In the spirit of the Halloween season, here’s a new short story about the full moon and witches.

 

Harper’s Moon  

by Will Raven  

 

Holly Cambridge sat on the porch, watching the sunset. It was Halloween and a full moon would soon rise, a lunar cycle that only came every 19 years. In 2001, the last time it happened, Holly was 13 years old.

 

The wooden porch was painted hunter green and supported by three white pillars that were wrapped with a string of garish purple and orange lights. Two jack-o-lanterns, not lit, sat on each side of the front door covered by spider webs.

 

Just then the mailman walked up. It was Fred Cosgrove. He had delivered mail in Fleetwood for more than 30 years.

 

“Got one here for your little brother,” he said, dutifully handing a brown parcel to Holly.

 

“Thank you, Fred, I will make sure Luke gets it.”

 

“Admiring the view are you?” he asked, gazing at the orange skyline.

 

“It’s gonna get dark soon.”

 

“Yes and Harper’s Moon will spread it’s evil again,” Fred said, stroking his silver beard.

 

“There’s bound to be trouble,” she said.

 

In Fleetwood, about 90 miles outside Baltimore, many strange and unpleasant things happened. It all began two centuries ago when Judge Sam Harper ordered the execution of a coven of 13 witches after their convictions. On All Hallows’ Eve, under a full moon, the witches were burned at the stake. From Foxboro Cemetery, it’s said the bonfire could be seen miles away.

 

Ever since, the lunar cycle has been called Harper’s Moon, and many gruesome murders, missing children, mass suicides, wicked fires and horrible events have made headlines.

 

Holly and Luke’s parents died a few years back in a freakish car accident. The couple were found crushed to death inside their car at the bottom of Bell Cliff. Police called it a tragic accident. Neither Holly nor Luke believed it.

 

“I still feel sorry about what happened to your folks,” Fred lamented.

 

“I miss them every day.”

 

“Sweetie, they’re in heaven now,” Fred said, patting Holly gently on the shoulder.

 

“You are so kind.”

 

“I don’t know why I ever stayed in this godforsaken town,” Fred pondered.  

 

“I guess it’s the only place we know,” said Holly, rolling the package over in her lap.

 

“I suppose, Holly. Say I’d like to chat some more, but I’m running a bit behind.”

 

“Alright then, see you next time.”

 

Fred nodded. “You take care.”

 

Holly already knew what was inside the paper wrapping. Luke had ordered two Halloween costumes, a witch and warlock set. It was nearly identical to the outfits they wore during the last Harper’s Moon—only adult size.

 

Carrying the parcel, Holly got up and went back inside. She started pouring a cup of coffee when Luke entered.

 

“Hey brother,” she said. “The costumes got here just in time.”

 

Luke saw the package on the kitchen table and went to unwrap it.

 

“Let’s see what we’ve got,” he said. He flashed the warlock’s costume first. “A black cloak, matching pants, and a dark wooden wand.”

 

“Perfect,” Holly smiled. “Like actors in a Shakespearean tragedy, we must play our parts again.”

 

“And for you, a long black dress, red-and-white striped stockings and a pointed hat.”

 

“This brings back memories,” Holly said, recalling how as a little girl she often played witch, running around the neighborhood on her mother’s broomstick.

 

“No time to get sentimental,” Luke said, laying the costumes on the table. “We got work to do.”

 

 “Yes, work to do,” she said, putting her coffee on the table before pulling a white box out of closet. Inside were assorted newspaper articles from The Fleetwood Times, a composition notebook, old black and white portraits, and a hand-drawn map of the village.

 

 “It’s all here,” Holly said. “A pattern of evil all pointing to one nasty coven of witches.”

 

Holly and Luke scanned the clippings going back over 150 years when the village paper first published in 1813. Year after year, something strange and evil happened in Fleetwood, driving many residents to leave.

 

A story from 1816 described the Fleetwood Witch Trials and listed in alphabetical order the witches sentenced to death by Judge Harper.

 

Four witches in particular, Abigail Stevens, Emma Peabody, Agnes White, and Edith Blackwell, were linked to over a dozen murders. The witches mixed body parts with blood and herbs and drank the brew to enrich their black magic.

 

“I will never forget Madame Blackwell,” Holly said. She tingled just thinking about how the incredibly cruel witch tried to cut her head off with a machete. “I still have nightmares.”

 

Blackwell led the coven and was called Madame Blackwell by the others.

 

“And I can still see that roaring fire and the huge black cauldron,” Luke said, sending chills along his spine.

 

“Those hags wanted to chop you up for their stew,” Holly said.

 

“And then all their evil dancing and laughter that sounded like a cackle of sick hyenas,” he said.

 

Holly took a deep breath. “But you’re right, Luke, we’ve got work to do to revenge what the witches did to us, to Carla, and all the others.”

 

Carla Martinez was Holly’s closet friend growing up. Like sisters, they did everything together. Shared secrets. Laughed until they cried. Played soccer. And went trick-or-treating.

 

On October 31, 2000, the witches killed Carla. Holly could still picture her best friend dressed up like a doctor complete with a black medical bag and a white lab coat. Carla dreamed about becoming a brain surgeon like her uncle.

 

The last thing Holly remembered was Carla screaming until it stopped. Holly never saw her friend again. She died in the darkness in the depths of Willow Creek Tunnel. Police searched every inch of the tunnel, but found no trace that Carla was ever there.

 

For that matter, the police had a hard time believing a word Holly and Luke said about the witches and their own narrow escape from death. Carla was reported missing and posters were put up around town. It was not the first nor the last time someone disappeared in Fleetwood.

 

But Holly knew it was all true. So did Luke. And tonight, under a new Harper’s moon, they planned to return to Willow Creek Tunnel and face what horror may await them yet again.

 

Holly studied the map. She grabbed a pen from the inside the box and drew a dark line showing the route that they planned to walk from their house to the tunnel. Holly and Luke co-owned a house on Wicker Street. Their parents left it to them in their will.

 

“We’ll take Elm Street, then a left on Fenwick, and then the shortcut to Kingsley Park,” Holly said.

 

“Let’s do it,” Luke said. He gathered the pictures, mostly unflattering sketches of the witches drawn by a local young artist who drowned mysteriously in Lake Seneca just days after finishing the portraits.

 

Holly collected up the rest of the evidence from the table and placed it back in the box.

 

“Think we better get dressed now,” Holly said,  grabbing her costume. The pair headed off to their bedrooms to change.

 

Holly stripped down to her underwear. She was rail thin and rather tall. She had a small, pretty face, long black hair, and dreamy brown eyes.

 

Putting on her black dress, Holly paused to examine a large red mole on her left rib. It was a dark red and slightly oval blemish; the same mark that each one of the Fleetwood witches bore.

 

Holly was a real witch, too. Not by choice. It was burned into her like a bull that’s branded with a hot iron. She got the Devil’s mark only after going through the Willow Creek Tunnel during Harper’s Moon. Mark had a similar mark.

 

Holly slid the dress all the way down. Next she put on the red-and-white striped stockings and raided her closet for a matching pair of black boots. She placed the pointed hat on her head and stepped out to the living room. Luke was sitting on the couch wearing his warlock costume.

 

“My how handsome we look,” Holly giggled. Luke had wavy dark hair, soft blue eyes, and a thin face. His black costume reminded Holly of the robe he wore for graduation.

 

“Come on Holly, you know I never really liked this whole Halloween bit,” Luke said.

 

Holly smiled. “I will always love Halloween—evil witches or not. It’s really all about the kids and just having fun.”

 

“I wouldn’t call fun what we are about to do tonight,” Luke said. His serious tone knocked the smile off Holly’s face.

 

 “Let’s get going,” she said, walking toward the closet. She reached for a big orange sack that passed as a trick-or-trick bag.

 

Holly checked inside, making sure everything they needed was there. Meanwhile, Luke picked up his black bag off the floor next to the sofa.

 

Holly then poured two bags of mixed candy into a large orange bowl. She turned on the porch light and followed Luke outside.

 

Night came and the full moon rose high in the sky. Holly breathed in the crisp October air and placed the bowl on a small table next to one of the jack-o-lanterns. She hoped the candy supply would last the night, but knew some greedy kid or two would take more than their fair share.

 

Luke watched on as Holly proceeded to plug in the Halloween lights and completed her tasks by lighting the candles in the jack-o-lanterns.

 

“There now,” she said. “That looks scary enough.”

 

Holly and Luke began walking briskly down the street. Fleetwood was a beautiful village, despite its blotted legacy. There were many mature trees, mostly maples, oaks and scattered weeping willows. Colorful leaves blanketed the grass and sidewalks. Holly loved the cool autumn wind and the constant crunch of leaves under her feet.

 

Several trick-or-treaters were already out. In the dim light, Holly first spotted Dracula and Frankenstein leaving the Clark’s house. Old Jim and Helen always gave out full-sized candy bars.

 

As Holly and Luke turned onto Elm Street, they spotted more kids walking with their parents. In Fleetwood, no one ever went out on Halloween alone.

 

“Look Holly, isn’t that Mary Wilson over there,” Luke said. She was walking with her daughter who was dressed up as Snow White.

 

“Yes it is and I don’t want to talk to her,” Holly whispered. “Let’s cross the street.”

 

Mary graduated the same year as Holly, but they were never really close. Holly was mostly a loner and Mary a cheerleader who ended up marrying their high school’s starting quarterback.

 

Holly and Luke hurried along. They soon hit Fenwick Lane, a dead-end street that abutted Kingsley Park. As kids Holly and Luke often took a dirt path off Fenwick that cut through the park to their elementary school.

 

Fenwick Lane was also famous for a tragic fire that killed Holly’s elementary school friend, Ricky Robinson. Three wooden row houses burned to the ground after a massive oak tree fell over multiple telephone lines. The impact caused a nearby generator to explode. Ricky’s house caught fire first and it quickly spread to the adjoining homes.

 

The path through the park was narrow and dark, except for the dim glimmer of the full moon that peaked through the dense, murmuring pines.

 

Holly and Luke pulled flashlights out of their bags and flicked them on. They started down the hilly path.

 

“Don’t you feel we’re a bit like Hansel and Gretel?” Holly asked.

 

“Yes, but more than one witch awaits us,” Luke said, biting his lip.

 

The deeper Holly and Luke penetrated the woods, the creepier the noises got. The chilly winds howled through the tall trees, rustling leaves and disturbing creatures of the night. Among them screech owls that hooted high-pitch screams.

 

“This is creepy,” Holly observed.

 

“I don’t like the feeling I’m getting,” Luke said, picking up the pace. He moved ahead and quickly reached the bottom of the slope. Holly kept close behind.

 

The locals believed that Willow Creek Tunnel was haunted—a portal to darkness and eternal damnation. The mysterious shaft ran about 100 yards connecting to Foxboro Cemetery, where the Fleetwood coven of witches were burned and buried.

 

The lore has it that the witches performed some of their Satanic rituals in the two centuries-old tunnel. Holly and Luke knew all about the underground passage’s sinister past. They experienced the horror themselves. And they knew that Carla’s life ended in the dark chamber.

 

Holly and Luke shined their flashlights on the tunnel entrance, a stone archway smothered by graffiti. Over the years, the stories about the ominous tunnel had spread and no one ever came near the dreadful place anymore. City officials seriously debated sealing up the tunnel for good, but got side tracked by other priorities like repaving beaten roads.

 

It was nearly two decades ago when Holly decided to join the Ghouls Rule Club. She knew more about horror books and films than anyone in Fleetwood. It was her chance to transform from a nobody to a somebody at Fleetwood Middle School.

 

There was one catch. She had to go through a secret rite of passage only by the members and not by the school faculty.

 

On that Halloween night, Holly had to go about halfway into the tunnel and spray paint her initials on the wall. The act would be checked by one of the club members the next day.

 

Holly couldn’t do it alone, but with Carla all things were possible. Luke just tagged along because he had no choice.

 

“I get sick to my stomach thinking about how stupid I was to go through that ritual just to be part of a horror club,” Holly gasped.

 

“And you just had to drag your little brother into the whole bloody mess,” Luke said. His stomach started churning.

 

Holly always felt guilty about convincing Carla to join the club when she really never really liked horror.

 

Going back into the tunnel now didn’t appeal to Holly either, but it had to be done. The evil had to be stopped.

 

The mouth of the tunnel was slightly raised and separated from the ground. The water stream had dried up long ago, as Willow Creek was rerouted west of Foxboro Cemetery. Luke climbed into the tunnel first, and helped Holly up. They were in.

 

The tunnel was much blacker inside than Holly remembered. It gave off a foul odor that smelled like sulfur and rotting eggs. There were also muffled echoes coming from deep within the chamber.

 

About 30 yards inside, Holly spotted a rat’s nest. Luke saw it, too. He pulled out a torch stick and lit it up. He began waving the flames at the rodents, scattering them in different directions.

 

Holly and Luke kept going, not knowing what to expect next. With each step, the echoes intensified.

 

Holly thought it sounded like “Go back. . . Go back. . .”

 

The path began curving, signaling to Holly that they were approaching the tunnel’s midpoint. She rolled her flashlight along the left wall, looking for the initials that she and Carla left long ago.

 

Since her last visit, Holly observed many more markings, mostly curse words. But one symbol stood out. It was a large red triangle sketched in blood. Holly nearly dropped her flashlight.

 

“What’s wrong, Sis?” Luke whispered.

 

“That’s the coven’s mark,” said Holly, looking closely at the triangle. “The line down the center of the triangle represents unity.”

 

“How so?’

 

“Even if you spilt the symbol in two, each half still remains a whole triangle.

 

Luke nodded. “I see.”

 

Holly continued. She soon spotted her initials alongside Carla’s.

 

Spray painted in black was HC CM 2001.

 

To Holly, it seemed like yesterday. She felt her eyes water with tears, but held them back.

 

Luke put his comforting hand on Holly’s shoulder. Suddenly a flash of light caught their eyes.

 

A little girl appeared before them. Her porcelain skin glowed in the darkness. It contrasted sharply with her silky black hair that flowed halfway down her back. Her chocolate brown eyes were cold and weary as though she had suffered many years. The white lab coat she wore was stained with blood.

 

The spirit resembled the little girl who Holly so loved. She was hauntingly beautiful, yet a frightening figure. It was Carla’s ghost.

 

“Carla, is that you?” Holly asked.

 

“Yes, it is me,” the specter said hoarsely. “I knew you would come this very night.”

 

“I wish we never went through this damn tunnel,” Holly said. “Then you would be alive.”

 

“But we did, and we did see the witches and their unspeakable secrets.”

 

“I am so sorry about what happened to you.”

 

“Don’t be, Holly. It’s not your fault. We were just kids having fun.”

 

“That night I heard your screams and just kept running.”

 

“They would have killed you and Luke, too. At least you escaped.”

 

“So you’re a ghost that forever haunts the tunnel?“ Luke asked.

 

“I am; there are others, too, that were slaughtered by the witches.”

 

“That bandage around your neck. . .”

 

Carla interrupted. “Madam Blackwell beheaded me with a machete and then the heathens dragged me back to the cemetery for their ritual.

 

“Please stop, I can’t bear to hear anymore.” Holly shrieked.

 

“Holly, as my old friend, I beg you to go back.”

 

“I’m not about to wait for the next Harper’s Moon.”

 

“You always were a stubborn girl.”

 

Holly giggled. “I miss you Carla Martinez.”

 

“We will help you when we can, but you must lure the witches into the tunnel.”

 

“You mean the other ghosts want part of the action, too.”

 

“So to speak, but just be careful.”

 

“Remember, Carla, that I became a witch the night I went through the tunnel. So I’ve learned a few tricks of my own.”

 

“Good luck, my friend.” Carla then vanished.  

 

Holly felt relieved that Carla had forgiven her. The terrible guilt that had plagued her for so many years was gone. It gave her the strength to go on.

 

Holly tugged on Luke’s arm and together they turned toward the final stretch. The tunnel ahead was straight and the light of the full moon illuminated their path.

 

“Well Luke, our moment has come.”

 

Outside the tunnel, the witches frolicked. Their pagan chants and haughty laughter sounded like a big party.

 

Holly and Luke listened intently as they exited the tunnel and cautiously walked up a grassy knoll that led to the cemetery. At the crest, they got down on their stomachs and peeped over the rim at the erotic scene before them.

 

Naked witches, some young, some older, danced around a big black cauldron that boiled beneath a raging fire. Next to the kettle was a beastly creature with scaly skin, hairy arms, horns, pointed ears, and a tail with arrow-head tip.

 

“That must be the Devil himself,” Holly whispered.

 

“So repulsive,” said Luke, looking on nervously.   

 

Beyond the pyre’s amber glow, Holly could see the tombstones where the witches were buried centuries ago. To the right was a large table covered with a black linen. On top was a red leather-bound book, several jars filled with potions, a skull, bones, and two chickens in a cage.

 

“We need to steal that red book, likely their spellbook,” Holly said softly.

 

“But how?” Luke asked.

 

Suddenly, before Holly and Luke could utter another word, they were surrounded by three stealthy witches.

 

“Welcome to our little Halloween party,” said a witch with a rat face and beady eyes. It was Abigail Stevens.

 

“Aren’t those witch and warlock costumes just adorable,” said another witch with long finger nails. It was Emma Peabody. She looked inside Holly and Luke’s bags. Her black eyes swelled when she saw a stick of dynamite.

 

“So you planned to blow us up, did you?” said a fat witch with a black scarf wrapped around her neck. It was Agnes White. She knocked Holly’s hat off and confiscated the bags.

 

Holly and Luke returned defiant glances, but never said a word. The witches escorted them back to the cauldron. Along the way, the fat witch dropped the bags on the black-linen table.

 

At the cauldron, Holly and Luke were greeted by a young witch with wavy red hair, and hunched shoulders. Her black eyes glistened. She held a machete in her right hand. Holly instantly recognized her. It was Madam Blackwell. She never aged.

 

“So we have unexpected visitors,” she said, eyeing Holly and Luke carefully. “If you really wanna join the fun, like us, you must first die.”

 

The witches stood around the cauldron, giggling. Satan just looked on. Silent. Holly and Luke could feel his evil vibes.

 

“Tie these intruders to the old willow tree,” Blackwell said. “Instead of chickens I think we’ll have human sacrifices tonight.”

 

Blackwell joined three other witches in ushering their guests to the tree just beyond the headstones.

 

Holly tried to remain calm and focused. Luke, however, put up a fight, but was quickly sedated by a potion splashed on him by the rat-face witch.

 

Just then Satan summoned all the witches to circle the cauldron.

 

“I’ll be back for you,” Blackwell said, wielding her shiny weapon at Holly and Luke.

 

The witches quickly gathered around the Devil who raised his powerful arms high in the air. The gesture spontaneously fueled the flames under the cauldron, igniting an inferno that instantly spread a torrid heat over the cemetery. An air of gloom settled in.

 

Then Satan spoke. His demonic voice commanded everyone’s attention. “Tonight, we join together for this joyous celebration that we may inflict evil and suffering in Fleetwood.”

 

The witches joined hands and began dancing and rejoicing around the Devil and the raging fire. Meanwhile, Holly used her own magic to untie herself from the tree. She quickly set Luke free. He still felt a little drowsy, but was rapidly regaining his strength.

 

“Come Luke,” Holly snapped. “We must grab the spellbook and run, run, run for the tunnel””

 

 Holly gave Luke a firm nudge, and they sprinted for the table. She swept up the spellbook and their bags off the table and bolted for the hill. Luke stumbled at first, but managed to stay right behind his sister.

 

The rat-face witch caught the pair escaping and alerted the others. The witches stopped their pagan prance and began a frantic chase after Holly and Luke.

 

 “Seize them!” shouted the Devil, like a commander ordering his troops. He then pointed his long claw-like finger at the fire, igniting two small fireballs that twirled toward Holly and Luke.

 

 Just as Holly entered the tunnel, one of the fireballs hit her in the leg. The second fire ball nearly missed Luke.

 

 Holly fell down and her dress caught fire. Her brother quickly smothered the fire with his cloak.

    

“Are you okay?,” Luke asked.

 

 “I’ll live.” Holly sustained a cut above her right eye and a strawberry burn under her chin.

 

 Luke helped his sister up. Then picked up the bags that had sprawled during the tumble. He flicked on one of the flashlights. It still worked. 

 

The outraged witches were fast closing in. Led by Blackwell, the crones ranted and raved down the hill.

 

Holly and Luke heard their fantastic shrills and pushed on. The moment the witches broke the tunnel, it filled with terrible screams. Holly and Luke raced around the bend where a thick spectral mist had begun smothering the passageway. In a single breath, Carla and her friends had streaked by.

 

Seconds later, Holly and Luke could hear thunderous noises and deathly screams.

 

“Could that be Carla and company settling some old scores?” Luke puffed.

 

Holy and Luke gazed back into the creamy fog. But they couldn’t see a thing. Not even a shadow or an inkling of what might be happening at the other end of the tunnel.

 

“Let’s keep going!” Holly blasted. “Just a little ways to go!”

 

The rats that Holly and Luke encountered earlier had gather again, only this time they darted as soon as Luke beamed his flashlight on them.

 

Holly and Luke kept running and could hear the echoes of horrible cries. As they left the tunnel, Holly looked over her shoulder again. No witches. And no devil.

 

Outside, Harper’s Moon still shined bright. Holly and Luke could see each other again.  

 

Holly let out her breath in a long sign of relief. “I’m so glad we’re the hell out of there.”

 

Realizing he held the witch’s spellbook in his hand, Luke had the feeling they weren’t out of danger just yet.

 

Suddenly, a loud, insane laughter came from inside the tunnel. A stream of blood then oozed over the lip of the entrance like a tiny waterfall.

 

Holly and Luke stepped up on the creek bank and watched in sheer horror as the red plasma flowed at their feet.

 

Then Holly nearly vomited after what she saw next. One head after another floated out of the tunnel. She recognized the first head. It was Blackwell and her evil eyes were still open. Rat-face followed; then the heads of every witch in the coven. The gruesome heads bobbed as they floated in the blood.

 

Luke couldn’t take it anymore. He pulled the dynamite out. From inside his pocket, he took out his lighter and lit the TNT. He heaved it deep into the tunnel.

 

“Let’s go Holly!” he shouted. “Go now!”   

 

The siblings ran up the embankment and away from the tunnel entrance. A few seconds later, a sonic blast blew the tunnel apart near its center. The shock formed a black and gray cloud. Debris sprayed everywhere.

 

Holly covered her head with her arms. She could still hear the stone crumbling in the distance. The tunnel facade, however, remained intact. Swirling puffs of gray smoke and ash billowed out.

 

 Luke long ago wanted to blow up the tunnel. He jumped in the air. In the midst of his excitement, a stroke of lighting flashed down on the tunnel, igniting a series of spectacular sparks and rays.

 

Holly thought it was the release of the spirits who had been forever trapped in the tunnel.

 

“Carla is finally free,” said Holly, feeling great joy.

 

The evil that had haunted Fleetwood was lifting. The ghastly heads drowned in the pool of blood until they were seen no more.

 

Under the moonlight, Holly and Luke walked slowly away toward the village, leaving behind them much devastation but also closing the door on centuries of evil. They didn’t know it yet, but the witch’s mark had disappeared from their bodies.

 

Back at the house, Holly was pleased to see some candy left in the bowl. She thought perhaps it was a sign that there was still much goodness in Fleetwood and the rest of the world, too.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2019. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, used for fictional purposes.