It’s October. Hands down, this is my favorite month out of the entire year. It officially kicks off the Holiday parade for me, ushers in my favorite season, and lets me revel in all things pumpkin-oriented.
Yes. I love pumpkin spice. Judge not, for it is a small thing when compared to the larger world. Also, stop raging at a flavor. It’s unsettling and beneath you. I’m not mad, just disappointed. Now go sit in the corner of the patch and think about what you’ve done.
Go on, now. I’ll wait.
Okay, so for the rest of you non-heretics, I wanted to challenge you a bit today. Inktober is in full swing right now, but I realize not all of you have the gumption to put pen to paper and make with the illustrating. But NaNoWriMo isn’t until next month. Maybe that challenge isn’t even on your radar.
What’s a creative writer to do during the most badass entry on the calendar when they need a daily task?
I submit for the consideration of the larger Midnight Society, the October writing challenge. “Writober”, if you will. Flash fiction, short stories, poetry—whatever writing form you work in, I challenge you to snap off a piece of that creativity every day from now until Halloween.
Yeah, I’m three days late. Sue me. There were errands to run over the weekend. Adulting is oft the bane of we small bipeds. Mea culpa.
BUT! You should start now. And I’ll help you out. The theme for this year’s Writober is “lore”. I challenge you to write a small tidbit about some preternatural creature every day. But here’s the gag: I want you to stray out of your usual comfort zone, and research beasties and monsters from the entire world’s stock of history, culture, and, yes, lore.
Why? Because half the fun of the challenge is seeking out new information, and folding it into your skillset. Call it a two-fer.
And don’t feel like you have to lock yourself purely into a horror mindset. Your takes can be horrific, hilarious; ecstatic or morose. No single genre holds sway, either. Want to write about a Jianshi in the old West? Go for it. Mad Scientist that combination.
Within reason. Too soon? No. Never.
To whet your appetite, here’s an offering from me. Enjoy!
The Bells of 12:01
Do not listen to the tolling. Stop your ears with cloth and wax and prayer, child.
That’s what gran had said to him before she too died. She had been the first.
Gran had been dismissed as superstitious when she had spoken in hushed tones of what was to come for her family. They had all nodded, with forlorn expressions, but never listened to the ravings of an old woman who had clearly allowed grief to warp her mind.
They all missed Stephen. His death was a tragedy. Suicide was the great thief of the living heart. But it had been obvious that Gran’s lamentations and warnings of the old world—insistent whispers of pigs and coins and bells—were just sorrow turned to fearful delusion.
But by month’s end, he was the last of his family left alive.
Coin in hand, Joseph climbed the hill that lay in the moonlit shadow of the old church, and gingerly stepped between the old gravestones and burial markers. Cool fog-wet grass soaked his pant legs, and bled frigid discomfort into his threadbare shoes. But he kept up his pace. There was time yet to stop this.
They had not believed. They had all passed just after midnight; each death punctuated by the tolling of the church bell in the distance. Some had been partially devoured in their beds. Some had clutched at their heads, and died screaming at the hearth. Some turned ashen, confused for a moment, before dropping as quickly as a marionette loosed from its strings.
Out of a family and relations numbering thirty, Joseph was alone and afraid. It had come time to embrace his Gran’s madness, for it was the only thing that remotely explained the curse that was destroying his line.
A tragic end, a tragic will,
The Nachzehrer hungers still.
For shroud and soul and its own meat,
Yet those it knew remain more sweet.
So take your sixpence, and feed it fast,
Ere the bloodline is long since past,
For if you linger, seek to outlast,
The bells you hear will be your last.
It was a sing-song game for children from Gran’s time. Joseph now held it as sacrosanct as scripture.
Joseph approached the family mausoleum, the cold slithering air clawing at his limbs, and working in cruel tandem with dread to slow his pace. But there was still time. He could do this, and have done with it all.
The wrought iron gate stood open, beckoning.
Swallowing his terror, Joseph gripped the coin tighter, and stepped over the threshold. His flashlight flickered to brilliance, casting the interior into harsh angular shadows that flitted between the marble columns and limestone catafalques. Stephen’s own had been set towards the rear.
Joseph checked his pocket watch. Five minutes to midnight. He could make it.
The lid that had enclosed Michael’s remains had been slid askew, revealing nothing but gloom within. Joseph angled his flashlight, and stepped forward to peer inside. He steeled himself for what his Gran had told him awaited within. A corpse that had been chewed upon, devoid of its own funereal garments, clutching one of its severed thumbs in the opposite hand, and staring upward with one remaining, milky eye.
Could he bear to see his older brother like that? He would have to.
Joseph readied the coin to be shoved into the body’s mouth. Only then would it be locked into place, unable to lash out with whatever dark power it had used to murder the family. The hatchet was a heavy weight on Joseph’s belt, eager to be about its purpose for removing the desiccated head from the body’s neck. Jospeh sucked in a quick breath of tomb-air, pushed hard on the lid to allow him more room, and lunged with flashlight and raised coin over the edge.
It was empty.
Joseph frantically swung the light to and fro, searching for any sign of the corpse, but only smooth stone reflected back at him. He leaned back, reaching once more to check his watch against the time.
Five minutes to midnight.
Joseph’s skin pickled and became slick with sweat. He finally noticed that the second hand had stopped moving.
“Welcome home,” came the distant sickly voice.
The church bell began to peal.
That’s all from me for now. Enjoy Writober! I’ll have more offerings from it for you, soon. Be sure to share your own!
Until next time, Horns Up.