This is like Christmas Eve, only instead of waiting for presents I think I might be waiting to die.
I don’t know why I’m writing this down. I guess because I have to. Maybe it will stand as some sort of testament. Some record of what happened. I guess it’s the least I could do for Steve and Jake. God, I don’t know. I’m so scared that this is like one of those stories, where the bullies get what they deserve and everyone in the theater cheers when it happens. Except this time, I’m the bully. Even if I didn’t mean to be.
I have no idea what time it is though it’s been dark much longer than any single night could be. I’m still waiting on the sunrise, the moment when the night rolls over, even unwillingly, into day and the bleaching sun reminds us that there was never really anything to be scared of. When it washes away all the witches and the ghosts, saying it was all one long silly dream and I will wake up, back home, with sweet memories of mischief and Vicky and my little sister begging me to take her trick-or-treating in her stupid Dora the Explorer outfit. That’s what was supposed to happen. Not this endless goddamn night.
The plan was to light up the neighborhood and then head over to Vicky’s. She and I had been talking lately and I figured there was a good chance something could happen. I liked her, I really did. Still do, I guess, if I ever get the chance to see her again, to tell her that I’m sorry for not coming to her party.
Instead I’m hiding out in this cabin, hoping for the best. I have candles here, in the cabinet. I saw them when I went looking for a weapon. The candles might make me feel better — like a little fake sun before the real one ever comes up but I’m too scared to light them. Too scared to perhaps give away my location to…them.
I need to start with last night. No wait, that’s still tonight. Christ. Okay, I need to start with earlier tonight. The night before Halloween. Most people call it Mischief Night, or Devil’s Night. Here, it’s Gate Night. I always assumed it had something to do with the Gates of Hell being thrown wide open, letting the demons out, but now I’m thinking it might be the other way around.
They let us out of school early. Half day. Mostly I think the teachers just don’t want to bother with us. It was Friday night. We were going just go raise a little hell as my father likes to say, and then off to Vicky’s party. But instead we ran into Killian and that was when everything changed.
This was Killian’s first year in school with us. He was a small thing, a mop of red hair, sort of ugly. He was all twitchy and awkward. We called him Ginger when we were feeling nice. Worse when we weren’t. Look, I’ll admit now we were kind of assholes to the kid but it wasn’t serious — that’s the thing you need to understand (whoever you are). It was never serious. We didn’t have anything against the guy — not really — we just teased him. It’s fucking high school. That’s what happens right? Everyone gets it. Hell before Steve and Jake, I used to get it in middle school for being smaller than the rest of the guys. I took my fair share –
Shit, I just heard the noise again. That keening cry. Fuck, I wish there was a gun here. I’ve never fired a gun in my entire life but at least it would be something, you know? Something better than hiding. They’re looking for me, I know they are. I didn’t throw the bone. They came right out of the fire…shit I’m getting ahead of myself.
We ran into Killian on the street and I want to say it was Steve’s idea to take him up on his offer but I’m not sure if it was. It could have been any of us. Memory is a slippery fucking thing isn’t it? He rounded the corner down at Main and Maple, right when we were coming back from the A&P with our stuff.
“Hey guys,” Killian said, nervously shuffling. He was always like that. Never stood up straight — never spoke clearly. Everything about this guy was rumpled. I can’t remember what Steve said to him, something funny and we all sort of laughed. Jesus, it was just a joke. I swear to God, it was just a joke. We were just messing with the kid. And then he starts telling us about some Gate Night party he was going to — something called Samhaim or Samhain. I don’t know how it’s spelled. He told us it was some Gaelic thing, a party out in the woods. He wanted us to come.
And that was it — that opportunity that life gives you — the choice. If, when Killian lifted the six-pack of beer out of the bag, I just shrugged, told him to fuck off? Did we deserve this? Steve and Jake and I? Is this really a fair payback for a little high school teasing?
There was something in the beer. I know that. I’m not sure how he got it in. When he held up the six-pack the bottles were all closed. Maybe it was when he opened them and handed them out. Truth was I wasn’t paying attention to what Killian was doing by the time we got to the clearing in the woods.
Everything else I’m going to say is going to sound insane. I don’t care. I know what I saw in the fires. I know what happened to Steve and Jake. I know that the woods have changed. When I ran for the road, where the car was, it kept getting father away. The faster I ran, the more woods there were. And yes, there was something in the beer that Killian gave us, I admit that, but I’ve drank before. Hell, I’ve been loaded before and there is no way I ran in the wrong direction. I was headed for the car. I could see the break in the tree line where the road was. The harder and faster I ran, the farther away the car was. I know that doesn’t make sense and I don’t care.
Shit, I think I heard them again.
Killian told us Samhain (however it’s spelled) was this Gaelic tradition, has to do with the light half of the year ending the dark half beginning. He passed us each a beer and I sat on the hillside, watching the field. There had to be about a hundred people there. No joke. There was music playing somewhere. They were dancing on the other side of these two huge bonfires. It was just past twilight and the darkening sky was starting to dot with stars. Killian was telling us it’s about cleansing. It’s a ritual for the new year. Steve said something about it not being the new year and this, this I remember really clearly, when Killian looked at us again, lifting the bottle to his lips, and he smiled, he didn’t have normal teeth anymore. They were like dog teeth, a jumble of incisors, black gums. And as quickly as it happened, it was gone. But I can still see it, each time I close my eyes, the moment when Killian went…wrong.
He led us down the hill and said we had to walk between the fires. We had to get to the other side where all the other people were. I could hear them, egging us on, laughing. There were women there too and I knew they were beautiful, real women, not high school girls. I could hear them calling us but I couldn’t see their faces. I just knew we had to get to them.
Jake asked what was going on. I remember that too. I remember watching the way his mouth moved so slowly, the way the words hung in the crisp air, like laundry on a line. I remember thinking that was funny too, the way things seemed frozen. I think that was the point where I realized I was drugged. Except I wasn’t scared. I should have been. I should have been terrified, but I wasn’t.
Killian pointed down to the bonfires — two huge roaring things, twice the height of a man — and he told us we had to walk between them. He pulled our shirts off, I think this is where Steve protested a little — he said something about going home now. But no one moved. And then Killian stood before me, lifting my shirt over my head. I should have stopped him but I didn’t. It was then that I noticed that Killian was the same height as me now — we were nose to nose. That kid was always at least a foot smaller than me but now we were the same exact height. He placed his hands on my chest and whispered something in my ear but it wasn’t a human sound. It was like when a dog sniffs you.
He gave me a bone like a club — the thing had to be some deer thigh bone or something. It was huge, picked clean and gleaming white. I held it up against the fire light and saw that it had symbols carved all over it. I even recognized a few.
“It’s a symbol of sacrifice,” Killian said. “Pass between the flames and throw the bones in.”
“Why?” one of us asked, though at the time it felt like we all shared one voice then.
“It is for the hounds. Pass through the fire, toss in the bone. Then we party.” I saw the teeth again when he said that, jagged things shoved into blackened gums. The heat from the fires pulsed through the night, the space we had to pass through about twenty feet long and four feet wide.
We walked in a line, not speaking, shirtless and carrying our bones like clubs. We must have looked like fucked up cavemen. Then Killian, or what used to be Killian, appeared on the other side of the long stretch we had to pass. He called to us. He was taller still, his arms unnaturally long. A woman had wrapped herself around his leg, gazing up at him.
We stepped forward, began the long walk between the fires. I heard something howl and a scream. A guttural voice said to throw the bones. When I looked into the fire, I could see them clearly. There were dozens of them, standing in the flames, some crouched and ready to spring, some stoic and watching. The only way I can describe them is that it is exactly what a dog born of a woman would look like. Or maybe a child born of a wolf. They were a perfect blend of human and canine. Their chest and bellies were smooth white, like marble, but the rest was covered in a coarse hair. Limbs were elongated and the elbow joints stuck out, almost as if their bones had been broken and reset backwards. When they opened their mouth, more black gums, more jagged teeth and their eyes were a piercing red, a red you could see even in the fire.
Jake cursed and started to cry. I remember that. I remember thinking we needed to get the hell out of there, that the worst thing we could ever do in our entire lives is walk towards Killian, who stood at the other end, beckoning us.
“It’s the end of the light half,” he yelled. “It’s the beginning of the dark. Throw the bones. Give the hounds their sacrifice.” He kept saying it over and over again and Steve did it first. He hurled that leg bone with all his might into the flames, Jake following suit. Two of the hounds caught the bones in their mouth and that was when the howling started and those things, they…
I can still hear them screaming. It was so quick. I can still hear them screaming my name.
And that was when I ran. I dropped the bone and ran hard and fast back up the hill, back the way we had come, back to the car, but the harder I ran the harder it was to get there. Like I said before, I could see the break in the tree line, but each step I took it got farther away. Until finally it was gone and there was nothing but more woods and this cabin.
I don’t think this night is going to end. I’ve lost track of time here and now this is the end of the paper. I keep telling myself when the sun comes up it’s going to have just been a dream and I’ll wake in my bed. What a joke, huh?
There was another howl just now, that low keening noise. It means they’re coming. I know it does. I can feel them out there, waiting for their bone.
ALLY MALINENKO writes poems and stories and occasionally gets them published. Her second book of poems entitled Crashing to Earth is forthcoming from Tainted Coffee Press and her first novel for children, Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb (Antenna Books) is available on Amazon. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and wishes it was Halloween every day.