Halloween Challenge Honorable Mention
Why return to the old horror, now a boarded-up fading town on the outskirts of the backwoods?
It’s been almost twenty years since mom died.
The memory of the night dwindled into a prayer to the goddess. A rainstorm and desperate dash with my ailing sister’s head in my lap.
But something from that night hadn’t settled, no matter the years that had passed. I was twenty-five and my sister twenty-two. We’d already experienced the tragedy of dead parents and a life haunted by our past. My sister spends her life trying to forget.
I spend mine trying to understand.
And finally, we had to come back.
The rain started. We ended up at the only motel in town. The creep at the desk smirked and cracked a joke about liking twins. Dad used to say that everyone was dead and didn’t know it. This guy had that look. Zombified.
The small one-bed room had dark drapes and a two-station TV that barely worked. My sister stared at the soggy sandwich we got from the vending machine in the lobby. She dumped it in the small bin next to the bed.
“Shits,” she hissed and fussily turned one way on the bed and then back around to face me. “Why are we here again?”
“To find the statue. It means something to mom.”
My sister made a face, then drew breath and sat up. “We’re not worshipping that thing.”
“That thing links the women in our family. Don’t you want to know how?”
“No, because we left it behind.”
“But it means something to mom,” I reiterated, each word slow and careful on my tongue.
My sister sighed, annoyed, and then flicked her long, acrylic nails. She’s gotten away from our old ways, became social—made real friends and had a career as an influencer. I didn’t envy her. This just wasn’t me. I could never get over the past, not when I dreamed of it every night. Not with the memory of my mother on her knees praying.
“We have a lot of family issues to settle. That’s why we’re here,” I said.
My sister’s small oval faced vexed. Then she gave me a nasty look. “After this, I’m done with all this shit.” She settled back into bed and threw the thick blanket over her entire body.
She snored; sound asleep.
Who were we? Asked the voice in my head. For years I’ve tried to figure that out—to understand. Mom had said her people pre-dated the town. We’re not documented as belonging to any tribes nearby. Mom said we came from the sea—our origins were not listed on any old ship records. Dad said mom told tall tales—urban legend.
But where did we come from? And how did mom die that night? Why did we run?
Dad was always too tongue-tied to answer—baffled by sheer trepid PTSD and brain fog. He drank himself to death. Every organ in his body failed a year ago. Then I found the clippings he’d collected of the urban legend.
The statue that appeared before something bad would happen.
“What’s that?” my sister flew up deep into the night.
“It’s only the wind. It hits heavy here,” I explained.
She glared at me from her side of the bed. I could feel her eyes on me. And anticipated her next question. “Why aren’t you sleeping?”
“I’m not tired.”
She sat upright, alert and suspicious. “You were mom’s favorite, I get it,” she said. “I want to know what you’re keeping from me.”
I stayed on my back, my phone charging beside me. “What do you think I’m hiding.”
“Stop fucking condescending!” she snapped and then quieted, mindful it was late at night. She exhaled loudly. “You dragged me here.”
“You came because dad died.”
“So what? I’m here. If you don’t tell me right now, I’m walking.”
“Fine, then walk home then.”
She flew out of bed, angry. She was putting on her shoes. Neither of us had changed clothes and slept in our sweaters and sweatpants. I grabbed her arm, but she flashed it off. She stormed out of the motel room, and I chased after her. The rain had eased up with the night was damp and chilled.
“I’m sorry!” I shouted after her in the night.
She faced me. “I’m being supportive. I hate this town. You know that. You dragged me back here and then dismiss me.”
I took a deep breath. On instinct I reached into my pocket for my vaper, but then remembered I was trying to quit. “It’s complicated.”
“And I’m too dumb to understand…”
“No, it’s not that.” I watched her closely, poignantly. “You were sick on the night we fled.”
She looked about, unsure of what to make of it.
“It was eighteen years ago, so you won’t remember.”
“And you do—you’re three years older.”
“I remember some of it. And got the rest from dad, sort of.” I cogitated on my next words. “She died for you.”
She stared me down with an uncertain expression.
“That sacrifice allowed you to live and us to leave.”
She shook her head. “This makes no sense. She died for me. And then what—we left. Like, we couldn’t leave before. And why am I back here?”
The answer didn’t come from me, but a deep voice from the darkness of the night.
“You’re here for the sacrifice.”
The tall, lanky man walked from the darkness, from behind the one-storey building—the desk clerk. Was he just creeping there all along?
“What?” My sister proclaimed.
“That’s not true,” I said, wary of the creep and then faced my sister.
“You’re the Coe sisters. Your family was here before everyone. So, you’ve finally come home. Good.”
I didn’t like how he said that and neither did my sister. We huddled closer together in the damp windy night. I said, “What do you want?”
“I want to leave this town—like you can.”
My sister and I traded glances, not understanding.
“You can leave if you want to.”
“Not with that thing out there…,” he mused, head tilting towards the narrow road leading from the motel. “There’s this thing about the people who live here. We become bound in her domain. We can’t leave. Have babies, spill blood, blood relative dies. We’re stuck. But I want out. Legend has it one of you women can help.”
“We can’t help you!” I spoke up strongly. I gripped my sister’s arm. “Let’s go.”
“Respectfully, get in the car,” he said, firing a bullet into the night as a warning.
He made me drive, while he held a gun on my sister from the backseat.
“When I figured out you were the key, I tried to reason but she wouldn’t listen. So you survived.”
I remembered something from the night my sister laid dying. Blood. Was that it? He had hurt my sister and my mother acted fast to save her. My mother created a blood link between my sister and the statue. My sister was the key to finding the statue. I knew that. But she sure as hell wouldn’t be a sacrifice for this creep. Visitors could leave. If blood touched soil, then roots were laid, and more blood had to be spilled to leave—the blood of a loved one or your own. Or a Coe woman.
The creep rambled off all the traveling deaths in the town. He was vague about his own crime or what he had done to seal his fate. He kept saying, “My grandfather and my father” this and that.
“Stop here!” He practically leaped from the backseat to force my hand. The car swung to the side of the road. He bullied us into getting out. Holding the gun shakily, he forced us through the marshes and into the trees. The ground was slippery and muddy.
The petrichor of the woods was green and raw, clean in my nostrils. The sound of small critters permeated the woods, and occasionally, one or two would scatter if we got too close to their hiding place.
The goddess loomed in the clearing.
“They said it protects against people with bad intent,” he said marching forward. “Supposedly, it was only meant to protect against white settlers and cowboys and those sorts, but everyone was caught up in its reach. When the elders figured it out, they tried to hack it to death, and your people did that little disappearing spell.”
The creep pulled a two-sided axe from his backpack, which he abandoned on the ground.
My sister screamed and ran off into the bushes, shocking both me and the creep.
“Stay where you are,” he commanded, waving the gun in front of me.
“You found the damn statue,” I pleaded.
“And the little witch is gone. If she does anything, you’re gonna pay.”
He took the axe to the statue’s already damaged arm. I swore it screamed. “I tried destroying it once, you know. It always escapes.” He came down hard again, though barely causing a chip on the ten-foot-high woman with a face that was barely human.
I pushed into him while he wrestled with the axe stuck in the statue. He tumbled down into the bushes.
I ran off.
The sound of a bullet ripped through the darkness.
I bumped right into my screaming sister, and we tumbled downhill together, landing in the wet marsh.
The narrow country road was visible, the car parked to the side. “I swear I wasn’t trying to sacrifice you,” I apologized as we made our way to the road. My sister took the driver’s seat. We didn’t realize we were going in the wrong direction.
“No, let’s get out of this town,” I said, practically twisting the steering wheel out of my sister’s grip. Lifting a family curse was important, but less so than surviving this mad man.
The creep rushed into the middle of the road. My sister didn’t slow down. He fired, piercing the windshield between us, then his body hit the hood and rolled off, collapsing on the road.
She jumped from the car like a badass woman.
The creep crawled to his feet. “It’s blocking the road.”
He was right, I realized to my shock. The statue stood in the middle of the road. I didn’t know how it got there but had to believe he might be right about whatever magic it had—unless I was seeing things.
He pointed his gun at my sister. “You, come forward. You can control it.”
“I can’t,” she said dryly.
She didn’t sound convincing. I saw my sister in new light. Had her proximity to the statue changed her somehow?
The creep cocked his gun on my sister. “I should finish what I started.”
A crack of lightning ran directly to the statue. It disappeared in the flash.
“Where is it?” The creep spun. A loud whooshing sound alerted us to the sky. I thought lightning. The statue was crashing down like hailstone. My sister didn’t move. I barely got out of the way.
The creep wasn’t so lucky. He was roadkill by the time I got to him.
My sister stood beside me. “This is what you wanted right?”
“I wanted to break the curse on you and mom. That’s all.” Taking a deep breath, I faced the body again.
“He’s another death for the town’s legend,” she dismissed. “Let’s go.”
“And where’s the statue now?”
“See for yourself!” she pointed to the woods.
It loomed above the hilly woods overlooking the road.
“Did it hurt mom?”
“She sacrificed for us, like you said. We always knew that.”
I glared at her, understanding something. “You can control it.”
“Blood linked—not a curse. Nothing to break.”
After we crossed the town limits, she smiled my way. “This road trip was insightful. We should come back more often.”