Happy Halloween, everyone! Have you trick-or-treat-ed yet? Oh wait, not (yet) that time of the day *cough* Around here, I probably won’t see too many costumes, which is a bit lame, so instead I wrote an eerie short story.
Okay, I wrote it last year, posted it on Geek & Sundry (as “When I Look at the Stars in the Sky”) and – well, I’m not sure anyone read it, actually. So I rewrote a few bits and post it again here for All Hallow’s Read, as invented by Neil Gaiman himself. Enjoy – erh, be scared!
We were hiking through the woods. Had we been on holidays, this would have been a fun experience: sleeping under the stars, besides the remains of the camp fire. But it was none of that, because we were on the run. On the run from the government, on the run from our own neighbors, people we thought we could trust.
We knew they would come for us, so we set up a plan: we would leave the town at night, would enter the woods, would hike further and further to the south until we would cross the border and finally be safe. The townspeople wouldn’t follow us, they were afraid of the woods. “Home of the shadows, Bringer of the Dark” it was called in their language. We had laughed at them for being so uneducated to believe in fairytales. And so we didn’t notice…
The first thing that puzzled us was the absence of animals. When we entered the woods at night, we could hear an owl or two, but soon those noises stopped completely. All that remained was the sound our feet made on the ground. Not even the lightest breeze was accompanying us. At first we thought it was just our imagination, but when our carefully laid traps wouldn’t catch any animals, we started to worry. We hadn’t been able to take much food with us and now had to rely on berries and mushrooms.
Our leader had calculated that it would take us one week to hike to the Southern Country. To count the days, we made a mark on a piece of paper every time we went to sleep. When we made the ninth mark and still didn’t seem to be anywhere close to the border, we began to feel uneasy. The stars were shining in the cloudless sky above us, but it was no longer a soothing sight.
After the tenth night, the woods began to change. They didn’t get darker, but lighter. We thought we had reached the end of our journey, finally, the Southern Country where we would be free. We reached a clearing, and at its far end we could see a sky so bright it almost blinded us. My youngest sister began to run. How she had missed the freedom of running around on her own! She ran into the light – and then she was gone. No matter how often we shouted her name, she didn’t return. We went to where she had run and discovered – nothing. The woods just continued, as impermeable as before.
That night, we didn’t sleep. The woods were calm, but in a threatening way. We feared that if we would close our eyes, it would take us away. One after another, we would fall prey to its maliciousness. We started to hear noises that weren’t there, started to see things that didn’t exist. My mother began to mutter words of madness: my daughter, my youngest, the Bringer of Dark has taken her! And then one night, she just vanished. One second she sat there, at the fire, and when I looked again, she was gone.
And so it continued, one after another, the members of my family vanished around me, during the day and during the night. Now I’m the only one left. It’s the twentieth night of our journey, and I’m not sure whether I will ever find the Southern Country. The stars are shining brightly, but to me, they look like eyes, the eyes of a creature waiting for its prey.