*This is a short story I wrote around the same time last year. At some point I’d love to flesh out the tale a bit more. Until then I hope you enjoy!*
Leaves of scarlet and amber skittered along the ground making a sound like skeletons clawing out of tombs. Children of all ages took to the streets to partake in the festivities of Halloween night. Jack o’ lanterns shone with garish grins from porches, and plastic bats were caught in store bought spider webs. Every street in the town of Harmony was flooded with princesses, superheroes, fairies, and at least three versions of SpongeBob Squarepants.
The familiar chant of trick or treat reverberated through the darkness to be greeted with smiles and candy by the fistful. It was destined to be a glorious night in the close-knit community of Harmony. One of the best since the town was created twenty years ago.
“Bet we get the most candy tonight.” Jason said smugly from behind his Captain America mask.
Although the boast appeared to be directed at no one in particular, the boys knew it was meant for Tom. Tom, unofficially, had been made leader of their little band of misfits. The crew consisted of three; Tom, Mike, and a kid everyone called Bozo. Perhaps he was given the name because of the way his hair, fire orange and just as wild, jutted to the side like bad clown wigs. Or maybe it was the way his eyes darted from left to right even when he sat still. Whatever the reason everyone, including teachers called him Bozo, and his true name had been lost to the ether.
Tom, in his pirate garb, scoffed. “The only way to do that would be to steal our candy. Besides it’s not like more houses are going to spring up.”
That’s when behind the superheroes’ molded grin Jason gave his own unsettling one. “There are more houses outside of Harmony.”
A cool autumn wind rustled their bags, and brushed their necks like an affectionate apparition. Tom’s blood turned to lead which settled in his gut, hardening. Still his own face remained steadfast.
“Whatever. Like you’re going to leave Harmony.”
“Of course I am.”
The resolve in Jason’s voice accompanied by a chorus of yeahs and giggles from the other two members of his crew was enough to imply his seriousness. Behind that mask there was truth in every word he said. The respect and honor of Tom’s classroom hierarchy was at stake.
“You’re not going to get more than me.” Tom threatened.
“Try to stop me.” With that Jason and his crew took off as a complete unit. A gaggle of masked tweens charging off into the night, heading for the town’s gates.
Shaken from their stunned states Tom and his friends peeled off after them. The brisk autumn wind pressed against the trio, making each step harder and their prey further away. Soon Jason and his crew faded away, leaving Tom and his crew huffing along the sidewalk. Tom couldn’t believe how out of shape he felt for being so young.
“We’re never going to catch them,” moaned Bozo as he looked ready to topple over.
Tom had been ready to concede to this when he happened to look up. His eyes fell on the woods. Tall, brittle trees dressed in armor of dry bark blocked out the moon. Beyond the thick bunching of trees, he knew as they all did, the next town over resided. Jason may have had the lead, however if Tom cut through the woods he’d beat him to the next town first and win the war.
“Let’s cut through the woods.” He said already heading in that direction.
The only thing stopping him was the feeling of no one following behind him. He turned back to find both his friends stricken with the exact same face. Their youthful faces suddenly old and racked with fear. They were frozen like gargoyles that turned to stone at night.
“What’s with you guys?” Tom nearly shouted.
“We can’t go through there.” Bozo answered. “Don’t you know about the pixie?”
“The pixie that guards the woods? Everyone knows about. You can never go through the woods.”
“Well I’ve never heard of this, and it’s just a bunch of trees. The next town is right behind them.”
Mike and Bozo exchanged glances, letting the words flutter between them. Neither of them wanted to speak the tale so the burden fell to Bozo.
“Before this was Harmony it was all woods, trees and ponds everywhere, ya know? The stories say the woods were inhabited by pixies who were the protectors of the wood. All was fine until a developer came and decided to build his town.
“He built the town quickly. One moment had been on the verge of a forest, and the next it was leveled to nearly nothing. Most of the trees were gone, the flowers and animals as well. With it the pixies died. They died because they were caught off guard, not doing what they were sworn to do which was protect the woods they were assigned.
“All but one who had gone off to gather some food. She came back to find all her family, her friends, dead. Her mind filled with their screams and the screams of all the chopped trees. The screaming is said to have drove the pixie insane. They made her do…things.”
Tom did his best to appear undisturbed by the story. “What kind of things?”
Bozo looked around before speaking as if what he was going to say would be carried on the Halloween air to the ears of unseen enemies. A ghost of panic settled in his normally wild eyes.
“Haven’t you ever wondered why no one bothered to mow down this patch of woods? I mean, you easily fit several huge houses in it. Well from what I heard the pixie started messing with the machines. All of a sudden all the bulldozers and everything wouldn’t start. Tires would be flat in the morning, and windows smashed. Heck, I even heard a few fires were set.
“So they sent in construction workers with chainsaws. Not a single tree was touched before they came running back out. They all said they heard something, a voice whispering to them to run. To leave the woods alone. To leave a gift for the fallen. Some even said they felt little hands on them. Scrabbling over them like a cat. Those hands were headed for their eyes. Of course this company quit after that.
“But the developer still remained adamant that this last bit be taken down. So while he was on the phone making calls for a new company to come out and level the rest of the woods, his daughter decided to go out and play amongst the trees. Story is she went in deep, where all you can see in either direction is more trees. Then came the screams. She screamed so loud, man.
“Her dad, the whole town, came rushing to the sound. His daughter stumbled out, blood trickling down her face. Her eyes were gone. Totally gone, man.”
“And you think this pixie took them?”
“Of course! At least that’s what my mom says. She was there after all she said. Besides this town is named after the girl, his daughter that is. Harmony.”
A chill went through the air, rattling the bones of the trees. Somewhere in the distance a court of owls shot off towards the waning moon, their hooting echoing through the blanket of darkness. Tom looked around at his friends. They were petrified, trembling beneath their layer of disguises. Tom did his best to maintain his composure, but his insides were a chaotic fluttering.
“Whatever. You guys can be chickens if you want. I’m going to get some more candy.”
He turned and headed for the dark void of shadowy woods. With each step he hoped, prayed, he’d hear the footsteps of the people he called his friends.
But he was denied that joy.
The bare trees swayed drunkenly in autumn’s breath dressed in the light of the moon. Tom couldn’t explain it, but the air felt colder here as if the season decided to play as winter this Halloween. The wind forced the brittle branches to scratch together like dry witch’s fingers. Shafts of silver light jetted down between the fighting tree limbs.
Tom’s fingers tightened around his bags of candy. Inside his chest his heart thundered against his ribs, echoing in his ears. Moonlight shone the way for him.
However the further he went into the woods the more his confidence grew. His heart slowed down. Victory seemed to be at hand. The story Bozo told him seemed distant now. A bad dream fading when he woke.
“What a bunch of cowards.” He spoke to the trees.
What had started as tentative steps were getting bolder, longer. He was sure he could sense other kids up ahead. Everything was going his way. And then…
Tom stopped in his tracks. The voice was a whisper kissing his ear. Back and forth he twisted his head scanning the moon-dappled darkness. To greet his vision there was more cold and black.
Once again he set off on his way, putting one foot in front of the next. His heels trampled leaves underneath, crackling like burnt paper.
This time Tom was sure he heard something. Again he searched through the darkness to find nothing. As he searched this time the trees appeared to be closing in on him. He couldn’t remember which way he had been facing. All around him the trees started to swayed, clacking together violently. Through the shadows he thought he saw the trees began to move, shuffling about like the dead.
As he felt them wandering, the moonlight became scarce. At times seeing his own hands in front of him was difficult. He dropped his bags of candy and ran. Tom had no idea where he was headed; he just knew he needed to get away. Far, far away from the suffocating black, from the voice chasing him.
Wind greeted his face brushing away the sweat beading on his brow. His breaths became shallow. Shadows gathered in bunches shading the world from him. The cool air seemed much cooler, as if the world dropped thirty degrees.
I…see…you…I see you…Intruder…I see you…Pretty eyes…The better to see with…Intruder…
Tom kept running. Every inch of his body hollered in protest. He wanted to stop, but in his mind sat the firm knowledge that he couldn’t. He needed to escape.
I want them…You’re eyes are so big, hoo-man…So big…Perhaps then I’ll see…Perhaps then…
The voice drifted into the dark, encircling him. It felt as though a tiny mouth was breathing on his neck. He panicked. His fear caused his feet to tangle. Tom fell to the earth quickly. He crashed with a thud, fallen leaves shooting up around him like confetti. The fall stole his breath, silencing him.
In his silence the world was frightening. He heard leaves rumbling along the ground, the swish of the air weaving through the trees. In his stunned state he heard the sound of little feet beating against the crinkled leaves.
The footsteps were precise, and quick, and headed for him. Alien breathing accompanied the sound, something like wind trying to work through a busted reed. Tom’s vision grew watery as the noise pulled closer. His eyes hurt as the salty tears stung him.
However the closer the sound came the slower it took to reach him. The beast was slowing down for some reason. Tom did his best to stay silent, although the pain racked his body. Through the liquid veil in his narrowed eyes he witnessed a creature step into the shafts of dwindling light.
It was grey, like spent lump of charcoal, and stood no more than a foot tall. It was propped on four spindly legs that managed to hold up its frail body. Everything about it seemed sharp, from its pointy fingers to its jagged feet, and most certainly its needle-like fangs from its small mouth. Where there would have been eyes and undoubtedly pointed ears there was nothing.
Nothing besides caked blood years old.
Tied to the creature’s waist was what Tom mistook for bells. But as the creature came further into the light he knew they weren’t bells. They were eyes. Harmony’s eyes.
The sickly looking creature made a clicking sound as it darted its head left to right. It was so close, close enough to reach out and touch it, close enough to smell the stink of dead leaves on its breath. Growing up he always thought pixies and faeries were beautiful and fun looking. But he was wrong.
So very wrong.
“Where are you?” screeched the eyeless pixie as it sniffed the air for clues. “Any who enter my wood must leave a gift. A gift, a penance for my fallen clan, my family. You didn’t leave a gift. No gift, hoo-man. I want those eyes, those precious peepers, hoo-man. Give them to me.”
The pixie scuttled about on its four legs, inhaling deeply. “I know you’re here hoo-man. Give me your sight. Let me see through your eyes. Let me see how hoo-mans could not notice my people, could not see them dying. How hoo-mans could not hear their screams, the wailing of the trees. Can you hear them, hoo-man? Can you hear their cry? I can. I took my ears to escape the sound but no no no, I hear them still. Maybe if I took your ears…Yes yes. Ears and peepers, yes.”
Tom remained laying there like a parched slug. The smell of the leaves was driving him mad. Still he couldn’t move.
The pixie sniffed the air then cautiously skittered close to Tom’s face. With the pixie this close Tom saw the layers of dirt on its ashen flesh that it wore like armor. He did his best to hold his breath as the stench assaulted his nostrils. More tears filled his eyes.
“I want my gifts, hoo-man. I want my penance. Give them to me!”
The pixie’s shout rattled a family of birds from their slumber. The moon seemed to get brighter as if trying to aid the creature. Tom didn’t want to die here in the woods. Not by the hands of a murderous pixie. And certainly not over candy.
Again the pixie made the horrible clicking sound from its throat. Tom cringed, drawing the attention of the mad fae. It stared down with hollow sockets.
Like a bolt Tom took his hand and smacked the creature away. There was no time to see where the pixie went sprawling to. He needed to move, and move he did. Under the blinding moonlight he ran, ran, and ran.
Anywhere had to be better than here. So the only objective on Tom’s mind was to move, keep moving. Fire burned in his legs. He ignored it.
‘Keep moving Tom, keep moving.’
Soon he heard the sounds of actual life. Cars, people, laughter. It drove Tom to move faster, toward the life, toward salvation. Streetlights called to him like a beacon through the cluster of trees.
‘Keep moving Tom. Please keep moving.’
His internal dialogue paid off as his weary feet landed on the sidewalk. Never in his life had he been so glad to see a block of cement. As he stood panting, Jason and his friends came up the street.
There was genuine respect in his nemesis’s voice. “Well well well. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Tom struggled to breathe. When he finally caught his breath he looked up to find a look of horror etched in the eyes of Jason and his crew. The feel of tiny, sharp hands pulling at his eyelids made him scream.
“I see you. I want my gifts. I want my penance!”