A scary story for the full moon on a Friday the 13th!
And if you aren’t in the mood to read, you can listen to an audio performance of this short story on the HALLOWEEKLY podcast HERE for free!
The water well smelled of sulfur. Gordon Langford, newly elected mayor of the town of Willow Creek, was trying to determine why. He didn’t like the notion given to him by the City Council, and he wouldn’t acknowledge it no matter what was happening to the moon tonight. This well had been boarded up long enough. An easy source of pure water, flowing freely, was something he couldn’t leave closed off.
He’d get the town back on track if it was the last thing he did.
As he passed the welcome sign on his way back from the well, he nearly drove himself off the road. His tires screeched to a stop. Someone, or many, and probably hooligan townies no doubt, had painted a message the color of blood across the middle of the sign.
Drink the drink
Then let go
To unleash the glow
And unhinge the soul
The splatter of paint, the swirl of the moon soaked that same violent shade, was an immediate irritation he didn’t have time to fix. He had to get back to oversee final preparation stages for the festival. He simply didn’t have anymore time to spare.
Meg Montgomery had never smoked a cigarette. In her eighteen years alive, she had never done a lot of things. The curl of the smoke taunted her, like it was ghostly fingers reaching out and beckoning her to the edge of her boyfriend, Hugo Forest’s, plump, wet lips.
Meg snatched the cigarette from Hugo’s lips and took a drag so fast she almost choked. The smoke filled her mouth and slid down her throat before she was forced to expel it. She left a ring of her signature shade around the cigarette filter.
Hugo beamed. He’d been trying to corrupt her since July when he first saw her gingerly sipping a lavender latte on the porch of the Hallowed Grounds Café. She was the kind of girl who never looked messy. Her soft brown hair was like dark coffee without cream, her skin like roses and silk. She had a tiny button nose Hugo thought could use a ring in it.
She passed the cigarette back to him, and he stamped it out.
“Come on,” Meg said, lips twitching for another taste. “We gotta head home for the festival.”
“Back to purgatory,” he said, his voice edged by agitation. “I’ll get you a coffee before we go.” He turned back toward the café, shoulders sagging in his leather jacket.
Meg hated to constantly disappoint him, but she hated getting in trouble even more.
They walked back inside and straight up to the counter where Bea, the full busted barista, stood ready to take their order.
“Usual?” she asked, smiling.
“To go,” Meg replied, smiling back.
“Not joining us?” Bea tallied up their order as she talked.
“You know how my parents are,” Meg said, and Hugo let out a small grunt. Meg rolled her eyes and smirked at Bea.
The university her parents selected for her was near the town they’d recently settled in, a little village called Willow Creek. Bea, and most of the kids at school, were going up north to the mountains tonight to watch the Blood Moon rise and get high as kites. Meg was going home to join her family at the Founder’s Festival.
“Careful. You know what they say about Willow Creek?”
Meg did not, in fact, know that anyone, ever, said anything about that tiny nothing town.
Hugo laughed outright, his lean, broad shoulders shaking. He cocked an eyebrow at Bea. “For a college-educated modern girl, you’re damn superstitious.”
Bea kept his change just to spite him and walked off to make their coffees. “What do people say about Willow Creek?” Meg asked.
Hugo wasn’t a local, but he’d been at Milford University for three semesters. Even though he didn’t live in Willow Creek, he’d still heard the story.
“There’s a legend.” He raised his eyebrows dramatically and wiggled his fingers at her. “Three hundred years ago, when the founders broke ground on the first water well, they dug too deep. So deep, they uncovered a demon trapped way down inside the world.”
Meg’s heart raced, driving a speedy thump thump thump into her ribs. Bea handed her the coffee from behind the counter and it shook in her hand.
“It’s not a joke. My gran grew up in Willow Creek,” Bea said, pursing her lips in disgust as she went to take another order.
“The demon had some needs and he used the townsfolk to meet ’em,” Hugo carried on. “He couldn’t get out of that pit, so he fed and frolicked through their bodies. Supposedly, on a Blood Moon night like this one, they managed to bury him down in the dark again. Then, they warned their kids and grandkids away from the well for all eternity.”
“The well Mayor Langford tapped for town use?” Meg asked. Hugo just curled his lips. Meg felt the word yes hiss across her skin.
She looked at her coffee cup and wondered if they were using the water from Willow Creek here at Hallowed Grounds. Then she felt silly for wondering. Hallowed Grounds Café was in Milford, and they didn’t use Willow Creek water.
And, besides, there wasn’t anything wrong with the water. “You don’t believe it, do you?”
“I don’t think it matters. Lots of places have weird stories like that.” Hugo shrugged. “I think people make up these things because the truth is too damn depressing.”
“Right,” she said, the beat of her heart starting to settle. “You’re right.” She was sure he was right.
Roland Montgomery had been listening to the other boy’s stories all week long on the bus ride home from Edison Elementary. He was sick of the noise. He buried his face in his book, like if he burrowed in deep enough he’d wind up inside.
“My mom said we gotta get out to the festival before sunset tonight,” Jonah Russell said in his gruff, raspy voice. He tossed a hackysack over Roland’s head and just barely missed.
“You think it’s true though?” Finn Durmont asked, sending the hackysack back.
“I kinda hope so,” Jonah replied.
“Me too,” another boy said from somewhere near the back of the bus. They all laughed.
Roland sunk into his seat. He’d been trying to avoid the water all week, but last night his mother threw him in the shower and stood there while it soaked through his clothes. She would not have her son growing potatoes behind his ears, she’d said. Nor would she tolerate him believing in wild stories.
The water had trickled inside his mouth and right down the center of his throat. Roland was determined to forget it had happened. He pinned his eyes to the words on the page.
Meg and Hugo walked toward his beat-up, faded-blue truck with their fingers laced together. She slid into the passenger’s seat, not bothering to buckle. There was little traffic between campus and Willow Creek, just woods and road and a single gas station.
The truck sputtered to life and promptly dinged. “Gotta get some gas at Mo’s,” Hugo said.
The woods around Milford University and the town of Willow Creek were a dense, steady wall of sugar maples lit up like the Burning Bush, pale-skinned beech trees huddled together, and the knobby arms of yellow birches reaching toward the sun. The forest came right up to the road edge, but not a step further.
Meg watched the trees zip by as they drove toward the boundary of town. They began to thin the closer they got to Mo’s. She tried to ignore that gnawing hollow in her stomach that had formed after hearing the story about Willow Creek.
Hugo turned into the parking lot and cut the engine. Mo’s was a mom and pop operation complete with two ancient gas pumps and a food truck that sold the best chicken dumplings in a fifty-mile radius. As Hugo pumped the gas, Meg decided she’d get a bowl and warm up her unexpectedly chilly insides.
Roland had followed his father, Les, to the center of town. His mother had stayed home, insistent she wanted to wait for Meg and would meet them. His dad was talking to the physical education teacher at Roland’s school. Shop talk he had no interest it.
Roland stood up and wandered along the boundary of the square. People were already arriving for the festival. Laughing, wearing big chunky sweaters and argyle, scarves and hats knitted by hand. But Roland didn’t feel happy watching their happy faces. Something inside him felt off. Like he was sick and a little bit tired, and every time he saw a gleaming white smile he felt the distinct urge to rip all of the teeth from their gums.
Roland paused at the limestone table in the center. Everything else in the town square was decorated for fall, but this table lay bare, as if forgotten.
As if somehow saving its space for later.
Mo’s dumplings were not only perfectly plump, but cheap as dirt. There were wooden picnic tables set up in the dusty clearing alongside the food truck, and a few townies were always hanging out there. The townies went quiet as Meg passed. Most men did that when they saw her.
“Just a bowl of dumplings,” Meg said, when she reached the food truck. The girl working the order window was new. She didn’t look Meg in the eyes as she took her three dollars and name. “Thanks.”
Meg pulled her sweater in around her, wishing she had worn something warmer. The sun was hanging low on the horizon now, ready to disappear from sight. She paced around, looking at the way the light bled through tiny crevices in the tree arms like droplets of blood on the bark, then trickled over the top of Mo’s station, and ran across the gravel and asphalt toward her. As she trailed her attention back to the truck, her eyes caught on the dumpling bowls sitting atop the picnic table a few feet away.
The white paper bowls were stained red. They sloshed with some sort of thick, syrupy liquid. Meg took a step toward the table, her legs dragging her against her will, trying to reconcile the sight before her. Maybe it was a trick of the red-stained light.
She blinked. When her vision cleared, she felt her stomach lurch. Burgundy like wine and thick as molasses.
The townie ran a finger around the rim of the bowl. Meg followed his finger, coated, until it rested along the edge of his lip. He flicked it with his tongue.
You can always feel the pressure of attention turned squarely your way, and Meg Montgomery couldn’t move for all the weight now laid across her shoulders. Only her eyes shifted.
Opaque like the vast, deep dive of a well.
That’s what she saw when she met the man’s eyes.
He smiled, his teeth outlined in rusty brown almost black. It trickled from one corner of his lip to make a trail through his stubble and fall in a drop back into the bowl.
Without thinking, Meg began to walk. Fast as her two legs could carry her.
The townies stood, all in unison. Organized like a single-minded beast. One called out in a voice darker than the inside of a coffin. “Where you runnin’, little rose?”
Hugo closed the gas cap with a final twist. He glanced up to see if Meg was coming, and what he saw set his teeth on edge. Meg’s eyes were the size of saucers, her skin had lost all its color and now just glowed the shade of the fading sunset.
Behind her the group of townies stood, watching, and one of them called after her. Hugo felt a spark of anger flare in his chest, and he stepped forward.
“Back off man,” he yelled in response.
The other man, with cropped blond hair and a ratty AC/DC T-shirt shredded at the hem, turned his eyes toward Hugo. They were bottomless. Hugo stuttered to a stop. Meg reached him just then, and she whispered something fierce and fast, grabbing him by the jacket and yanking him toward his truck.
She let go only when they’d reached the passenger side, shoving him away toward his car door and climbing in without a word. He fell in beside her, his hands shaking.
“What was wrong with his eyes?” He trembled.
“Drive, Hugo. Those guys all live in Willow Creek.” At this, she turned her dark brown eyes to him. “They were drinking blood from Mo’s bowls.”
The door to Mo’s station opened up, as if the proprietor’s ears were now burning. Even as dusk began to settle over the parking lot, Meg and Hugo could clearly see the man that emerged. Wearing a flannel and cap, his silver hair peaking from the lip, Mo stared at them through the same shiny black eyes as the others. His lips were stained that awful color.
Hugo shoved his truck into gear.
They sped the rest of the way toward the boundary of town. Meg pulled out her phone and dialed her father. No answer. Same for her mom. The click of her voicemail made Meg want to throw her phone right out the window. She looked out instead. As they passed the Willow Creek welcome sign, she read the poem painted across the center. The car grew suddenly cold. The windows fogged.
She wiped it away with the sleeve of her sweater.
On neighbor’s yards were harvest decorations, fall leaves and lanterns, smiling scarecrows and pumpkins stacked up beside door frames. But not a soul was around. Not on the sidewalks or the porches. Not inside the curtained windows, dark and cold though there was little daylight left. Hugo peeled around the corner and shot down Meg’s road.
Still as the dead, he thought as he pulled into her driveway. Meg stared through the windshield at her house. The porch was deep, painted a soft gray that complimented the white wood. It had a wide swing she enjoyed reading on beneath a burrow of blankets. She loved the dormer windows and the leaded glass. She tried desperately to find the courage to climb out of the car, but the fear of what she might find inside had turned her feet to lead.
“What if they’ve already left for the festival?” Meg breathed. “Then we’ll go find ’em,” Hugo replied.
In that moment, Meg felt certain she loved him.
Hugo stepped out first and shut his door. Meg followed, and she tried to steel herself against the hollow hum of fear rattling in her chest. Her eyes traveled down the road. Lamplights bloomed, their glow out over the street created tiny pockets of light all down the road.
She shot back against the car. Hugo startled.
“What is it?” he asked. She only pointed.
He could only follow her finger. The street yawned in front of him, and on every lawn that was empty moments before, now stood the darkened figures of Meg’s neighbors. Tall and lean. Short and stubby and round. The tiny bodies of children still as statues. All facing the direction of Hugo’s truck.
“We need to get inside,” Hugo said, pulling on the loose arm of her sweater.
They stumbled up the stairs and turned the door handle, falling through the front door and into the foyer. The light in the hallway was off.
Hugo shut the door with a thud that made Meg jump.
“Meg,” a swift, sharp noise. From somewhere on the other side of the den and the dining room came a voice. Her mother was home.
Meg unclenched her fingers from a fist. She didn’t realize she’d been holding so tight, but her palms were ridged with red, half-moon cuts. She ran toward the sound of her mother’s voice, something Meg hadn’t done since she was a small child.
There, at the kitchen table decorated for fall harvest, sat Jewel Montgomery. She was a slim line of light in the dim blue kitchen. Her hair, her skin, her cream button down blouse — all flawless. Not a spec on anything, not even her ivory skin. Her eyes skimmed across the full color magazine page in front of her.
“Where’s Roland and Dad?” Meg’s voice shivered, panic leaking into every word.
Not even the terror in her voice drew her mother’s eyes up. Meg took a step forward, just as Hugo entered the room.
“Out,” was all Jewel said. She flipped the glossy page.
“At the festival?” Meg asked, taking another step toward her mother. “We’ll meet up with them soon,” Jewel said.
This didn’t sit right with Meg. None of it. Her mother wouldn’t have waited for her here. She would have called her, chewed her out. She’d have left for the festival and given her an ultimatum. Even at eighteen, Meg had rules to follow.
“Mom.” Meg’s upper lip trembled. Sweat that collected there felt cold and clammy. Jewel flipped the magazine page. The corner ripped.
Hugo hovered at the entrance to the kitchen. Meg’s house had always felt warm and been filled with the smell of baking bread or meatloaf, pot roast, or evening decaf coffee brewing. Nothing like his Dad’s place in Pennsylvania, which only ever smelled like beer and rotting pizza.
Meg took a final step and placed her hands on the chair back. It shook from her trembling. The teetering shuffle of the wood on tile made Hugo’s skin crawl.
“Mom, why won’t you look at me?” Meg asked.
Jewel’s hand froze mid-swipe of the page.
Hugo didn’t carry a weapon, but as Jewel Montgomery sat there still as a statue, he searched the kitchen with his eyes for one. There was a cast iron skillet on the stove. A single wine glass, still full of white wine, on the table. A knife block on the island.
Jewel’s smile crept up her face and she laughed.
Meg clenched the chair back until her knuckles were white but her mother kept laughing. And she knew: That laugh was not her mother’s at all.
Jewel looked up, straight at Meg, her eyes the color of coal. She blinked and they filled with red, staining the rims like blood colored eyeliner.
Meg yanked the chair from the table and lifted it in front of her like a shield.
Hugo lunged for the wine glass, grabbing the stem and cracking it along the edge of the table. Jewel shot up. Her chair crashed to the tile behind her.
“Sweet of you to come back for them,” the voice was as cold as ice hardened in the dead of winter. It was not her mother’s voice, but then it was, and the way it could be both made Meg almost faint.
She let the chair slip from in front of her. Her head spun like a top.
Hugo grabbed her by the waist to keep her upright and at the same time he waved his newly fashioned weapon at Jewel, threatening her not to come a step closer. Hugo didn’t understand what was happening, but he figured keeping Meg out of her mother’s grasp was a bright idea.
Jewel was a hollow shell. Whatever she’d once been was gone.
“It won’t matter,” came that creeping, cold voice again. It crawled across the floor and turned it to ice. The whole room changed temperature every time Jewel opened her teeth. “They’re already coming for you.”
“I won’t let them take her,” Hugo said.
Jewel cocked her head, curling her lips again into a hollow grin. “Her?”
Meg pressed the soles of her feet firm into her boots. There was something wrong with her head, and it was throwing her balance all off. Every time she swallowed, she tasted metal. Heat flooded her stomach and she lurched forward. Her knees and her elbows pinned to the ground.
When she was a little girl, Meg had been prone to stomach bugs. She got used to throwing up whatever food she ate, heaving dry when it was all gone. She learned to see the signs hours away and make herself comfortable on the bathroom floor. Meg tried to swallow now, to breathe through the nausea, but it was impossible.
Blood sprayed from her lips across the pure white tile.
It splattered against Jewel Montgomery’s flawless cream flats.
Hugo had never been a screamer, but there was a time for all things under the sun, and at the sight of that blood dripping from his girlfriend’s lips, Hugo shouted high into the heavens.
Meg looked up at her mother. “What is this?
“It’s in the water. After all these years, someone finally was fool enough to use the well again,” the voice said through her mother’s lips. “I will get my chance by light of the blood moon tonight.”
Meg wiped at her lips. Her hands were stained red.
“The demon,” she whispered. “From the legend.”
Jewel laughed. “It’s not a legend if it’s true.”
“They drank the water from your well,” Hugo cringed.
Meg felt sick again. When she swallowed, all she could taste was the blood.
“They’ve been bathing in it. Drinking it. Cooking with it for days.” More blood dripped from Jewel Montgomery’s eyes. Hugo couldn’t remember now what color they’d been before.
Fathomless, ghoulish, pitch-black. That’s what they would forever be.
He looked at the back of Meg’s body crouched on the ground in front of him. She had gone slack. All the tension left her shoulders and hands. She slumped into the blood-slick floor.
Jewel was staring at Hugo. “They’re he-ere,” she said in a sing-song. Her breath made smoke in the air.
Meg jerked once.
“Meg.” Hugo’s voice shook.
At first, she did nothing. No noise left her lips. No movement shifted her limbs. Then all at once she stood, not slipping or lurching. With a soft sigh she turned, her rich chestnut hair trailing in front of her face, the ends all soaked with blood.
Meg raised her face to the boy in front of her. It was strange, she thought, because he was familiar somehow. He looked at her with drawn features, eyes wet with fury and he whispered her name. But it was not her name, either, and this made her smile. She was better than Meg — a weak little girl who’d never gotten her hands dirty, never, ever tasted of danger. She flexed her hands. The blood had already begun to dry between the cracks of her palms.
She met the boy’s eyes. His were the color of sky. The color of freedom.
He shifted them away from her. Out, out the window where the torches appeared. The girl took a few steps to the door, knowing he wouldn’t follow — couldn’t move for the fear, the tremor of shock that now rushed through him. Electric, paralytic, all-consuming.
She swung it wide open and surveyed the lawn.
Gathered in force was the town of Willow Creek. Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, elderly women crooked with age, men wearing ball caps and boys dressed in denim. They bled from the backyard out into the street. They hummed with excitement, fire flickering across their cheeks.
She inhaled the scent. They’d come for the boy.
She looked up at the sky. Hanging overhead, swollen and bright, was the Blood Moon. Its light cast over the yard, turning it an eerie orange glow. This was what the demon had been waiting for, and the girl could feel his desire course through her veins, powerful in a way she’d never imagined possible.
There was no need to speak because they all felt the draw. The living body inside the house. He was not a spotless lamb, but he was there, and he would have to do.
They pried him out, down the stairs.
“Take him to the table,” Mayor Langford said, pointing toward the town square.
With torches ablaze lighting the way, they carried him. Hugo screamed, guttural and violent. He grew hoarse for the screaming, but then who on earth was there to hear him? He was alone, but for Meg, and now Meg was someone else. Something else. And Hugo was fairly certain he’d lost her for good.
The table had stood generations at the center of Willow Creek. Witnessed countless festivals, white weddings and funerals. But once, it had been an alter to the demon. A feast ground for his wicked yearnings.
The men of the town pinned Hugo down. The women, one by one, tore pieces of his clothing until he lay naked on the table, bathed in the eerie moonlight. Meg and her mother approached. In the crowd he saw Meg’s father, a pillar of dark. Beside him was Roland, just as pure white as the sun. Roland’s eyes were the blackest of all.
Hugo had always liked Roland. He was odd and quiet, gentle but not weak. Roland took a single step forward. The whole crowd shifted to let him move.
“Drink the drink,” he said in that same chilling voice as Jewel. It rang out through the night. Bugs stopped buzzing. Chirping. Glowing. Only the voice filled the void. “Then let go. To unleash the glow and unhinge the soul.”
Roland slid a knife from the pocket of his corduroys. He slid it right across the apple of Hugo’s neck.
Blood pooled beneath him on the table. Hugo choked, coughing and spitting, it bubbled from his lips. It drained out of him like a river.
The town of Willow Creek watched and waited.
He stopped sputtering. Stopped breathing. Stopped. Stopped. Stopped.
It was hours beneath the Blood Moon’s light, standing silent, staring hopeful.
It was sudden, all at once, that he opened his eyes. The wound on Hugo’s neck began to close, stitched together with invisible twine until it vanished. He sat up. He wasn’t Hugo anymore.
The demon flexed his new fingers, twisted his new neck. Stood on his new, long legs. He was finally free.