Halloween 2015

We no longer celebrate Halloween, and by celebrate I mean buy a bunch of candies and hand them out to kids. We stopped a few years ago when the number of kids dropped to less than ten and of those half were older kids who did not even bother with a costume.

Still, Halloween gives me the opportunity to post a few photos and write a story or two. LAST YEAR‘s effort was pretty weak. Pathetic, even. The best year was 2012 (HERE) as I reviewed my 2011 NanoWeen (Twitter) short stories and even managed a quick story I liked. In fact, 2012 had an even earlier prompt I wrote for (HERE) I quite liked.

That same year, 2012, I wrote another story a few weeks after Halloween, still one of my favorite ghost stories (HERE) as far as my ghost stories go.

This year, fresh from my Viable Paradise workshop, I felt I needed a superior effort. Well, at least an effort. Thus, I spent two hours last night writing the story below. I was pleased with it, but I still asked my fellow VipersXIX for feedback. I also asked a friend (yes, I have a friend).

The feedback I received was very good and it improved the story. For that, I want to thank Adriana, Laura, and Perry.

By the way, the idea for the story germinated from one of my 2011 NanoWeens tweets:

His wolf teeth ripped the coyote’s throat open. He had warned The Pack to let the kids be on Halloween Night.

BUT . . . before the story, here’s a photo I took with my Samsung Note II, enhanced with Snapseed and tweaked with Pixlr.

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These are pumpkins decorated by the staff at the YMCA, the gym I go to every day. 

I then tried Paper Artist on the photo . . . 

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I meant to use Photoshop and “carve” some of the pumpkin photos I have, but time ran away from me. 

And now, my Halloween 2015 short story.

Wielder (2,387 words)

Copyright 2015, E. J D’Alise

Tamay had left the library late and she quickened her pace as the growing shadows raced her home. Not greatly, but steadily the reports of missing teens had grown in numbers in the past few years. The fall and winter months had seen the most significant increases.

She came to her favorite shortcut but hesitated. In daylight, it was a pretty path cutting through a small meadow and the cultivated garden of the town’s public park. Now, the shadows were spilling into it, changing it into a seemingly treacherous path full of dangerous shadows.

“That’s silly,” Tamay voiced aloud.

Still, she hesitated. She could get home ten minutes faster, but she would be someplace where no one could see her, no one could help her. But, ten minutes less time out in the open. She made up her mind unaware that some shadows were more substantial than others.  

She hesitated again at the boundary to the garden. Tall plants would obscure her from view of the road and the surrounding houses. She paused to listen but heard no worrisome sounds. Had she been more attune to it, she might have wondered why not only were there no worrisome sounds, but no sounds at all. She stepped into the garden.

~o~

The Other was pleased with this stroke of luck. It could not yet feast. It could, however, recruit. It was, in fact, his nightly mission. Recruitment had become more difficult as humans started to notice the disappearances. Few ventured out after dark and fewer still ventured out alone.

All of the homeless had already been recruited, but hardly anyone missed them. More like they drew a sigh of relief at their disappearance. But this, this was a prime target. A teen, and female to boot. She would make a fine addition to the ranks.

As the girl stepped into the garden path, The Other wove shadows to both slow her pace and obscure her vision. The girl stopped, reached into her bag, and withdrew a phone. The Other would have smiled if it were capable of doing so. Instead, his shape darkened as a tendril reached out and flowed into the charging port of the phone. As the girl powered up the built-in flash, The Other shorted the connection to the battery. The light died just as the girl turned it on.

~o~

Tamay vision was momentarily impeded by the residual image of the phone’s light. The faint smell of burnt wires told her why the light had gone out. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she thought she could make out a shape. An upright shadow in the middle of the path, where no shadow had any business being. The shadow grew, tendrils reaching for her. She tried to turn and run, but some already held her.

One tendril wrapped around her head, her sight dimming as a voice intruded into her mind.

“Don’t fight, little one. I can give you peace. I can give you purpose.”

The voice was soothing and calmed her rising panic. She knew something was terribly wrong, but could not focus her thoughts into action. It was as if she were struggling in rough waters, and every passing moment had her struggle less, the waters calming, supporting her. Floating atop her stilled fears, her distant hopes, she looked up with her mind’s eye. She saw a deeper darkness above her and felt drawn to it, to its calm, to its nothingness.

And then something touched her palm. Her hand instinctively closed around the object even as the darkness was penetrated by a light. She turned toward the light, toward the object she was holding.

It was beautiful. She held a sword that emanated a cold and yet comforting light. A different voice, at first distant and then growing stronger with each spoken word, helped Tamay focus her thoughts, helped her realize the danger.

“You cannot have her, not now nor ever.”

It began a mere whisper, but repeating the words over and over, the voice gathered in strength until almost deafening.

“YOU CANNOT HAVE HER, NOT NOW NOR EVER!”

And just like that, the shadow was gone. Tamay found herself on her back, looking up at the beautiful starry sky, a satellite tracing a lazy arc above her. She blinked, propped herself up and realized she was still holding the sword.

Then, she heard voices calling her name. Her parents had come looking for her. She stood, using the sword as support. As the voices of her parents drew near, the sword began to fade and Tamay heard more words in her mind.

“I am Sable. Do not speak of this. Call, and I will come.”

And with that, the sword was gone, just a few seconds before Tamay’s parents, flashlights in hands, reached her.

~o~

After the hugs, after the scolding, after more hugs, Tamay sat in her room. Nearly immobile, she reviewed her memory of the attack. Had she hallucinated the encounter? If so, was she losing her mind? She had a clear memory of holding the sword, how it felt, the power she drew from it, the strength she felt on the other side of the momentary bond. The strength that had flowed into her had eased her fears, had grown her confidence, had cleared her thoughts. If that was losing her mind, she wanted more of it.

Finally, she spoke the one word that was imprinted in her memory as if permanently etched.

“Sable?”

This time, she was immediately aware of it. All sounds stopped. The noise of traffic from the nearby highway, the humming of appliances, the soft murmur of the television downstair.

She looked around the room. The second hand on her wall clock had stopped. The very air seemed stilled. And then the sword stood on end in front of her, a slight glow surrounding it.

~o~

They spoke for hours. Tamay learned of The Others, beings of darkness who wandered the earth, who once a year fed on the life force of the living. Ancient they were, and primitive people had learned to avoid dark places, avoid being caught outside during the Time of the Feast. Thus, the numbers of The Others had been kept low.

All that changed a few thousands of years ago. Humans decided to fight back but went about it all wrong. They turned the Time of the Feast into a celebration, a time to fight the darkness and evil spirits, a time to bring light to the darkness and keep The Others at bay.

The idea was sound, but for one flaw. The celebration meant more people outdoors and vulnerable. What had been a few turned into many, The Others growing in numbers every year. Worse, the increased familiarity with their victims meant they learned of human weaknesses, especially the weakness of a turbulent and unfocused mind. While they fed only once a year, they recruited year-round. Usually subtly and with care, but occasionally, as with Tamay, by brute force when the opportunity presented itself.

Humanity would have been vanquished but for the Sentient Swords. From an unknown origin, they crossed into human reality, bonding with worthy humans to oppose The Others. The bonded humans and swords were known as Sentinels, the humans as Wielders.

Always vigilant, always hunting, they were most active during the Time of the Feast, keeping celebrating humans safe from The Others.

“Halloween,” Tamay said.

“Halloween,” Sable confirmed.

“In the Time of the Feast, the shadows take substance and are vulnerable. But, they are also deadlier. At all other times, we can ward them off, but they cannot be killed. During the Time of the Feast, Sentinels battle The Others in fights to the death.”

“What can I do?” Tamay asked.

“I could pair you with a young sword, as yet unbound. But, if you do take this burden upon you, it will be so for the remainder of your life. You cannot marry, you cannot have any greater bond, male or female. Your first duty will always be to fight The Others.”

Before leaving, Sable mentioned one other effect of bonding with a sword. Their lives would be intertwined. Should Tamay be killed in battle, her sword would also die. Should her sword be broken, so would Tamay’s life end.

~o~

Sable had left Tamay to ponder what was offered and the cost of it. She would never be truly alone, bound to her sword, but she would never know the joys of human love, sex, and family. She could have friends, but her duties would always come first.

Tamay struggled with the conflicting desire to help shield others from a fate she had nearly suffered and the dreams she had for her own life. A husband, a family, grandkids. A peaceful life.

But, were those dreams now even possible? She now knew what evil lurked, wandering the very streets she walked. There was no hope of telling anyone about it. Sure, some might believe her, but the majority would think her mad.

Becoming a Wielder was a tremendous sacrifice made with little reward beyond the satisfaction of being a protector. She would never receive any recognition for sacrificing her own life to save the lives of others. If anything, she might be regarded with pity, if not outright suspicion.

In the end, she could not bring herself to call Sable back. She felt ashamed despite Sable’s assurances that many opted against taking up the burden.

“Few answer the call, and there is no honor lost or gained no matter the choice,” Sable had said. “Choosing the difficulties of a normal life is not the easier path; just a different one.”

Still, she felt as if she had failed an important test. A test of her mettle, a test of her character, a test of her will.   

~o~

Two weeks later, Tamay sat at her school’s cafeteria. She and her friends were discussing their choice of majors, waiting for the last member of their small group to join them. Another student came up, leaning close to them in a conspiratory manner.

“Have you heard? Heather went missing last night. She was . . . “

Her blood chilling, Tamay barely heard the rest. Her friend had gone missing after taking the garbage out to the curb. The police and volunteers had searched the area, but all they found was a burned-out phone.

Tamay got up, leaving her lunch and backpack, not hearing the calls of her friends, and ran out to the parking lot. She kept running, past the library, into the small park, and into the now dying garden. Halloween was a few weeks away, and there was a chill in the air that Tamay did not now feel.

She stopped near the site of her own attack, her fists balled.

“Sable,” she yelled.

The second time she called the name, she felt the familiar stilling of everything around her and Sable appeared, her light muted.

“I’m sorry,” Sable said, “I was already helping another and was too late to help your friend.”

Tamay opened her hands, releasing the tension from her forearms and shoulders as she stood straight and tall, her chin slightly upturned.

“I am ready,” she said.

Sable was silent for a few seconds before answering.

“You should not make this decision in your current state,” she said with a gentle voice.

Tamay closed her eyes for the count of a half minute.

“I am ready,” she repeated as she opened her eyes, her voice calm and strong.

Sable’s glow changed to a subtle green and began to fade as she spoke to Tamay.

“It is done. He is coming.”

Confused, Tamay watched Sable disappear as another glow formed and another voice, a male voice, touched her mind, this time feeling as if it were her own.

“I am Micaden. We are Sentinel.”

A slender and beautifully ornate sword appeared in front of her. Tamay reached out and grasped the handle. The world seemed to implode to a dot and then exploded into an awareness of everything around her. From blades of grass to the insects upon them to the clouds above her to every bird in flight within a large radius measured in miles.

With her new awareness came the knowledge of sword fighting spanning millennia. And one more thing. An awareness of The Others. Not many and mostly isolated, they were harmless in the daytime. They would be a threat when darkness fell.

Before she could ask how, she and Micaden were suddenly elsewhere, near one of The Others. The beast, no more than a wisp of shadow, recoiled.

“You are not welcomed here,” Tamay said.

~o~

“You look dashing,” her mother said.

Tamay did a playful pirouette.

“I am the Dread Pirate Roberts,” she said drawing her sword.

“Where did you get that?” her mother asked. “It looks dangerous.”

“It’s from a friend who does theater,” Tamay replied.

“Well, enjoy your Halloween party, and be safe out there,” her mother said.

“Don’t worry, mom, I’ll be careful,” Tamay answered as she opened her front door and exited into the lengthening shadows.

And she was careful. Also, fierce. Tamay and Micaden became legends in the annals of the Sentinels.

THE END

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