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(14) The Hallow of Samhain

DYLAN SLAMMED THE CAR TO a stop outside the dilapidated house and jumped out. It’s too quiet, was his first thought.

What if I’m too late? was his second.

“Bethanie!” he yelled, taking the front steps two at a time. He tried to open the door but it was locked shut. He slammed a palm against the wood. “Bethanie, are you in there?”

No response, except for his own voice thrown back at him by the forest.

He tried the door again, jostling the handle, but it was stuck. He rammed his shoulder into it, again and again, but to no avail. “Florence, I swear to God, if you’ve–”

But he wasn’t able to finish. If she’d what? Hurt Bethanie? Killed her? He didn’t even know what he was up against.

Dylan took a step back and attempted to kick in the door. Nothing. He hopped down off the porch and stared up at the house in dismay. Where were they?

He checked his phone. 11:53.

Overcome by a new wave of urgency, Dylan dashed around the side of the house. Each window he came across was covered with decades’ worth of dirt. There was no point in attempting to see in.

He kept going, moving around to the back. His heart lifted when he saw the back door. It was also locked but it felt a little more decayed, a little more flexible. He rammed it with his shoulder once, twice, and it blew inwards.

A sudden strong breeze pushed him into the house before he could stop it. And then an unseen force slammed the door shut behind him. If he hadn’t been so worried about Bethanie, he would have been terrified.

Inside, it was pitch black and deathly cold. He took no time looking around; he sped straight down the hall until he reached the grand foyer.

That’s where he found Florence, sitting cross-legged in the centre.

“Good of you to join us,” she said, spreading out her arms like she was gesturing to everyone in the room. There was no one else in the room.

“What have you done with Bethanie?” he demanded.

“Hush, hush, you’ll disturb us.”

“Disturb who?”

“The dead, of course.”

Dylan tried not to be creeped out, but he couldn’t help it. It hit him all at once – an intense uneasiness that wrapped around his heart like a fist.

“You’re not real, are you?” he breathed, eyes wide. “You’re–” He took a small step back and his heel knocked into the bottom step of the staircase, nearly tripping him up. Instead it just made his camera swing haphazardly from his neck, a pendulum rocking back and forth as it decided on it’s divined verdict.

“You can say it,” Florence echoed. It was the best way he could describe it. Her voice echoed like it was bouncing between dimensions.

He pulled himself together – enough to speak. “You’re a ghost.”

She tut-tutted, shaking a finger at him. “Not a ghost. A Hallow.”

“A what?” He felt ridiculous. Here he was, having a conversation with a dead thing. He looked at his phone again. 11:56.

“There’s four of us. But I am the Hallow of Samhain,” Florence proclaimed, twisting her hand in a way that suggested bowing, “and as such, I guard the gate.”

Something she said sounded familiar to Dylan, but he couldn’t put a finger on it. It itched away at the back of his mind. “The gate?”

“To the otherworld, of course.”

The wind picked up, spinning throughout the house. But it felt like more than wind; it felt like the dark itself was swirling around, animated by some supernatural force.

“What happens if you’re not guarding it?” he asked. He wasn’t quite sure where the question came from, but when he spoke it, he knew it was the right thing to ask.

Florence’s dark hair mixed into the air, floating around her shoulders in a blatant defiance of gravity. Her eyes flicked to the left. “Most nights, nothing.”

A strange, ancient impulse spurred Dylan forward, away from the stairs. “What happens if you’re not guarding it tonight?” His voice was firm and totally out-of-place. It didn’t feel as though he had spoken; rather, it felt as though someone else had spoken through him.

Florence smiled, dark and deadly. She looked up as if there was something – not just something, some thing – on the roof. “Oh, would you look at that.” She lowered her gaze to his. Her face fell flat. “It’s almost midnight.”

Dylan recalled his earlier sense of urgency, of reaching Beth before the clock struck twelve. “It happens at midnight,” he said. “Whatever it is, it happens at midnight.”

For the first time, Florence look like she might be angry. The darkness clung to her a little tighter, writhing. She stood up and her hair expanded like a fan, strands coiling warningly.

Dylan pushed down his terror and went on. “It’s Halloween, the night where the veil between worlds is meant to be at it’s weakest. And you’re the one who guards the gate to the otherworld. Except you’re not at your post. Shall I take a guess at what happens come midnight?”

Now the Hallow was definitely angry. The dark had festered around her, eating away at her skin. It turned translucent, revealing ugly, blackened bones. Her eyes looked less like eyes and more like sunken black pits. She no longer looked like Florence. Dylan doubted it was a she at all. More like an it, a dead thing growing larger, tangling with the dark.

It seethed, “Soon you’ll be dead.” It’s voice had lost all femininity, mutating into something evil and ancient. It had a hollow sound, like it was not quite part of this world.

“Where is Bethanie?” he demanded.

She’s not here,” it hissed.

And then it vanished.

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