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2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 19

Heart hammering in my chest, I stared, frozen, waiting for it to move. The outline of a humanoid stood, motionless, staring back at me. I assumed it stared at me, because all I could make out was the faint disturbance of the winter woods and grey sky behind.

Had I spent too much time alone? What the hell was it? I kept waiting for my vision to clear, or my brain to figure out why it was a trick, but my heart wouldn’t calm down. My limbs felt ready for a marathon, and also glued into place. Was this a new technology the government was testing?

A bark of laughter escaped before I could suppress it. Paranoid thoughts were funny to me, even while I was the one thinking them. The outline didn’t move, still.

“Hello?”

I waited to the count of ten to continue. “I can see you. Are you alright?”

Nothing. I had gathered a few armfuls of wood already. Fire be damned for the day, I’d make due with what I had. I turned back toward the cabin.

“Don’t go.” The sound was a million small voices in a chorus. Gooseflesh crept over my whole body. I didn’t think my heart could pound harder, but it did.

Facing it, I planted my feet. “What’s your name?” I studied it, at the same time mastering my fear.

“Most call me Legion. What’s yours?” The mouth opened as it spoke, but it sort of broke my brain because it was a mouth inside a mouth inside a mouth, as if each voice spoke through the receding mouths.

Part of me wanted to die, to run away until I died, knew I would never feel safe again. Part of me was fascinated, and had to understand. “My name is Jane.” I waited for it to speak again.

“Why do you speak to me?” There was a hint of inflection, curiosity, in the voices. Its form still wasn’t anymore visible. Maybe that part was good.

“I’m trying to understand what I’m seeing, and talking to you seemed like a decent way. How do most people react?” Conversation with the strong tension in the background of a predator playing with prey.

“Scream, run, charge, fight, lose.” Some of the words echoed strangely around the woods, as if whispered half a word after.

“You said most people call you a name. What do you call youself?” I chose my words carefully. I sensed naming it Legion would not be good for me.

“This is my first conversation. Until today I thought of myself as me.” I felt the urge to hug the creature, it’s loneliness was palpable.

“Pick a name for yourself. At least that’s what I would do.” I said. If this were a regular conversation, I would have shrugged.

“You pick a name for me, Jane.” The words were a command, and a dangerous one.

“I can do that. Do you want an idea for a name, or an average human name? I’m not sure if gender matters to you, does it? Special origins of words are a hobby of mine, any clues?”

The creature chuckled, and I almost dry heaved it so disturbed me. This thing was wrong, and I here I was trying to name it?

“Fine, no clues, then I will offer two names, and you can pick which you like best.” My brain tried to find the right words, to mollify this thing. Two names came to mind, and I couldn’t think of anything better. “Hydan or Damon.”

“Explain.” That word held everything I could imagine within.

I nodded. “Hydan is a root for hidden, Old English, Hide. You seem to be good at that. Damon is a famous actor’s last name that seemed to fit, maybe.”

“Fit how?” The creature took a step forward, and the outline shifted. The footstep was silent.

“I, uh, I’m not sure. Seemed like a nice last name.” I hedged.

“Stop lying.”

I gasped as it moved in the blink of an eye right next to me. No heat came from it, and it was more difficult to see this close, but it breathed on my face. “I thought it was close enough to demon to pass off, but famous enough no one would mind much.” My own breath was ragged, and I was getting ready to run away. I knew it would do much good, since I saw how fast it moved. So I forced a deep breath.

“Clever girl. I like you. Honesty is also something I don’t get to face very often. I will visit again tomorrow. You will meet me, same time.” The creature vanished. I don’t know if it moved so quickly I couldn’t see it, or used magic, or if my brain had made the whole damned thing up.

I trudged back up to the cabin, and gathered a small handful of kindling. It looked exactly the same, but I no longer trusted my safety.

Picked my phone up, two bars, good enough. I called mom.

“Hey honey, aren’t you still camping?” Mom was her chipper self.

“Yeah, maybe I should come back in the morning?” My voice shook. I didn’t mean it to, and I tried to make it stop half way through the sentence. But there it was.

“Something happen?” I could tell I had her full attention.

“Maybe something did. I don’t know.” I replayed pieces of the strange conversation in my mind.

“Are you scared, should Dad come up tonight?”

“No. I don’t know. I don’t feel safe here anymore.”

“You met him?”

My blood ran icy. “Who?”

“Legion.” She in took breath after the name slipped out of her.

I heard Dad in the background cursing at Mom, why’d she have to say it outloud? He had been napping.

How much did she know? “I saw an outline in the woods.”

“Anything else make you feel unsafe?”

“What’s that word you used, Mom?”

“Rumor about the property.”

“Stop lying.”

“Dad doesn’t want me to tell you anything.” I could hear Dad trying to get the phone away from her. “I saw it kill Tommy, my brother.”

“So you just let me come up here alone?”

“Well sweety, you wanted a secluded place, and Legion isn’t there all the time. Now that he’s made himself known, you should come home.” Dad yelled something about not going up there now.

“How did it kill Tommy?”

Mom walked into the small pantry, a closet off the kitchen, and the door closed behind her. “Tommy was drunk, and cursing mad at just being dumped. Prom was coming up and he just paid for the tux, car rental all that. No matter what I said to him, he was determined to be mad. I left him by the fire pit one night, only I heard a funny noise. I turned around in time to see many mouths extend over Tommy’s head. Then the mouths were gone, and Tommy’s head was never found.”

“Why do you call it that name?”

“My mom told me that’s what its called. It’s been on that property for a long long time. Maybe I should have warned you, but you’ve already been up there more than a month. I thought… you were safe. What did you see, sweety?”

Something about her question set off warnings in me. I couldn’t share what happened with anyone.

“You can’t tell me?” Her voice was calming, and I couldn’t pinpoint what was different.

I didn’t say anything.

“Jane, dear, tell me yes or no. Did you speak to it?” Mom whispered the question.

My whispered response escaped before I could stop it. “Yes.”

We both hung on the line, silent. I wasn’t sure what was going on.

“Whatever happens, I love you Jane. Dad won’t be able to come pick you up tomorrow. Love you.” She hung up.

Mom hung up on me. I stood in shock. Mom had never hung up on me. What the fuck was going on.

I threw open the cabin door and took in a big gulp of air to yell ‘Damon’ but I saw the shape of him at the edge of the LED bulb at the front door. In a normal tone, I said, “Damon?”

“Yes?”

“Is that name better, or do you like Hydan?”

“Damon is good.”

“My mom remembers something.”

“I took your uncle’s life. It’s true.”

“What do you want?”

It sobbed. A sound profound enough to make me step toward it. “After all this time, perfecting the hunt, perfecting the predator, all I find I lack is a friend.”

My heart continued to pump, thumping in my chest. I steeled myself. “Tell me there is a way that you can give a bond, that you will never harm me, and I will be our friend.”

The creature’s outline went out of focus, and it rushed me. It’s many voices yelled different responses at me, varied from ‘Oh Please?’ to ‘Never, I will suck your bones dry.’ to ‘Promise you’ll never harm us.’ It’s claw wrapped around my throat, no pressure but a clear threat. It’s breath on my cheek, it ruffled my hair.

”No friendship can exist under physical threat of harm.”

“How would you know?” It challenged me.

“Let me go and I’ll explain.” I was under it’s control, if it wanted to kill me, obviously it could. This was the moment, and I waited for it to remove its claw, the points were on my skin.

Without a word, it retreated to the edge of the light again.

“Good. I’m here to avoid a person who crossed that line. I know a shit ton about boundaries in relationships. I will never be hit or physically harmed again. What I need from you is some sort of word, promise, bond that you will not threaten physical harm, or perform physical harm on me. If we can establish that trust, we can go from there. Right now, what you just did, was threatening. I can’t be friends with someone who threatens me. We both have to agree on these boundaries.”

“You want to shackle me.”

“No I want you to decide what is important. How badly do you want a friend?”

“You’re using friendship as a club, bludgeoning me with it.”

“Don’t play like that either. Do you agree to not harm or threaten me? Yes or no.”

It remained silent for a long time. “What happens if I threaten you, like I just did.”

“I walk away, don’t talk to you anymore. If you allow me to walk away, at that point.”

“I don’t kill friends.” It sounded hurt.

“How do you know?”

“I had one, long ago. It died of age.”

“How did you build trust together?”

“We agreed on terms, true. I agree to you request that I not threaten or harm your body. Do you agree not tl leave the property without telling me?”

“I’m being clear, you know I have to get supplies, pay bills and stuff, right?”

“Yes, you leave roughly once a week. I can feel the tires on the earth roads.”

“I’m not to ask permission, simply notify you.”

“Notify only.”

“That is a good boundary. I agree.”

“We have a friendship.”

“We have the beginnings of a friendship. I thought you said your first conversation was with me.”

“Yes?”

“You had a friend long ago.”

“Oh, I wasn’t in this form then. Still larval.”

I nodded. “There will be many negotiations between us. Rules we both need to agree and follow. Like this is my cabin, my home. I request you don’t enter without my permission. Where is your home space, so that I know not to enter without permission?”

“Cave, roughly a mile upriver, rose bush at entrance.”

“I know it, and will respect your space. Will you respect mine?”

“Yes.”

“I’m tired, and need sleep. I’m going inside, and hope we can talk more tomorrow.”

The multitude of voices sing-songed the farewell. “Goodbye, friend.”


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 18

We recite in unison, beautiful and ethereal to the harvest spread before us:

Sky Mother, nestled in the stars,

Your name is sacred.

You witness from the darkest night

Our acts in your name

Both above and below.

The bounty you guide,

Begets the harvest we eat.

Forgiveness flourishes in our blood

Within and without.

Daily temptations lead us,

For your will is the power and glory.

Today is special, our Harvest Day. A few missing native born never go amiss. The subjects are funny about what we all them, not that it changes the label. They insist they are Americans, or Well-bred. The quality of their entire being is the key. They insist that ‘native born’ means a type of subject, when all we mean is Earth-born.

Some of us think we should call them Earth-born just to shut them up while we work. We are torn. But other priorities keep us busy enough not to notice too much.

I told them this ‘Halloween’, a beloved day of costumes for the native born, was ideal for our Gathering. Americans, as they call themselves, use some of the same imagery as we do – harvest, moon crescent, fruits of our labor, boogie men (women? They are so hung up on gender, even as they are dinner.) Some of them even have stars and moons as a theme all year round.

My costume draws their attention, not quite right, good distraction. They wonder how I can tell, but I just can. Hope I’m not going native. Gruesome business, but necessary to our work I suppose.

Time to go, a window of four ripe hours begins right before dusk. Bounty awaits.


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 17

They tried to get in my house, and broke the only remaining window. Damnit that was a vintage window, and the bastard broke it. Guess I shouldn’t be mad.

They tried to get into the first floor rooms, broke down every door. I heard the splintering from up here. What did they think was in each and every room? Smart ones, I could assume.

One door proved too much for them. I heard them planning and playing. This was a lark, a dare, and they were young. My mouth watered.

Finally they got to my door, in the attic. I kept the floors clean up here and one of them pointed that out to the others. No one believed her. Called her a scaredy cat. I think I heard a can drop on the floor, my precious herringbone.

If they knocked, like the sign requested, I might show them mercy because of the girl, or I might not because of the beer. Maybe I’d just show the girl mercy.

The same voice said, “Signs says knock. Look” They laughed at her and tried to open it without success. All the other locks were mechanical, because the other door they couldn’t enter. My two doors were magically locked. Only my permission opened them. Drool slide out the side of my mouth as I imagined opening the door.

Some feet shuffled, and I heard a dainty knock, then laughter that covered up the slight creak in the door hinges as I opened the door from across the room.

“The knock worked, assholes,” the girl said. They laughed some more and rushed at the door. It burst wide, and I saw three young men, and two  young ladies. One of the ladies had a wild, panicked look and the other exuded curiosity. She locked eyes on me first.

The other girl screamed and ran down the stairs. She didn’t stop running until she was off the property. The boys looked around the room, and finally spotted me. One gasped and took several steps back. He rallied his courage, and calmly walked away, down the stairs. The other two glanced at each other, their machismo invigorated by the other.

“It’s just a doll,” one of the boasted.

The young woman said, “If you watch it, it’s breathing. The arms move slightly with each breath, it’s eye sockets have intelligence.”

I would show her mercy.

“Naw, it’s trick-” the shorter boy moved into my home, my room, and made to grab at my head. In an instant, I climbed his outstretched arm and plucked out his eyes. I placed them in my eye sockets, and for once they were a match. The victim didn’t ever have time to react as my magics sucked the breath from him, and then his life ended.

“Ment?” the other guy called, unsure of himself, unwilling to process what he witnessed. “Ment buddy, get up. Jokes over.”

I glanced at the young woman, who nodded approval. She was already dark, what a delightful surprise.

“Uh, maybe we should beat a fast retreat, Jonie.” The guy took a couple of blind steps backward. Jonie blocked his way, then kicked the back of his knee, and forced him to kneel.

“What are you doing Jonie?!” Panic rose in him, and Jonie smiled.

“Remember all those time I begged for you to stop?”

“This isn’t fucking funny. Let me go,”

“You know you want it.” She moved away from him and nodded at me, encouraged me.

I moved up and ripped his tongue out before he could say anything, and sucked away his air. It was a fairly painless end for such a piece of meat, but Jonie was the most fascinating human I’d ever encountered.

The tongue, still warm, slipped into my mouth and my magic resized it and allowed me to form words understandable to humans. At least while it lasted.

“Human Jonie, I’m very pleased to meet you. My name is-”

“Gaius, and I’ve dreamt of you all my life.” Her voice carried the power I saw in her.

“You knew I was here?” Interesting, that change this mishap into an offering, maybe.

“I felt something, hoped it was you. As we got closer I knew, downstairs. They wanted to quit after that door we couldn’t open. Sorry they broke your doors. I wasn’t sure how to get them to come to the attic.” She felt the pull, and fumbled her way to the offering. It was beautiful.

“Jonie, I accept your offering, and if you wish it I-”

She didn’t hesitate. “I wish it.”

“But how-”

“You have been looking for students.”

This fumbling human gave me a shiver. “What led you to that conclusion?”

“My dreams.” Her smile told me it was true, and not true.

“Do you accept mentorship?” We must be official. Follow protocol. It will work out if I follow the checklist.

“I accept mentorship, Gaius. Maybe I pay tribute?” Her stare was too cunning. What had I gotten into?

“If you wish.”

She moved over to one of the corpses, and made quick work of carving out the heart, still dripping, she offered it to me.

How could she know? But my urge to accept a student, to avoid loneliness, to teach again overwhelmed me. I hadn’t feasted on a tribute in too long. I moved to her outreached hands, and then the smell hit me.

My new eyes focused on her, and the pupils took in all the light of the dim attic. She moved as only supernaturals do. She removed the human parts of me, crushed my skull, and then she pulled out the one thing feared among my kind. The Jar. It trapped us inside, and since were are immortal in the truest sense, we are tormented until someone was foolish enough lets us out again.

“I have hunted you for a long time Gaius. You fell so much easier than your brothers. You actually wanted to show my mercy, which was shocking. I will show you mercy in return, and you get your own Jar. Your brothers tear at each other, all shoved in the same jar. You can watch them, instead of being torn yourself.”

Her voice was quiet and hard as steel. Her hands moved with practiced precision. Her fangs just barely visible.

“I know nothing in this universe is ever lost, and you will be able to reform again if you ever escape. But I will make it harder.” She burned my remains, first with fire magic that didn’t harm the wood, then acid that left small pockmarks in my beautiful wood floor.

She pulled the cork on the Jar, and I slipped inside, unable to resist the pull on my bodiless spirit. She held up the Jar and tapped it. I swirled so she knew I heard it. The tapping engulfed my thoughts for a brief moment and I never wanted to hear it again.

The next time I hear the tap, she had travel a long time and I had basically shut down. I focused my consciousness to wish I could die. She held me aloft in her gallery. Hunters sometimes treasured their collection. There were hundreds of Jars marked with labels, along a huge wall unit specifically sized to hold them. She had another wall with other trophies, claws, ears, teeth, all magical or supernatural in origin.

In true Hunteress style, she kept her word and placed me right next to my brothers’ Jar. They never noticed me, but I spent eternity watching and hearing them tear each other apart.


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 16

I told myself I would never wear it again, but today, I wore it.

Masks are supposed to be cheap, and funny. Jim Carrey made masks a punch line, at least for a while. There are masks that are meant to be scary, but they’re too fake to be taken seriously. Everything today is ‘cosplay’ this and ‘make-up’ that.

No one knows the myths origins, the idea of a mask is ancient. It tickles the part of our brain we don’t like to acknowledge in modern times. In the same breath we must admit modern life forces us all to wear masks – professionalism, manners, service to others.

Some of the masks are dangerous. Only a few survived the millennia, and I’ve lost track of who has the others. They still exist, because while wearing this mask, I can feel the other masks.

Every guardian of ancient artifacts thinks their artifact is the best, most powerful, most scary. I know how I sound. My mask terrifies me.

It’s in tune with every child. I see through their eyes, feel through their skin, a single child up to a country’s entire population of children. It’s all rough estimates – who decides what a ‘child’ is, and where the borders are? Only the artifact creator knows the limits.

I care for this item because in other’s hands it was a tool of devastation, then later sacrifice. I guard it so no one else must. Some would argue I do it to remain immortal, but living forever isn’t a reward I would inflict on anyone. There are benefits, but they are less novel when you been widowed twenty times, been to a thousand funerals, begun to forget the names of your own children.

The mask called to me the other day. I knew it would, and as it’s guardian I must don it at least once a decade. I’ve resisted it for 50 years, and this call would not be denied.

I dug it out of the attic chest. It’s wrapped in fine silks. It nearly climbed onto my face it was so eager.

What washed over me was indescribable. Terrible pain, from so many within the masks reach. There were so many tiny humans, more than I ever remember before. Abuse, neglect, birthday parties, bullying, tests, techology, commercials, fashion, hunger; a medley of modern society directly through the eyes of every walk of life in a modern city. I knew if I lived in another state, it would be similar.

The pressure to be perfect never goes away. It was there 2000 years ago. What feels different this time is how many ways kids are shown they aren’t perfect, how they will never be perfect. When they can see the whole world, they see the beautiful not of their own school, or town, or state, or country – they see the best beauty of the whole world. Who would be able to live upto the world’s best?

How does this mask being protected do anyone good anymore? I know the foolishness of the question, it can always get worse. I will continue to protect the Ugly Baby Mask, as it was fondly named so long ago. I will continue to resist to put it on. The horrors hinted through the mask are more than anyone should have to endure.

 


2017 Nightmare Fuel day 15

“I can assure you madame, children are not allowed in this building.” He was calm as he spoke down to her, in the grating foreign fashion.

“I made reservations.” She glared at him, while grasping her son’s arm in her left hand, she dug around in her purse with her right. He tried to get away from her.

“You are more than welcome to stay, but he,” the front desk man shifted his gaze to her son. “…is not allowed.” His accent was more pronounced, and he looked as if he smelled something awful.

“There are laws about-”

“We are exempt.”

“But-”

“I’m sorry. Truly. You seem a lovely woman and caring mother. Perhaps you can find a babysitter and stay on your own. Get a break.” He was somewhere between sincere and snide.

“I’ll give you a bad yelp review.”

He shook his head. “We delete any entry. Against our principles.”

She huffed, and headed toward the massive entrance doors. It would have been a lovely stay.

They got outside and her son stopped in his tracks, looked up into the sky. He wouldn’t budge. She glanced up. On the corner of the building hung a gargoyle, and in the gargoyles outstretched arm was a boy held upside down by his ankle.

“That looks fun,” the boy exclaimed.

“No, honey. That’s scary, and bad business.” Her stomach dropped, and she knew why kids weren’t allowed in this building. Stupid, she forgot to check. She’d kept him away from these influences for five and a half years.

“But mommy – it looks like me. The thing holding me up is smiling – we are playing. I want to try.” Her son walked toward the building, and she knew he would climb to the top.

She rushed to get between the building and her son.

“No. We need to find a different place to stay.”

“Why? This one was made for me.” He grin transformed his perfect little face into a maniacal nightmare.

“They’ve refused us service, this isn’t your building.” A tiny white lie might work, might give her a few more years before destiny took him.

“Fine. I want ice cream,” he took off toward the waiting taxi, his arms out like an airplane.

She couldn’t help but smile, and follow after him.


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 14

I stand and guard the house. I am important. I am needed.

They told me so.

Of course, they are the ones the cursed me into this ridiculous shape. A quirky mailbox with arms and legs. No body, no head, no eyes, but hey I get a laugh from the mailman. How can I see? I have no idea. I just sort of sense them, humans.

Dogs, cats and smaller creatures sort of tickle. Not a real threat. Humans are warm, glow with a lovely yellow/orange/pink, like a sunset. The ones I’m to raise a stink about are the hollow ones. That’s how I perceive them.

I can’t quite remember my human life, because it was boring. I can’t quite forget the good parts though. Ice cream, abandoning yourself on a dance floor, kissing, and clean sheets on the bed. Mailboxes don’t have a varied life, I can attest.

 

A brilliantly glowing woman arrived today, and I got a headache. They fled the house, those that changed me. I don’t have a word, a label for them. Always ‘they.’

The woman said ‘I claim your souls back from the Void!’

It was super mellow dramatic. But then the headache.

I woke and saw with eyes, had a body again. Disoriented.

There were hundreds of us strewn across the front lawn. They whispered and whimpered. One human for each item in the home, beds, sheets, microwave, plate, doormat. I suddenly felt proud to be a mailbox. Strange a little twisted. It’s not like I had a choice.

Void Chasers finally figured out where humans were disappearing into the homes controlled by the Void. Cities had been emptied before the ritual was perfected. This was the first home liberated. My lovely city, nearly a ghost town. One home a week could be liberated – it would take more than a year to clear the Void homes in this one city.

 

The real bomb happened when we realized our way of life was gone. No population, no groceries, no electricity, no water, no sewer, and most important, no internet. Half the cities in the US had been trapped, and it was like waking from a coma to find the zombie apocalypse happened.

The next realization, the Void continued to enslave humans. They could move faster than the Void Chasers could work.

Life was hopeless. I joined a group of humans as we hunted for the Void, to be transformed back to household items. Less painful, less stressful.

 


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 13

“No, you can’t do it!” My little girl clung to my skirts, and cried. The tears were real, and I knew why she protested.

“It’s in your bones, and in your ancestry to protect the forest.” I knelt down to her height, wiped away the tears with gentle thumbs.

She nodded, her lower lip trembled.

“Darling Palenta, I know it seems wrong, but we must let this tree go.”

“You don’t know, mommy?” Her eyes were wide, and her knuckles turned white as she grasped my wrists.

“Tell me.” It was our invitation to each other. Those two simple words meant we could say whatever we wanted or needed, and the other person would listen.

Palenta looked up at the ancient tree. It’s bark had been grey for more than a century, and a new leaf hadn’t grown for nearly that long. Custom told us it was time to make room for other trees, time to let the tree go. But my little girl struck a dancing pose, mirrored parts of the tree, looked up into my eyes and recited the ancient story, as if she knew it by heart.

“She dances in the moonlight, silvery off her leaves. Her roots become feets, the breeze her partner, and the earth her stage. Everyone, everyone stops to watch, to listen. Little animals, little birds, tiny creatures too small to see, the stars, but especially the moon. They all hold their breath, because her dance makes everyone breathless. She dances in the moonlight, silvery off her leaves. Mommy, she’ll dance again.”

I stood in shock. No one had uttered that story for more than fifty years. What was going on?

Palenta moved up to the bark, and caressed it like it was soft as rabbit fur. She coo’ed at it like a doll.

“I know the Right of Surrender.” Her tiny voice carried across the cleared path. My heart stopped.

“No, no one knows it anymore.” I said to her. My feet were frozen in place. She was less than ten feet away, but out of reach. There were a handful of us that knew the Right, but we were all sworn to never to reveal it. Our books, our scrolls, it had all been burned. She couldn’t know.

Palenta turned to face me, and she pointed a finger, her brown hair shifted in the breeze. “You gave me the knowledge, when you borned me, mommy. I want to surrender to this tree. It’s the highest honor for an ancestor tree.”

My blood turned icy. Rumors in the village circulated that children born in the last two decades carried knowledge they shouldn’t, but this?

“Mommy doesn’t want you to surrender. Come back over here, darling.” I knelt down, lifted my arms up to her.

Palenta closed her eyes and shook her head. It reminded me of my grandmother, when the village decided to stop the old ways, burn the Ritual. Palenta turned toward the tree and began to recite the cursed words.

“No, Palenta. Mommy and daddy will be very angry if you leave. We don’t want you to go. You’ll be gone forever.” I screamed, and begged. I stood but still my feet couldn’t move forward. As the ritual continued, more of the village arrived. None of them could get close either.

Palenta’s best friend, Maggy, burst through the crowd. She whooped, and ran toward the tree. Palenta glowed, and her feet lifted off the ground as the magical energy used her body as a conduit. Maggy ran up to Palenta, and I knew my little girl would be saved.

Maggy grabbed Palenta’s hand, and began chanting in unison. Soon Maggy glowed, and was lifted off her feet.

We watched as the children continued the ritual, surrendering their life for the sake of the tree. It was a cruel nightmare, I would wake and start the morning anew.

Two hours later, the whole village watched as the two girls bodies shone with the light of the sun for a moment, their hair streaming, their clothes whipped around, their limbs stiff. The smell of fresh earth, as if it had just rained, seemed to grow pungent.

My feet could move, and I ran for Palenta. Maggy’s mom ran for her. We caught our daughters’ lifeless bodies before the tree released them. We both wailed the Song of Sorrow, and plead to undo the rite. In unison we bowed a thousand times to the tree, and remained silent. Our husbands tried to comfort us through their own tears. Our families gathered around us.

At midnight, the moon high in the sky, we saw the tree come to life again, bloom with green-silver leaves. It touched the parents’ foreheads.

For a brief moment, I heard ‘I’m okay Mommy. This is magical.’ and it was gone. Palenta’s voice retreated. The tree danced in the moonlight as it had for eons.