Halloween is when we embrace our fears and enjoy chills, thrills and spine tingling frights. It’s the one time of year when it’s all right to admit that we still worry about the monster in the closet, and the axe murderer scratching at the window – or is that just me?
I recently saw a facebook tag that said “I hate when it’s dark and my brain is like, ‘Hey, you know what we haven’t thought about in a while? Monsters.’ The conversation with my brain would be a little different:
“Hey, you know what? It’s dark! Time to think about monsters again!”
And not just monsters, but serial killers, random airplanes dropping from the sky, semi-trucks crashing through the house, explosions, bombs, fires, alien invasions, deadly diseases… The list is a long one. In any given situation I can think of five scenarios to turn it from normal to scream inducing. Like yesterday evening. I had to take the trash to the dumpster. By the time I reached it, I was nearly certain, in a silly sort of way, that there was something hiding in the trees, waiting to jump out and eat me. I could picture large salivating jaws, pointed teeth, clawed hands and burning eyes. Though I refused to run back to the house, I did walk briskly, half expectant eyes over my shoulder.
People ask why I write horror and vampire stories. The answer is that I am incapable of writing anything else. I’d love to write happy, feel good stories. I’ve even tried. By the end, the heroine is murdered, the hero commits suicide and there’s a good chance that a demon is involved. Happy doesn’t happen because I don’t have a happy imagination.
This begs the question: do I prefer to write horror because I have a paranoid imagination? Or, do I have a paranoid imagination because I’m used to writing horror? I doubt I’ll ever know the answer, but one thing is clear: If I’m ever forced to live in a world created by my own imagination I’m going to be in a lot of trouble.
The late afternoon sun shone through the leaves and Megan watched the beams play with the shadows. She sat in the cool grass, bare toes wiggling and hands clasped in her lap. The axe lay nearby, the blade was notched and the handle worn smooth by those who had come before her. If only so many of them hadn’t died as meals for the beasts.
A lone bird called, signaling the end of the day and the coming nightmares. Megan took it as a signal to stand and stretch. She looked over her shoulder, towards the smoking ruins of her cabin. Tonight she would have nowhere to hide, no door to lock. Not that it had done her parents any good.
Last night, her father had bolted the door and the family had cowered in the cellar, but the beasts had come in anyway. Their growls were low and deep, like summer thunder. Her father went up first, the axe clenched in his hand. A scream and a thud later, her mother shoved Megan into the corner and scurried up the ladder. Her screams lasted longer and Megan covered her ears to drown them out. Sick terror paralyzed her limbs, and it was only when the birds’ song heralded morning that she could move.
The beasts had painted the walls with her parents’ blood and left their mangled, twisted corpses on the floor. When Megan finished being sick, she made up her mind. She pulled the axe from the wall and made the house a funeral pyre for both her parents and the end of her childhood. Though only twelve, tonight she would cross into the adult world. She would see the beasts for the first time and, like the beast slayers in the legends, she would kill them.
The bird song ended. Megan squinted towards the dying sun and hefted the axe. She tried to imagine what the beasts would look like. Red eyes, claws and fangs. Hairy, wolf-like bodies. Razor sharp tails and horns. The images were straight from childish nightmares. No matter what they looked like, she was sure she’d know them when she saw them.
The road meandered away from her home and she followed it, the heavy axe over her shoulder the way her father had carried it. Trees lined the way and the sky darkened like milk mixing with molasses. The shadows lengthened, multiplied, and ran into one another to create a mass of black. Bugs chirped in the bushes and the spiral of smoke behind her grew fainter and fainter.
She passed a few houses, but all were lifeless. The people huddled inside, or else they’d already fallen to the monsters that owned the dark.
A sound broke the symphony of the night; horse hooves beating down the hard-packed road. Megan had a quick view of a horse and rider before she flung herself into the bushes.
“Whoa!” The rider pulled his horse to a sudden halt. The animal pawed and snorted, and he soothed it, then turned his voice to her. “Child? Why are you out after dark?”
His voice was deep and soothing, like she’d always imagined a hero would sound. He could be only one thing; a beast slayer. It was fate.
She struggled out of the bush, tugging the axe behind her, eyes on the stranger. He sat atop a large black steed, reins in his hands. His dark hair danced in the evening breeze and his crystal blue eyes studied her and her weapon. “Why are you out after dark?”
She drew herself up to her full four-foot-eleven. “I’m hunting the beasts.”
He didn’t bother to hide his smirk. “How interesting. I’m hunting, too. Perhaps you would care to join me?”
Something howled in the distance; a coyote, a wolf, or perhaps one of the beasts. It made her decision easy. He tucked her axe into a holster on the saddle, then pulled her onto the horse behind him. “Hold on,” he commanded, then kicked his heels into the steed’s sides.
The horse leapt forward and she clutched desperately at the hunter. His long hair whipped back to tickle her forehead, but she was too afraid to let go and push it away. She’d never been on a horse before, and it was as terrifying as she’d imagined.
The world sped past them; familiar trees and houses, then the charred rubble of her home. On and on the horse’s hooves thundered. The trees thickened and clouds gathered above to slowly strangle out the rising moon.
A creature howled; too loud and too close. Megan shivered and hugged the hunter tighter. A second howl rose, then a third, and a fourth. The hunter bent closer to the horse. He called something back to her, but his words were lost to the wind.
The creature burst through the bushes and landed in the middle of the road. She had a glimpse of yellow half-moon eyes and a mouth full of snarling teeth before the horse slid and spun, jerking them back the way they’d come.
A second wolf-like creature leapt into the road. The horse pulled up, and turned again, but there were now three of the monsters. They snapped at the horses churning legs, saliva glistening from their jaws. The terrified animal reared, and Megan lost her grip. She tumbled from the horse and slammed into the road.
The dark world tilted and sparks swam before her eyes. She struggled to sit up and found a face full of hairy monster. His breath was hot and smelled like rotting meat. Too terrified and disorientated to move, she screamed.
And then it was gone. Warm liquid splashed her face and bare arms. She was aware of a deep growl, the same she’d heard last night, then an animalistic shriek. A howl. A scream.
She opened her eyes to find that she lay on her back in the middle of the road. The star strewn sky spread above her and the scent of blood filled her nose. She sat up and shook away the dizziness. Though splattered in blood, she couldn’t find an injury.
The hunter had saved her.
She looked to see him soothing his horse. The beasts lay around them in heaps of bleeding fur. He’d killed the monsters and now everyone would be safe. Like the heroes in the legends. No more locked doors. No more dark cellars. No more nightmares.
Gratitude surged through her and she stood. Her eyes moved from one ruined creature to another. Now dead, they looked more like common wolves. Their blood was splattered on the road in drying crimson puddles and their corpses were torn and mangled; throats ripped out, the way her parents’ had been. The way all victims of the beasts were.
She stepped backwards unconsciously. At the motion, the hunter turned to her. His crystal eyes appraised her confusion and then he smiled to show his long, fanged teeth. “You were looking for a beast child, and you found one.”
Joleene Naylor is an indie author, free-lance artist and for fun photographer. Her current projects include Heart of the Raven, the fifth novel in the Amaranthine series, and Patrick: A Prequel. Joleene maintains blogs full of odd ramblings and hopes to win the lottery. Until she does, she and her husband live near Bolivar Missouri with their miniature zoo. However, unless she starts buying tickets she won’t win anything.
Ramblings from the Darkness at www.JoleeneNaylor.com
You never know what you’ll find in the shadows…..