Another nifty challenge set by Chuck Wendig. Almost didnt make it. But finally I was inspired.
Even though I lived in the city, it was always important to me to celebrate the Summer Solstice. I needed to light the bonfires and let the smoke rush over me, keeping the evil spirits away. I couldn’t just ignore the celebration of new harvests. Mother always said, “Don’t tempt The Fates, Matilda.” But I was worried about tonight. Tonight was the full moon.
There hadn’t been a full moon on Midsummer’s Eve in five years. I gave one last swipe of mascara before tossing it into my makeup kit. I had started to shake thinking about the last time a full moon had risen on Midsummer’s Eve and I didn’t trust myself not to stab myself in the eye.
“Well Artie,” I said to my purring, smushed-face cat dozing on my bed, “we’ll just have to be on our toes tonight, right?” I adjusted the chain around my neck that my pentagram hung from. Checked my hair one last time and switched off the light.
The streets were alive with people even though it was the middle of the week. I had missed the parade because I was busy finishing up the last few orders of potions that had to be filled for tonight’s festivities.
“Mattie!” a familiar voice called. I turned to see my friend, Veronica, locking up her charm shop that acted as the ground floor of our apartment building. I waited for her to catch up with me.
“Hiya, Ronnie,” I greeted her as she rushed up to me.
“Full moon tonight,” she reminded me, handing me a purple ribbon. I held it up to examine it and found she had braided some amethyst crystals into it. I handed it back to her, holding out my wrist and she tied it for me.
“Thanks,” I said and Ronnie smiled proudly at her trinket. It was to ward off psychic attacks, her effort to combat The Madness. I shook my wrist to settle it more comfortably and continued on. We were headed for the Rolling Hills Park where the Midsummer Festival was held. We were still blocks away but we could already hear the noise of the crowd and music. The smell of smoke and food eased something tight inside of me.
“So what are your plans tonight?” Ronnie asked.
“Oh I’m just looking forward to food I don’t have to cook and the fire,” I said.
“Will you dance?”
“I expect so. You?”
“I don’t know,” she replied shyly.
“It helps you know,” I said, “helps the fire do its job.”
“You really believe in the bonfires, huh?” she looked sideways at me.
“Of course,” I nodded.
“Maybe I will dance,” she said. We didn’t speak the rest of the way, the sidewalk and streets began to crowd with people. We drifted apart once we were in the park, I knew we’d probably find each other again when the bonfire was lit.
I strolled through the grounds, taking in the salty savory smells of food. I bought a sausage roll pastry and munched on it. The drums were pounding through the air, making the ground vibrate. The sun was setting fast in the west. People were lighting torches to keep the dark away, casting long flickering shadows through the crowds and booths.
It was the screaming that I registered first. Once I stepped out of the midway into the clearing with the Great Bonfire ready to be set aflame, I saw people running for their lives. I froze instantly. The bracelet around my wrist humed with life. There was a woman frantically searching for her baby. I heard it crying to my right, its wails lost among so many other raised voices. I dashed in its direction, finding a small boy, not even two-years-old yet, hidden by a trashcan. His onesie was torn and his face paint was smeared with tears and dirt. I scooped him up in my arms and ran for the woman.
“Oh bless you!” she cried as she took her baby from me, leaving me with only a smear of blue paint on my shirt.
“What’s going on?” I all but yelled at her to be heard. She had already started to turn away, but stopped to answer me.
“It’s the madness,” she said. “They’re overcome, save yourself.” And with that she was gone. I turned to look down the midway and saw that finally the commotion was reaching the people therein. Fires were being extinguished and people were running for their lives.
I turned back to the clearing. The torches had been extinguished – by accident or by design I didn’t know – that surrounded the Great Bonfire. In the shadows I saw figures running around the mass of wood, attacking and tackling people. I heard the snap of bones and a sick sucking noise that made my stomach roil.
One of the moon-stricken raised his head from his victim’s limp body. I slapped a hand to my mouth. He was half man, half monster. The bones of his face had elongated, stretching the skin. His eyes had bled to black and glinted in the moonlight. His fingers were long and sinister with claws and blood dripped from everywhere.
I ducked behind a trashcan before he noticed me, feeling my bracelet vibrating against my wrist, nearly burning me. I risked a glance and saw there was one last torch still burning on the other side of the bonfire structure. I needed to light the Great Bonfire.
“Mattie!” I nearly screamed as Ronnie snuck up behind me.
“For the love of toads, Ronnie!” I hissed at her.
“What do we do?” she whispered desperately.
“Stop having the festival when there’s a full moon,” I grumbled, glancing around the can again. The monster had moved on, leaving the body behind.
“Mattie!” Ronnie pressed.
“I think we need to light the bonfire.”
“How? All the fires have been put out,” her voice cracked.
“Not all of them.”
“You don’t have a fire spell?” she asked.
“Not one I can launch and it takes time, time we don’t have. Do you have a spell?”
“No,” she shook her head sadly. “I just have charms.”
“Then we have to get around to the other side and get to that torch before it’s put out.” Ronnie nodded at me, hiccupping in fear but there was resolve in her eyes. We crept out of our hiding place, keeping crouched low to the ground. We dashed from trashcan to trashcan, making it half way around the circle before we had to pause again as one of the moon-struck ran into our path, pausing to throw her head back and howled at the moon. Ronnie ducked her head and covered her ears. My heart pounded in my chest, I was sure it would rip itself out if one of those things caught me.
When the monster ran off in search of another victim I waved at Ronnie to follow me. There was no where else to hide. We ran full out for the flaming torch. Ronnie screamed behind me as a moon-stricken one tackled her. I skidded and stumbled to a stop, so damn close to the torch. I spun around. Ronnie was thrashing desperately under the monster that pinned her to the ground. I ran to them, reared my right foot back and swung full force, kicking the monster in the temple. Pain shot through my leg as my foot connected but he fell to the side and Ronnie scrambled free.
I grabbed her hand and we ran. Together we grabbed the torch and wrenched it free of the ground, nearly falling over each other as we did. Normally a prayer of thanks would’ve been chanted before the Great Bonfire was lit, but there was no time for that now. We threw the flaming torch through the air. It landed half way up the structure, the bundles of tinder caught fast and within seconds the Great Bonfire was blazing, lighting the dark clearing and smoking with vengeance.
The billowing clouds of grey smoke filled the park, washing over us. I inhaled the smoke gratefully, never coughing. Among the screams of the injured and pursued a chorus of howls rent the air. Soon the howls became screams and the monsters fell to the ground, writhing in pain. Bones slid back in place, claws retracted and color came back to their eyes. They laid motionless on the ground as an eerie silence settled over the clearing. Only the snap and pop of the fire could be heard. Gradually people came back to the clearing, kicking the moon-struck, checking to see if any of them were alive. They weren’t.
A cheer rang through the park and Ronnie and I were gathered up, held above the crowd as they chanted our praises. Ronnie was crying and I realized so was I.
That night we danced. We danced until the sun rose and the bodies of the moon-struck disintegrated with the suns early light.