught trying to kidnap a child from their home. Upon discovery, the parent shot him in the face and a mob chased him out of town. He miraculously survived the wound, and became a vagrant living in the old shack. It wasn't long before the parents realised the threat he posed. He could soundlessly break into any of their houses, and do god knows what inside. They managed to make a deal with him. As long as he never hurt their children in any way, he would be allowed to leave gifts in their houses. And so, the Gifting Man was born, a way for parents to explain to their children where the wooden toys came from and what the sounds were in the night. Upon realizing this, I was angry. How could our parents willingly let this man into our houses? I voiced my frustrations, and my mum responded.

"Windshaw isn't like it is today, there were no police... we couldn't do anything..."

I could see her tears, but I had to continue. I asked why they didn't just kill him. It was clear that she was about to burst into tears, and she did.

"We can't kill him! He didn't die from a shotgun, and he didn't die when we all burned down... I'm so sorry, Michael. The Gifting Man... he's like a child, in a way, you speak to him sternly and he does what he's told, to a point. Stumpy was the final straw. When we burned down his shack that night, it was supposed to kill him. Michael, he's not dead..."

She burst into tears again just as a nurse escorted me out of the retirement home. On the drive back to Windshaw, I started to reflect. Today I had possibly destroyed my relationship with both my brother and my mum, just because of my obsession with the Gifting Man. I thought back to what my brother said... maybe the Gifting Man has hurt me more than I thought. But that's why I have to do it. I have to put this all behind me, by killing the Gifting Man for the last time.

When I arrived back in Windshaw, my brother was more than a little displeased. His mild concern turned to outright shock when I wrenched my dad's old hunting rifle from beneath the floorboards.

"Mike, that whole Gifting Man thing has fucked you up. He's. Dead. Stop fucking going on about it before you get arrested."

His words carried only a little weight, as only one thing mattered now. Rifle in hand, I strode up to the burned wreck that was once the Gifting Man's shack. There was more standing than I realized. Moving a sheet of corrugated iron out of the way, I stepped into the old shack, stopping for a moment to tape my flashlight to the barrel of my rifle. It was clear that someone had been living here recently. Wooden carvings littered the floor, some old, some clearly newer. The stench of feces and sawdust filled my nostrils once more. Weaving past a chunk of collapsed ceiling, I came face to face with the door from the visit. It was just as it was all those years ago, hanging slightly open. A strange sound could be heard inside, like one using sandpaper on wood. I pushed open the door and stepped in.

The room was squalid. Feces and blood stained the floor. Carcasses of dogs, cats and other animals were strung along the walls, bellies slit, intestines hanging out. An empty burlap sack hung in the corner. In the far end of the room there was a workbench. Crouched over the workbench was the thing that had been haunting my mind for the past twenty years. His back was hunched, and his limbs were unnaturally long, horribly so. He wore a tattered black trench coat and a crumpled top hat. Both items of clothing were putrid and crawling with insects. As my blood ran cold, his body let off a horrid crack as he turned his head to face me. It was a harrowing wooden mask, by this point rotting and decrepit. There were two gaping eye holes, a slit for a mouth formed into a grin, and a long nose. I fired. Bolt up, bolt down. I fired again. Bolt up, bolt down. I fired again.

I looked down on his horrible gangling corpse. His face, now unmasked, was twisted and deformed, the left side still missing from that shotgun blast all those years ago, as was his nose and one of his eyes. Grabbing one of the burlap sacks, I dragged his body back down to my brother's house. He ran at me and suddenly hugged me.

"You fucking bastard," he said through gritted teeth. I could tell he didn't mean it.

We dug a firepit and tossed The Gifting Man's body into it. Grabbing a tank of petrol from my brother's garage, we set the body ablaze, watching it shrivel and decay as the sun slowly set.

"I'm glad you did what you did, Mike. That fucker destroyed you and me." As the fire died down, we piled dirt onto the hole and went to sleep.

I was awoken in the morning by my brother. His face was pale. He gestured out of the window to the empty hole in the garden. I felt my blood run cold. Running downstairs, I noticed something on the kitchen table. A wooden carving with long legs and a hunched back. There was no face, just a deep cut in the woodwork. I picked it up, and noticed a message on the bottom.

"ILL BE BACK"

This is why I'm writing this. The Gifting Man is alive, and now most likely after me. I don't know if I'll even be alive by the time you read this. I'm moving back to the city as soon as I can, but if he follows me...

Who knows who he'll visit next.

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