Spinning like a top.
Bits and pieces flying off,
But my center holds.
The ropes weren’t tight, but they did their job. The chair to which she was tied, though, was uncomfortably hard. In the fading sunlight, all she could see outside were the trees surrounding the cabin.
When he’d first brought her here, he’d told her it was for her protection, to hide her from those hunting her. He only tied her to the chair after she’d tried to run. Twice. She’d screamed her throat raw after he'd left, but nobody answered.
She hoped his “Be back soon” was true. The steady drip drip drip from the faucet was driving her insane.
I threw out all the things that couldn’t be washed. I thought I might have to burn the bed linens. The pillows, too. They smelled of him, even after repeated washing. I smelled him. Still. Maybe the mattress should burn as well?
At my wits’ end, I went mad with memories at the scent of him. Or perhaps I was just mad. I wasn’t sure. Maybe I imagined the smell of him? And then it clicked. I needed to smudge, to cleanse him from this space.
I lit the bundle I’d bound with twine. Smoke twisted around my hand as I grasped the hawk's feather. I gently fanned the smoke as I slowly walked around the bed, then moved on to the rest of the rooms. With focused intention, white sage swirled throughout. I smudged myself as well, all around.
That night, as I lay me down,
No hint of him could be found.
I realized he is banished now.
The Darkest Night
It’s been nearly thirty years, but I remember that night as though it were yesterday. The town was decimated. I remember the screams. The air so thick with terror that each breath was a struggle. The utter hopelessness weighing down. I remember. We tried to warn them, but they wouldn’t listen to us.
It was a moonless night, that Halloween so many years ago. Cloud cover blocked the pale starlight. We were the first to notice them, my gang of three. Of course, we were out where we shouldn’t be, doing things we shouldn’t do. We saw them moving through the shadows before they took the first victim. James was on the edge of the party just outside the firelight. Suddenly he was just gone. We heard strange sounds, like animals feeding, and then his strangled cry. My friends and I tried to get the other partyers to leave with us, but they wouldn’t. We moved as a pack, my friends and I, and somehow made it to the car.
But we saw. Shadows converged on the party. One moment the darkness boiled and then fell on our friends. Joy cranked the car, and a second too late I screamed for her to not turn on the lights, to just drive. In the harsh headlights, we saw the nightmares. Eyes glowing red, leathery skin, and fangs. Joy slammed the transmission in reverse and backed all the way down the narrow gravel road. We sped into town to tell what we had seen.
No one believed us. Not the police, who threatened to arrest us for wasting police resources on a Halloween prank. They said we were high and could get into serious trouble. Not the people in the church praying for the souls of the damned who celebrated this wicked holiday. Evil spirits were real, but not these creatures. The people on the streets laughed even as we saw the shadows come alive again. And then all the lights in town went out.
Joseph’s house was closest, so we went there. Some of the vampires were vicious in their kills, others almost tender. One tore into Mr. Roberts’s neck with a savage rip of its fangs. Another held Mrs. Markus’s thighs open and sensually drank from the vein in her leg. There was so much carnage and death.
Then came the terrible moment after we reached Joseph’s house. We all froze when we realized there were ten yards between the car and the safety of the house. Joseph’s hands shook as he clasped the keys tightly. The mad dash to the door. The terror when Joseph dropped the keys. The screams from all over town. Fear that the shadows would come to life any second and devour us.
Once inside, we barricaded the doors and prayed that the legends were true – that the vampires couldn’t come in unless invited. I don’t know how many cigarettes we smoked that night, listening to the town die. We huddled on the living room floor, shrinking down behind the couch, and wondered if we would see the dawn.
When the sun lit the room fully, we walked outside. The brightness of the day revealed the horror of the night - the night the vampires moved through town killing and feeding. The National Guard rolled through later that day and rounded up all the survivors. Of 20,000 souls, only 100 survived the night.
A wasteland is all that remains of my little hometown. They torched it. They burned every standing structure and the bodies wherever they lay, dedication to duty keeping them going into the night. After, the government redrew the maps, marking the spot with radiation contamination symbols.
By some miracle, Joy, Joseph, and I got relocated together. We've shared a house since. Ours is not a typical Halloween celebration, though every year we mark the night. With a circle drawn around our home and candles burning to all the saints, Christian and not. We salt all the windowsills and thresholds. Silver drapes windows and doors, and sharpened kindling stays close to hand. We remember and toast our lost friends and our lost home. We stand watch throughout the night, praying that the shadows won’t boil and birth nightmares again.
Lying in wait in darkness deep
A swarm of shadows creeps ever closer
Slithering tendrils twist and writhe
Bind, burrow, gnaw, grind
Chew and swallow, bite by bite
And leave behind a husk
Carved out and hollow
"You can have that one."
I flipped open the knife I had in my hand and let it rest there. I have small hands, but it fit nicely. It wasn't too heavy, either. Pretty well balanced and just pretty in my hand. Such a simple knife, but I really liked it.
"Are you sure?"
"I have plenty," he replied. "Take a look."
He must have laid ten knives on the counter. As he told me the story that went with each, he handed them to me one by one. This one from his grandpa. That one from the CO on his last ship. The one that looked scary, but really wasn't.
"What's that weird edge on the other side for?" I asked.
"That's for sawing."
And after he showed me each one and told me its story, he repeated that he had plenty. I should keep the one that fit my hand. The one that seemed perfect for me.
I picked up my knife again. Locked the blade open, depressed the lock and folded it closed, all one-handed. The knife was perfect for me. I opened it one more time, and watched the light glinting off the blade.
A line from that old Meat Loaf song ran through my mind.
"And we're glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife"
But glowing didn't sound right. Glinting was the right word.
My eyes fell to the display on the counter again. I wondered if he ever played with his knives. Which one would he choose? Did he ever trace patterns on skin with the points? Lay the cold metal against hot flesh with an order not to move? Next time I'll ask.
I looked back at the knife in my hand as I ran my thumb along the edge of the blade. It needed some attention; a little sharpening would do it some good. If this was going to be my knife, it should be wicked sharp. So sharp, in fact, that I wouldn't feel the bite of the blade before I saw the blood in the cut.