Hello Friends and Fiends! Sorry I’ve been away for so long. It’s been a busy few months planning my wedding as well as working on some larger writing projects.
I hope to have more to share with you very soon.
In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d share a short story I wrote a few months ago. I hope you enjoy it and you all have a Happy and Haunted Halloween.
With Screams and Axes,
THE GIRL IN THE MASK
Ralph’s friends were all waiting for him at Marcus’ house. In Marcus’ backyard, they were gathering wood for the bonfire and ice for the coolers full of beer. The strippers would be arriving in an hour. The friends had always held bonfire gatherings to mark special occasions. Gathering around bonfires had started as something they had done together in middle school when they were still too young to drink or drive. Since then, fires had blossomed into a tradition that marked weddings, farewells, and deaths. They were excited to raise this bonfire tonight for their friend Ralph, and to see him through to his wedding day. Marcus sent Ralph a text asking him to hurry up and get here. When Ralph felt his phone vibrate with Marcus’ message, he was in the woods, making his way back to his truck through the thick clusters of tall trees.
Ralph had spent the afternoon in the woods with his rifle, looking for deer. The intense concentration of hunting was always something that made him feel focused and centered. He liked to listen to the forest and look for animal signs. Today, he had been tracking a deer for a few miles before he came upon it in a small clearing. Ralph rarely took his shot, instead letting the moment pass him by while his prey avoided his crosshairs. It was never about the violence for him, and Ralph almost never brought home a kill. After having admired his deer so closely, Ralph was leaving the woods emptyhanded.
While he was retracing his steps and finding his way back to the truck, Ralph felt his senses go on alert. He stopped for a moment to listen to the trees. Something was near him, something alive. Ralph looked for signs of bears and gave a few loud whoops to scare off anything that might be nearby. He thought he heard movement behind him, some rustled leaves or a broken twig. He waited a moment in the silence before continuing on. He quickened his pace. He had a party to get to.
As Ralph moved through the brush, he became certain that something was following him. He darted between the trees in a mad dash to get out into the open where he parked his truck, but whatever was following kept pace. He heard the noises behind him and he heard it gaining ground, drawing closer. He was being stalked like a wounded deer.
In spite of the fear fluttering in his stomach, Ralph was able to make it to his truck. He loaded his rifle in the back as quickly as he could and climbed into the driver’s seat. He locked the doors, put his hands on the steering wheel and rested his forehead against his knuckles, trying to calm his heartbeat and slow his breathing. That’s when he heard a noise like a faint wheeze. It sounded like old, dead branches creaking softly in the wind. In the passenger seat sat a young woman. She had skin the deep color of bog oak, and hair that had been shorn close to her scalp. She was wearing a thin, white cotton dress over her graceful figure, and covering her face was a white mask that was featureless except for two small, dark eye holes.
Ralph stared at her for a moment, unable to breathe or to move. He wasn’t sure that she could be real. Finally she spoke in a rasping, breathy voice.
“I’m hungry.” She looked at Ralph and put her hand on his chest. She began to stroke his neck with her long, cold fingers. “Do you have a large family?” Her voice sounded like wood splintering off in the distance.
“No,” Ralph stammered. “My parents are dead. It’s just me and my fiancé.”
“Children?” She asked, leaning further in, gripping him tighter in her strong hands. “I love children.”
“No. We haven’t any children,” Ralph told her, trying to suppress himself from whimpering.
“No children,” she repeated. Ralph thought he sensed the ache of disappointment in her words. “I will eat your love then, but I will need more,” she wheezed at him.
“No. No you will not eat her. You can’t eat Emily, you can’t!” Ralph screamed, feeling himself almost hysterical.
“Why?” She asked.
“Because we’re going to be married soon. I don’t expect you to understand…” Ralph considered her for a moment. Her touched chilled his skin but also filled him with awe and reverence. He couldn’t ask her who she was, because he knew that she was nothing he could understand. There was something about her that seemed old, some eternal ancient.
“Would you die for her?” She asked, moving her masked face close to his. She smelled like wet earth and tree sap.
“Yes,” he answered quickly. Then she made a fast huffing noise that sounded almost like laughter.
“Maybe we make a deal then,” she said.
Ralph arrived an hour late to his bachelor party. As soon as he walked in, his buddies raised their voices to welcome him and give him crap for being so late. They slapped him on the back and handed him a drink.
“What took you so long?” Marcus asked him.
“Sorry. Just, sorry,” Ralph said, taking a long drink of a beer.
“You okay?” Marcus asked. “You seem shook up or something.”
“No, I’m fine. I’m here now. Everything will be okay.” Ralph knew he was acting weird. He was nodding his head too much and his beer bottle was rattling in his unsteady hands.
“Um, Okay,” Marcus said, eyeing him suspiciously. “Well, go take a seat around the fire, the show’s about to start.”
“Right, yes.” Ralph reached out and gave Marcus a brief hug. “Thank you for doing this.”
Ralph and the rest of the guys situated themselves in a wide circle around the fire. Around them night had fallen, and everything outside the orange glow of the flames was deep black. Marcus whistled loudly and four girls wearing very little filed out of his house. From somewhere, a thrashing metal song began to play. The girls came into the circle and began to dance in front of the men, moving around the group so everyone got a look, their hips and arms provocatively arching and jerking in front of the firelight.
Then she was there. Ralph could feel her coming up behind him in the darkness. She put a hand on his shoulder and looked into the circle. With her other hand, she slowly removed her mask and handed it to Ralph. He took it in both hands and held it in his lap, making sure not to take his eyes off it, to keep it safe. He didn’t want to see her face. She entered the circle and then the clamor began. The men shouted and the strippers shrieked. Ralph could hear noises that sounded like tearing, gurgling, choking, and slurping. There was also a deep, low note like a hum that echoed amongst the screams and cries for help. Ralph looked up to witness the devastation he had brought to them, figures of torn flesh and bleeding throats perfectly silhouetted by the flames.