Coralin Ann Bloye never ran with any of the crowds, popular, dangerous, nerdy or otherwise. Even from a young age, she was that oddly shaped piece that never fit any societal puzzle, but she wasn’t exactly unpopular, being blessed with a certain charisma that couldn’t be hidden or ignored. It wasn’t long before the myriad other high school misfits were drawn into her sphere of influence.
Coralin’s Clique, as they were casually referred to, never involved themselves in normal activities, so when All Hallow’s Eve rolled around, the group, too old for tricks or treats, too disinterested in dressing up in lame costumes for themed parties or participating in Mischief Night, opted instead to camp out in the woods overnight and honor the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.
“Are we gonna sacrifice cattle?” asked Andy. Every group had that one questionable tagalong and Andy never failed to take a matter to the extreme.
“You even think about what you’re gonna say before you open your mouth?” asked Janae, the clique’s self-appointed second in command. “And do you have access to livestock? I know I sure as hell don’t.”
“We’re observing the ritual only, no animal cruelty,” Coralin advised. “You need to satisfy your bloodlust, pick up a soy burger on the way and have at it.”
The spot chosen for the campsite was far enough away from town so they shouldn’t be disturbed all night, the weather was actually decent for the end of October, the moon was full and bright, and the ankle-deep mist that hugged the earth in a comforting blanket that moved as serene water, perfectly set the stage for their festival. When it came down to who would collect the wood for the fire, no one volunteered so they played several rounds of roshambo and despite her best efforts, Coralin lost in the end.
“Don’t you dare start without me,” warned Coralin.
The clique promised they would wait but while their de facto leader was away, Janae, who not-so-secretly wanted to dethrone Coralin and run the group by her lonesome, showed the group a video she came across while scrolling YouTube. It featured a naked middle-aged man and woman doing things to themselves and each other that were unexplainable. If it was sex or even some sort of weird torture, it was kink on a level unlike anything they had ever seen or read about or could even have imagined in their dark and depraved teenage minds. But one thing was for sure, none of them, no matter how confused or disgusted they were, were able to tear their eyes away from the video that played on a loop.
The collective sound of their young minds snapping was almost audible over the ambient noise of crickets, owls, and frogs.
Not long after, Coralin returned to the clearing, twigs and branches bundled under one arm, saying, “You better not have…”
Her sentence trailed off at the sight of the empty campsite, but the cooler, backpacks and rolled sleeping bags poked their heads above the fog, so Coralin knew her friends hadn’t ditched her.
“Ha ha, funny joke, planning to jump out when I least expect it, but you’re wasting your time,” Coralin called out to the surrounding trees. “I don’t scare that easily.”
She let the firewood fall to the ground, which dispersed the fog enough for Coralin to notice something strange about the grass. The moon provided enough light so that she wasn’t stumbling around in the dark, but she pulled out her phone and turned on the flashlight app to get a better look.
The ground beneath her feet was moist, which she naturally attributed to evening dew but upon closer inspection the yellowing grass was freckled red and so were her white sneakers.
“What was this meant to look like, blood splatter? Are you kidding me? Your stupid little prank got fake blood all over my sneakers! If this stuff doesn’t wash out, so help me God…”
There was a noise. It came from the treeline to her left.
“I am seriously going to kill every last one of you,” Coralin said without any real conviction because a suspicion that something wasn’t quite right was slowly creeping up on her, largely due to the blood that trailed off in the direction of the noise she wasn’t able to properly identify.
Following the swath of liquid red, she stepped into a place that wasn’t the woods anymore, at least not any sort of woods she had ever been in. This patch of land had been transformed into hell on earth. The smell of excrement and blood was overpowering; the air rang with the lingering echoes of screams of pain, cries for help, and wails of mourning. And what she saw, shifted the earth beneath her feet.
Coralin fell on all fours, her own heartbeat pounding in her ears, and she vomited violently as the blood rushed from her head and pooled at her hands and knees before turning into molasses and weighting her to the spot.
The trees surrounding her creaked and groaned from strain, threatening to collapse under the weight of the disemboweled bodies of her friends, and somewhere amongst them was the thing that had caused all this misery. It remained hidden, leaping from shadow to shadow, with the only visible bit being the claw-like hand that held a smartphone playing a video that was too far away for Coralin to make out.
But whatever this creature was, it wasn’t alone. Noises were coming from all around her, unnatural noises that existed just above the invasive low-frequency hum of nature, and hidden by the trees and evening fog, something was scrambling toward Coralin. That was all that was needed for a rush of panic-driven adrenalin to unlock her paralysis. Without realizing it, she sprang to her feet and hauled ass in the direction of the main road.
Although running in a blind panic, Coralin accidentally stumbled upon her car, a gray Mazda 3, handed down by her old man when he upgraded to a Dodge Challenger, hidden in the brush just off the road’s soft shoulder. Frantically rummaging through her pockets, she prayed to God that she hadn’t somehow stupidly left the keys at the campsite. Luckily she found them, fumbled to slot the key into the lock, and managed to shut the door behind her just as something massive slammed into the side of her car with the force of a speeding truck.
“Please start, please, please,” Coralin pleaded. Fear lodged in her throat as she turned the key in the ignition. She knew for certain the engine was going to stall because that was the way of the world and just her dumb luck. But on this occasion, she was dead wrong. The engine turned over and she stomped on the gas pedal to the squeal of metal pulling away from inhuman claws as the Mazda peeled off out of the brush and onto the deserted road.
In the rearview mirror, Coralin definitely saw something, some things, on the road in the distance chasing after the car. Pedal to the metal, she pushed the car as fast as it would go, trying to put as much distance as possible between her and whatever the hell they were.
Safety and reinforcements were just up ahead. She spotted a bonfire, hellabig, that was probably part of a bunch of idiots’ mischief night prank, but Coralin quickly discovered it wasn’t a bonfire at all.
Her entire town was burning to the ground.