By: David P. Cantrell
The Thaw occurs fifty-two nights before the Winter solstice, as it has since before life arose on Earth and Necros have worked to undo the influences of creation: gravity, energy and matter, ever since. The most egregious product of creation has been the life force, for it not only created order, it replicated it and generated more complicated hierarchies of order through its unnatural ability to evolve. Sentient life has been the worst corruption of all—it brought a new form of order to the universe, technology.
When the days grow short and summer’s grip on the portals to Necrolond ease, hordes of Necros bring their cleansing touch to the corruption that is life. They’re compelled to rid the universe of unnatural order and humans are the least natural of all things, rarer than gold, platinum, even iridium. Necros carry no malice, in fact, concepts like malice and mercy have no meaning to them, they work to restore the universe’s proper state, its original state—chaos.
There was a time when humans understood and respected the Thaw. But, as humans forced plants and animals to do their bidding, they also came to believe they could thwart chaos with religion and science. These disciplines taught humans that they were above chaos and that they controlled it.
Droughts, plagues and other omens were quickly forgotten. Life came from chaos and to its cold clutches it shall return—dust to dust the bible said. But, humans forgot the true meaning.
Ancient priests usurped the importance of the Thaw. They named it, Hallowed Saints Eve. Ignorant Scots pronounced it Hallow-e’en and more ignorant Englishmen called it Halloween. It became a time to make fun of Necros. They were called ghosts, witches and vampires, even werewolves, ghouls and trolls. All are monsters made in man’s image to instill fear, but not to be taken seriously and not accurate in the least.
Necros don’t walk on legs, don’t have fangs, and don’t need eerie noises to make their presence known. Their touch is enough and that doesn’t require fingers, just a wisp of air will work. The breath of a loved one can direct their arrow and a swirl of water can feed their need. The thorn’s prick can bring their cleansing to the unwary. The night’s mist may disclose their shape if the moonlight’s just right. But, beware their vacant eyes, for their look is their most potent weapon.
# # #
Harold giggled at a thought he’d had. He covered his mouth and a coughed to distract his classmates’ attention. Janice hadn’t turned her head though. She never looked at him. The pit of his stomach churned as he glared at her long auburn ponytail. He’d been looking at that ponytail since seventh grade. He could remember her speaking to him only once, at this years’ senior excursion to Lucas Stadium to see the Colts play when she called his name to get on the bus.
The monster stirred within him, like water feeding the superheated rocks of a geyser. Be calm—you’re the master of your mind and body, he told himself, and repeated his secret mantra, Taco, just as the school’s psychologist had taught him. He giggled again, but internally, thinking of that day.
“Harold, you’re a big boy, almost twelve, you know it’s wrong to hit don’t you?” Mrs. Cooper asked. Harold stared at hands lying in his lap. “Harold! Are you listening?”
“Yes. Mrs. Cooper.”
“I’m sorry that I raised my voice Harold. I felt angry. Do you ever feel angry?”
“Yes, Mrs. Cooper.”
“Did you feel angry when you hit Julie?”
“Yes. Mrs. Cooper.”
“Let me share a little trick that will help you control your anger.” She went on to explain the idea of using a pleasant memory to calm his anger and encouraged him to find a word that brought a good memory to mind.
Harold thought for a while and grinned. “Taco’s my word Mrs. Cooper.”
“That’s an interesting choice Harold. Why did you pick it?”
“Taco was my sister’s little dog. He was a Chi…ah”
Mrs. Cooper smiled. Children often picked pets to prompt good thoughts. Pleased with his progress she approved his choice and sent him back to class.
Mrs. Cooper should have asked more questions. Harold had hated Taco. The dog had snapped at him constantly but the family laughed at his fear of the tiny dog. Anger toward his family’s indifference focused on Taco until one spring afternoon when he’d enticed Taco with treats and sweet talk to a creek swollen by recent rains.
Harold sat on the bank and patted his lap until the dog climbed up. Its silly tongue hung from the side of his jaw and his bulging eyes implored Harold for more treats. Harold carefully picked up the dog with his left hand and with his right hand, his powerful hand, he twisted the dog’s neck. Harold watched its life ebb away and threw it into the churning water. His spine tingled with an excitement, followed by a calm, he’d never felt before.
Harold hated high school. Everyone wore costumes to hide their real selves. The jocks sported lettermen jackets and the cheerleaders their oh-so-cute outfits, but those weren’t their costumes. They wore self-importance like robes and use it to hide the frightened children living in adult bodies. This Halloween he would strip away the costumes and reveal the truth.
# # #
“Janice are you going to the Halloween bonfire?” Bob whispered.
“Sure. Aren’t all of the seniors?”
“I guess. But, are you going with somebody?”
“No. And, don’t ask me Bob. My Shawnee grandmother told me stories before her death about the Night of Thaw, which is what her tribe called Halloween. To me it’s a night to respect. A night to remember the knowledge acquired by my ancestors before civilization created our human-centric universe. Halloween’s sacred to me and I expect this year I might meet someone…special.”
Bob unintentionally gulped air and a loud burp followed, loud enough to make him blush crimson and the Calc teacher to look up from his Sudoku.
At five foot six, Janice Halter was tall among her peers. She looked Native American, except for her hair and green eyes. She couldn’t be called an extrovert, but she wasn’t shy either and engaged people when appropriate. She had many friendly acquaintances, but no close friends.
An enigma to boys, they rarely asked her out. She didn’t try to sell her looks with makeup and skimpy clothes and yet the boys found her attractive, and frightening at the same time. If a boy got up the nerve to ask her out, she’d usually say yes and gave an ego saving excuse if she said no. People liked her, but stood apart.
Janice enjoyed school and performed well. She planned to get a degree in wildlife management and longed to reintroduce wolves to Indiana’s woodlands. She liked her life, but felt in her heart that she had a destiny beyond her dreams.
# # #
Candle powered Jack-O-Lanterns marked the road to the bonfire at Indian Park. The fire pit sat eight feet below a granite precipice blackened by years of smoke. The fire had just been lit and hadn’t escaped the smolder stage when Janice arrived. Rows of split-log benches formed an amphitheater of sorts around the fire. Costumed students, mostly couples, wondered around laughing and jockeying for the best seats.
Janice wore comfortable shoes, unflattering jeans and a dark sweatshirt that proclaimed in yellow, “I’m The One.” She found her way to the center of the first row directly below the granite podium.
The crowd quieted as the final glimmer of sunlight gave the night to a rising moon. The fire came alive, popping and crackling. Flames danced under the trees drenching everyone in stripes of yellow and charcoal.
The school mascot, adorned in a bison head and shaggy body suit, stood on the precipice and triggered an air horn. The bison held a microphone to his artificial face and announced, “I command this night. I’m the dread that Halloween deserves. Be frightened you creatures of self-indulgence, for I’m here to destroy your lives.”
Some in the crowd laughed, others stared uncomfortably at the bison, not recognizing the voice and wondering where he was going with his speech.
Janice stood, pointed at the speaker and motioned with her index finger for him to follow her. She climbed over the benches headed into the woods.
Harold shuddered and roared. He held a stick of dynamite over his head; he relished its explosive power. He would not be cheated this night, first the fools then her, he thought and threw the stick of death into the fire.
Girls and boys screamed in fear and the crowd stampeded. The dynamite sputtered and died in a harmless flash.
A putrid scream escaped Harold’s twisted soul. Adrenalin, or something more powerful, took hold and he leapt over the flames.
The bitch had invited him into the dark like she didn’t fear him—she would learn.
# # #
Harold landed on two feet and jumped over the benches following Janice’s route. He could smell her—it was fear he told himself as he stood at the entrance to a dark grove of towering trees listening. “I’m here,” Janice cooed.
He ran twenty feet, tripped on a stump and landed hard on his right knee and bit his tongue. “Not on the ground bison-boy. I’m over here.”
Anger engulfed him and blood raging in his ears nearly blocked her teasing voice. He started to remove the stupid bison head but realized he might lose her, so he limped after her, deeper into the woods.
Blinded by darkness, Harold lost all sense of direction until he caught a glimpse of yellow that led him to a tree line. A narrow moonbeam illuminated the middle of a small glade. Janice stood on the far side, smiling in its glow. Harold’s tongue tasted bloody—he liked it and wanted more. He wanted hers. Ignoring the painful knee he strode into the glade.
“My ancestors called this place the Gates of Hell,” Janice said.
Keeping talking, he thought and slowly advanced.
“Hell’s a poor translation. They didn’t fear the Devil and his domain as you might. They feared the absence of a life-spirit; nothingness was their Hell. I will leave you now. You’re about to learn the difference between a hell that promises resurrection and one that offers…nothing.”
Harold stepped into the circle of light. The glade filled with a mist that diffused the moonbeam and created a world of grays.
He circled looking for a way out. A dark amorphous shape gave him hope that the mist was clearing and he turned to it. Four small glistening orbs were arrayed across its width. The orbs were black, very black. Their contrast with the background was as dramatic as pips on an ivory die, but this die was the color of polished ebony.
Harold’s brain struggled to make sense of the orbs until the image of spider eyes came to mind. He turned away but another set of eyes faced him. Soon dozens of black on black eyes slowly closed the distance. A primal terror gripped every cell in his body as they lost adhesion to one another. His mind held together long enough for him to realize that he was unravelling.
A scream was his last thought, but no one heard it—chaos abhors sound.
David P. Cantrell © 2015, all rights reserved. David P. Cantrell is a contributing member of the EWI staff.