Once upon a time a young couple travelled down a shadowy and desolate road. The girl, Mary, stared out the window of her date’s car, watching the giant oaks pass by in a blur of dark, mottled purple and blue. It was a beautiful night. The full moon shone low in the sky and revealed patches of forest that flanked the sides of the road. Shadows danced across the cracked pavement like fingers strumming a guitar.
Kyle sang along to the radio, his deep voice unable to carry the tune. It made Mary smile. She reminisced about the wonderful evening she and Kyle had and was grateful that he didn’t mind leaving the Halloween party early. But her smile began to fade as she found herself thinking about how agitated her father became when she left the house that evening. He hadn’t wanted her to go at all, but Mary convinced him she would be safe and home by curfew.
Kyle reached out and stroked Mary’s raven-black hair. The smile returned to her face as her pale cheeks turned the shade of a rose. He watched the road ahead of them, but she could see the corner of his mouth turn up as well. The car started to slow and angle toward one of the dirt clearings on the edge of the woods. Mary remembered seeing cars parked there late at night on more than one occasion.
Her hands started to sweat as she looked at the clock on the dashboard.
Forty-five minutes until curfew.
She smoothed her hands along the yellow skirt of her Snow White costume and cleared her throat. Her stomach knotted up, coils of serpents sliding around her insides. Kyle pulled into the clearing and put the car in park.
“Kyle, we really don’t have time for this.”
“You’re less than ten minutes down the road. We have plenty of time.” Kyle wrapped his arms around Mary and kissed her on the neck, his lips just brushing her soft skin.
Mary returned his kisses and indulged him for a few minutes before pulling away. “Enough, Kyle. It’s getting late.”
“But I need you, baby.” He grabbed the back of her head and held her face against his, sliding his tongue into her mouth.
She struggled against him and turned her head away. “Please, Kyle. My dad will never let me out of the house again if I’m late.”
“Some punishments are worth it.” With one hand still grasping the back of her neck, his other grabbed onto her skirt and pulled it up above her knee.
Mary’s hands shot out in front of her and held her skirt down. “I said no!”
Kyle closed his eyes, sighed, and rubbed his temples. “The hard to get routine loses its charm after awhile.”
Mary pulled her skirt back over her knees and crossed her legs. She inched herself closer to the door. “Kyle, I’m not playing a game. I’m just not ready.”
“Well that’s just too bad, sugar, because I am.” He lunged at her and held her against the door with one arm as he pulled her skirt back up with the other. This time his hand tore at her underwear.
Mary closed her eyes and let out a cry. “Please, I don’t want my first time to be like this!”
“First time?” Kyle laughed. “Well that just makes it hotter.”
Mary tried to lock her legs together but could feel his fingers snap the string of her underwear. She squirmed as she grasped at the floor in front of her seat, her hand brushed against the handle of her purse. She shrieked and swung the purse at Kyle’s face. His hand jolted back from under her skirt up to his cheek, where little droplets of blood oozed out of the wound made by the metal clasp.
“Ahh … you little —”
Mary fumbled for the door, the chrome handle slipped through her sweating grasp. Kyle wrapped his hand around her throat and squeezed. She kicked at him, losing one of her black, satin ballet slippers. Her foot connected with his jaw, throwing him back against the door. She grabbed the handle again and opened the door.
Mary spilled backward out of the car just as Kyle’s hand caught a fistful of her skirt. She heard it rip as she rolled away, her palms and knees stung as she crawled across the rocks and sticks littering the dirt floor. She made it a few feet away before she heard the door slam and the tires grind into the soil, spitting up a dusty rooster-tail. She turned in time to see the car swerve back onto the road, facing the direction they had come from.
“I don’t need your bull …”
The sound of his squealing tires drowned out the last words Kyle shouted toward her before he sped away. Mary looked up at the moon and sniffled. She would not cry over a fool like that. He wasn’t worth it. She brushed the hair out of her face, stood up and shook the dirt off her skirt.
There was a sharp curve to the left in the road ahead of her. Her blurry eyes could just make out the shape of the town’s water tower beyond it. Mary sighed in relief, she knew just where she was. She may never have walked this road alone at night before, but had driven up and down it enough to feel comfortable.
Her hands slid over the back of her skirt. There didn’t seem to be a hole. She bunched the fabric up in her hands for a better inspection and saw a long tear in the hem. If she didn’t do something about the loose ribbon, it would snag on every rock and twig. Mary tore the bottom off, bringing the skirt to just below her knees. She shivered and wished she had thought to bring a jacket — though the crisp chill in the air was the least of her problems. The hands of her watch informed her, if she didn’t hustle, there was no way she’d make it home by curfew.
Eleven thirty. I can make it.
Mary was glad she was able to fend Kyle off, but cursed herself for leaving her purse in his car. She’d have given anything for her cell phone.
She hobbled down the road. Her one bare foot seemed to catch nature’s every pointed angle. She rounded the turn and recognized the picnic area where her dad used to take her. They would walk from the house, her dad carrying the basket of sandwiches and fruit punch, Mary following close behind with the worn and cozy red and white-checkered blanket her mother had sewn. She knew she would shave a good ten minutes off her journey if she cut through the woods. The idea was unappealing at this late hour on this particular night, but the thought of the pulsing veins in her father’s head as she walked in the house in the dead of night was enough to spur her into action. His eyes would be wide and wild, flecks of spittle in the corners of his mouth like a rabid dog. He’d yell at her for at least a half hour about how disrespectful she was. He’d go on and on, listing all the terrible things that could have happened, the horrible things he imagined had happened.
She turned on her heel and pushed into the thicket — as ominous as the trees of the forest looked, and as creepy as the sounds of the wild animals were, nothing was as scary as dad when he was sore.
Her path was well lit by the moon and she was making good time. Halfway through the woods, a faint sound drifted to her ears. At first she took it for the wind, but the further she walked, the better she could hear. There was a definite beat to it.
She was too far from the road now for it to be a car stereo. And there were no houses close enough. Something inside her made her stop. The tune began to sound familiar. Mary found herself humming along. She racked her brain to remember where she had heard it before.
There were voices, soft and high-pitched, like children. She strained her ears but couldn’t make out the lyrics. The notes of a flute floated to her, as did some kind of plucked-string instrument — a lute or a mandolin. Drums accompanied the melody, rhythmically thumping in time with her heart. Mary swallowed hard. She wasn’t alone in the woods.
The familiarity of the tune nagged at her. Where did she know it from? Whoever was singing couldn’t be all that far ... she could spare just a few minutes to see — she knew it would drive her mad if she didn’t look.
The closer Mary got to the music, the more it seemed to pull her to it. She didn’t think she’d be able to turn back if she wanted, she needed to see. She needed to hear. She wanted to sing. Her feet weren’t aching anymore, she no longer felt the crunch of the leaves, the sting of the rocks, or the lumps of the acorns. The music became louder and she began to make out the words.
as you walk
through the woods
It hit her — Mary’s lips mouthed the second line along with the disembodied voices.
it is Halloween
and the witches
will be out
Her mom used to sing that song to her every Halloween when she was a little girl. But she hadn’t heard it in almost a decade, not since her mother passed away. The song brought a tear to Mary’s eye as she remembered how her mother used to dance around her bedroom, singing the Halloween anthem. Mary used to sing along and laugh. Now it sounded as if a group of children were keeping the tradition alive in the woods.
Mary glided around a large oak tree and saw a flickering light not more than a stone’s throw before her. She snuck up to a closer tree and pressed her body against it. Her jaw dropped at the sight in front of her. Hanging from a low limb was an old-fashioned, bronze lantern with a single, wax candle. The flame illuminated only a small patch of forest below it, but dancing around it in a circle was a group of what Mary first took as children — no, not children. She squinted, her eyes focused on the closest one — maybe about four feet in height with long pointy ears, it was clad in a green suit, complete with what looked like a night cap. As it danced around, Mary could make out a sharp, angular face, with a nose to match. Bright teeth gleamed in the light of the candle as it grinned and sang along.
Another one joined the dance, and another, and another. Mary thought them so similar they could be doppelgangers. Then a dark shadow moved into the circle. As it got closer to the flame, Mary could see it was a bit taller, and had long, stringy black hair — a female. She wore a green dress and a pointed hat. Her ears weren’t quite as long as the other creatures’, but alike in appearance. She wasn’t singing along. Her mouth was closed, unlike the jubilant others, she was frowning. But she danced. Her arms flailed up and down, she seemed to be in-trance. Mary became lost in her black eyes.
as you walk
through the woods
it is Halloween
and the witches
will be out
Mary’s heart beat faster and her palms sweat as a chill ran down her spine.
Side trip over. She wasn’t interested in sticking around to hear the end of the song. She knew it well enough, the final lines her mother used to sing …
on this All Hallowed Eve
from the things
in the dark
about, about —
Mary spun around and ran away from the arboreal madness. In her haste, her naked foot crushed a dry tree branch.
Hot, white pain shot through her foot, straight up her leg, and she clasped her hand over her mouth as she tried to stifle her shout. She jumped behind a tree and froze, held her breath. Maybe they hadn’t heard — they were so busy singing and dancing.
But then they fell to silence, and Mary knew she was caught. She didn’t dare turn around to look, but tore into the woods as fast as her feet would carry her.
“She’s arrived!” Mary heard a high-pitched shout.
“Hooray!” This voice was lower, but still inhuman.
“It’s time to begin!” another said.
A chorus of joyful squealing pursued her. One voice, sharp and loud, stuck out over the crowd.
“Catch her, you fools, or nothing will begin!”
Mary knew it was the witch. Yes, that’s what the female was, a witch. And her minions, the goblins, were after her now.
Her breath was ice in her lungs, her legs felt numb from the exertion, but still she ran.
I can outrun these little gnomes.
Then she felt their cold, tiny hands upon her. They swarmed her, surrounded her. Four wrapped themselves around her legs, bringing her down to the ground, just as the Lilliputians conquered Gulliver. She spat out a mouthful of leaves and dirt as her face hit the forest floor.
Three more jumped on her back and grabbed her arms, pulled them tight behind her, then wrapped twine around her wrists.
“Get off of me! Stop it!” She screamed.
Mary figured there were at least a dozen of them holding her down. One stuck a rag in her mouth and another tied a rope around her throat like a leash.
“Get up princess! Get up! It’s time, it’s time! Hurry!”
She felt the weight of the goblins leave her body and she knew she was able to move. She got to her feet and attempted to sprint, arms tied behind her back, but the rope around her neck pulled tight, choked her and forced her backward onto the ground again.
“No, no, princess! You’re going the wrong way!”
“This way! This way!”
Mary rose to her feet again. This time she allowed the goblins to lead her back toward the light. The wind made the tears around her eyes sting as she tried to spit the rag out of her mouth. The goblins took her to the tree where the lantern hung. The witch was waiting with her arms crossed, her foot tapped against the ground.
“So, you finally came back to us, princess.” Her voice was low and it cracked as she spoke.
One of the goblins reached up and pulled the rag from Mary’s mouth while two more tied her to the tree.
Drool fell from Mary’s mouth as she coughed and attempted to catch her breath. “I’m … not a … princess. I’m … just … a girl.”
“Nonsense!” a goblin cried.
“The witches said you would come tonight and you have!” another said.
Mary stared at the beaming faces of the goblins. She realized her costume must have confused them.
“It’s … it’s Halloween.” She fought back tears. “This is just a costume. I’m not Snow White, I’m Mary Nelson.”
“Who is Snow White?” a goblin asked.
“Who is Mary Nelson?” asked another.
Another witch stepped out of the shadows. “Enough! You are the virgin princess sent to us by Moloch. Your name matters not to us.”
The familiar snakes coiled up in Mary’s stomach again. “Please, it’s almost midnight. I’m in so much trouble.” Tears started to flow. “My dad’s going to be so upset. I just want to go home.”
“She’s right! It’s almost midnight!”
“We must start!”
“Hurry! We’re running out of time!”
Mary dropped her chin to her chest and wept. She had no idea what these things planned on doing to her, but she knew if she let it happen she wouldn’t live through it.
It’s almost midnight.
The goblins were singing again, this time a tune she had never heard before in a language she was sure had never been spoken by a human. They started removing their clothes, throwing them into the woods. Their skin looked almost gray and was tight against their ribs. The witches had left the circle, but returned, naked as well. One of them held a golden dagger with red and blue jewels covering the handle.
There were several goblins playing instruments off to the side. One thumped his fists against a drum made from rabbit skin. Another played a flute carved from a tree branch. And still another strummed a well-worn lute. The dancing goblins sang louder and louder. The witches were in their trance again, not uttering a word. They walked toward her as if they were marching down a wedding aisle. Mary heard the town clock begin to chime.
“Please,” she said, “I’m telling you, you have the wrong girl.”
The goblins paid her no mind and the witches kept coming.
“I have to get home. My dad … my dad — ”
The clock chimed for the sixth time. The image of her mother singing the Halloween anthem crept back into Mary’s head. It was just a silly song. Just a game mothers played with their children. It couldn’t be real.
“Oh no,” she choked.
The witches were close. If Mary’s hands had been free she could have reached out and smacked the dagger right out of the lead witch’s hand.
“Please ... you don’t understand.”
The witches were at her feet. The one holding the blade raised her arm up high and aimed for Mary’s chest.
“NO!” Mary’s voice echoed through the trees.
The clock struck twelve and Mary screamed. Her girlish shriek pierced through the night and turned into a guttural growl. The witches jumped backward at the sound of it. Mary’s wrists and ankles pulled against the ropes as her body shook. The music stopped, and all goblin and witch eyes were upon her, frozen in place, mouths agape.
Mary tore through her restraints, her muscles rippling and knotting as hair sprouted all over her body. Her already tattered costume burst into shreds as her body doubled in size. Thick pads replaced the soles of her bruised and bloodied feet. She turned her face toward the moon and howled as her nose and mouth grew into an elongated snout. Sharp teeth pushed out from her gums in front of the ones she had had braces on for three years.
Her fur-covered hand with long, thick fingers and sharp claws reached forward and snatched the dagger out of the witch’s hand. Mary tossed it into the woods and watched the once stoic creature cry out and grab her now-broken wrist.
The goblins shrieked in unison and scattered. The witches followed suit. But Mary was faster. Instinct took over. Her vision was a wet blur of blood, skin, and organs. The air was filled with a cacophony of screams. It took but minutes before the only sound Mary could hear was her own ragged breaths.
She stopped and sat down at the base of the tree she had been tied to. Something splashed her face. She looked up to see the torso of a goblin dangling off a branch. Mary sighed and moved over. The ground was littered with pieces of goblins and witches and she wondered what that song her mother sang to her really meant.
A throaty, thunderous cry — almost a whale’s song — split through the night’s chorus of crickets and turned cold Mary’s blood. She jumped up and pricked her ears to find where it came from. “I’ve really done it this time — now I’ve made him sore.” She dropped to all fours and galloped through the woods toward her father’s howl.
Meghan Knierim is a horror writer and self-proclaimed lover of words and B-movies. Visit her online at morbidmusings.livejournal.com.
Thanks, Meghan, for such a great story!