Not your story
You run farther through the woods.
The black trees flash by, the trees that hold so much terror for you as the pads of your feet rip themselves open to the thorns and bones that litter the ground. But your mind is oblivious to the needle sharp pain that would otherwise be incapacitating.
You are only mindful of the mounting dark and fear behind you. The crushing, killing, guttering souls of the damned. You wanted this, but not like this. Not the ripping fear that clings to the back of your throat. You never believed in this stuff.
You were scared, and now they’re here.
You pull up to the white lined parking space.
The cracked pavement of the parking lot leads up to, and abruptly ends at, the edge of the forest. You get out of your car. A nothing much looking, second hand preforming, cat piss smelling hatchback. It’s technically a rental but you think of it as yours, you have some subconscious connection to the small vehicle. You won’t admit it now, but you think the car has some life of its own. Perhaps rubbed off from the years of souls it carried and watched and protected.
The car is not important to the story. It’s only a car, nothing happens after this point involving the car. Nothing.
You took no more than a water bottle with you to the woods, your friend assured you that everything would be taken care of. People can generally be trusted about such things. You didn’t have much to bring anyways.
It was the middle of summer, and coincidentally it was nearing nightfall. You hate clichés. Everyone does, that is why they needed a word for them. So they could all talk about their hate for that thing. However, clichés are not important to this story. You look around at the varying quality of sedans and SUVs scattered around the parking lot. Some still containing the lives that brought them here. Some bleeding light out over the veritable wall of trees that grows black with the creeping night. You hear a male voice call your name. You see your friend. He walks over and says something indistinctly insincere about it being midsummers night or some such cliché equine effluence. Clichés abound. As do alliterations. You hate this time of year.
Several hours of time, and several miles through the forest, bring you to a clearing. Several dozen others also join you and a man sets up the chrysalis-like structure of the summoning fire. The man wraps a gauze-like material around the bundles of dried tree flesh. He then, seemingly at random, sticks small twigs and painted leaves into the weave. He does this for a handful of minutes until it resembles a dog sized pile of wood covered in gauze and pained leaves. He does good work. The man himself is nothing special. Round of chest and middling of years. The age that some people feel the need to go out and buy a red car with more horses then their neighbors. Or perhaps a boat with a built in drink cooler because a crisis has happened right in the middle of their life. Or the middle of the summer even. He is about that age.
He isn’t important to the story. You quickly forget him. Won’t have the chance to remember him anyways.
The sky darkens as the others settle in around you, waiting for the flame to be set atop the masterfully constructed cocoon that is the center piece of the clearing. The dome of the world is thick with stars and absent of human light. You think of how much sense it makes to map the stars, you could get lost in that ever-expanding infinity without a guide. Someone comes around to offer you some food, she calls it ‘rashers’ because she reads more fantasy than is probably good for her. You take the food, it’s not important to the story what kind of food it is, and eat it slowly savoring that iconic flavor it’s country of origin is know so well for.
Everyone is full of food and hungry for things to begin. That’s why they drove all this way, set aside all this time. For this. For now.
At midnight, because what time would be more cliché for a ritual to happen at? A man, not the man who built the sack of wood and leaves, a different man walks up to the pile with a flame. The flame sits on a candle made of red wax. The red in the wax is food dye. The man likes to tell people, and himself, that the red is the blood of a three-legged lamb. A lamb he killed during a full moon on leap day with a knife made of dragon bone and star fire. But it’s food dye. He did make the candle all on his own, though. A for effort and all that.
The pillar of flame reaches for the burning eyes of watchful gods that can be seen above the topmost fingertips of the trees. The chanting begins. It swells with the roar of the flames. The ritual narcotics mixed with the colorful paint on the leaves is burnt. The chanting grows louder, heedless in a headlong race. Tangling with the smoke. The smell of sweat. The warmth of blood. Incense is burned, no, incinerated in the heart of the flame. The scent fills the clearing and shadows dance on the trunks of the trees. The shadows watch on the trucks of the trees and they wait.
You cannot tell who is who and who is you. Many wear masks, dogs and birds and demons from the book. You have no mask so you join those that smear charcoal across their visage. Darkening, mixing with the night. Dead limbs are added to the fire, it searches for a place to hold in the sky. Amongst the blazing holes in the canvas stretched over heads of the tallest trees. The chanting of the dozens seems to grow to the chanting of hundreds, thousands of voices calling in a language unknown to you. Calling out to something unknown to you. Reaching for a crack in the door to your world. Pushing at the door, howling to be let out. Through the fire pour the tortured husks of the spirits you were calling.
You are the first.
Still others are consumed.
You run farther through the woods.
You must find your car. You must leave, flee the woods and flee the damned. Flee the night sky itself. Run until the burlap of this midsummers night gives way and rips open to the gates of dawn. The light will drive away the summoned. It must. You will not make it to the car. How close you get is not important to this story. No one could tell you how close you got, no one could tell you a thing.
Your mind flares. Your eyes burn. Tear stained gaps into your soul, through which the blackness flows. It covers your heart, and fills you mouth. Settles in your stomach and stiffens your legs. You are no more. You are they. You are darkness.
You were scared, and now you’re nothing. You are not important to this story. This story is theirs.