The temperature had dropped as soon as the sun went down and the children were shivering as they crested Cross Hill. The hill was the unofficial half-way marker between the town of Yance and the deep woods that even the federal government had all but abandoned. As the twenty children reached the top of the hill it was an hour past curfew but each of them knew their parents would ask no questions. Long before people even celebrated Halloween here this ritual had taken place and for those that remained it would keep taking place, generation after generation, after generation. The ritual had changed, yes, but not the heart of it.
There must be sacrifice.
There must be sacrifice or there would be consequences.
Yance was a town people didn’t leave, not because of any curse but because the world outside was too big, too dangerous, and it was close enough with the city of Tusker just twenty miles away. The people of Yance loved that the soil was fertile, the crops were always good, and that there’d never been cancer or serious illness in all of the town’s years. It was though that these things, and more, were thanks to those that came from the woods. Those that had first emerged before the time of the Civil War. Those that had come with the ground mist asking for sacrifice and left with that sacrifice and didn’t return again until the next year. Once, just once, the sacrifice had been denied and that was the year that five children disappeared and were never seen again. After that there was a never a missed year. This year would be no different.
At the top of the hill the children stopped and looked out over the field and saw that the ground was gone, covered in mist, a mist that seemed to come from the woods. There was nothing else to see though. Not yet. The children, ranging from seventeen to five, whispered amongst themselves, unsure what to do next. There came a distant shriek from the woods and with it came the sounds of a tree falling over and immediately the children began dumping all of their Halloween candy onto the scorched rocks that were at the top of the hill. Scattered around the large, flat rock are tattered, rotten sacks, small bones, bottles, and other trinkets that had been left and forgotten over the seasons. The candy went from a pile to a mountain and then that mountain toppled and pieces of Halloween candy fell onto the hard ground. Several of the children knelt to gather the candy and put it back on the stone when the oldest among them hisses – “LOOK”. The children look down the hill towards the woods and see dozens and dozens of dark shapes that are radiate darkness amongst the gloom, as if they are giving drawing the dim moonlight in and devouring it. One of the boys screams and a young girl slaps him. From the group emerges one form that looks almost blurry as it becomes something recognizable and becomes a small white figure walking steadily towards the children on the hill. The children let out screams and drop their candy bags and begin to run until there are only three left, all siblings – Daniel, the oldest of all the children to take the hill, his sister Emma, and their other sister Paula. When Daniel stayed his sisters stayed. The tradition was that one must stay for the sacrifice to be judged and if it was good they would leave, and if it was not then that person would never return. Over the generations the sacrifices changed and as they did so did the ‘lambs’ as those that offered the sacrifices were called. The figure moved slowly and deliberately and as it approached it became clear that whatever was coming for them was wearing a long dirty sheet that was torn and yellowed with age but which had no holes cut into it where the eyes should be. Daniel was shaking and his teeth were chattering, his pirate costume too thin to keep him warm or safe from harm. Emma the angel took Daniel’s hand and Paula the princess took Emma’s hand and the three of them watched as the figured finally made it to the top of the hill. The thick smell of the woods preceded the figure and it was a smell of rotting leaves, black earth, rain, and freshly cut wood. The figure was smaller than Daniel had expected, standing not even five feet tall, and looked very thin from the outline of the sheet, but just being near it made him feel strange, almost sleepy. The figure approached the stone and the three siblings all backed up a little. Daniel looked past the figure in the sheet to the woods where black shapes crowded around the entrance to the woods in what had to be anticipation. The figure bent over the large mound of candy and stood that way for a moment before standing upright again. Daniel could see his breath coming in short puffs now and he and his sisters were all shaking as much from the cold as they were what was happening. Everything in Daniel told him to run but he knew that his sisters would never make it away from the thing from the woods and whatever happened would be on them. The figure rose up from the candy and stood silent and still as the three siblings waited. In the woods there was the sound of another tree falling. Then another. And another. Something shrieked from those shrouded woods. Paula let go of her sister’s hand and stepped forward.
“Do you find our scary fice suff-suff-suff…” Paula looked over at her sister and brother and her eyes filled with tears.
Daniel stepped forward now.
“Do you find this sacrifice sufficient?”
The figure nodded ‘yes’.
“May we take our leave of you and return to our homes with your blessing and the blessing of your kin and kind?”
The figure nodded ‘yes’.
“We bid you good evening and a Merry Hallow’s Eve.”
Daniel grabbed Emma’s hand and Emma grabbed Paul’s hand and the three of them quickly turned and walked as quickly as they could back towards home. When they were finally swallowed by the mist the figure in the sheet let out a dry laugh and waved its arms over its head. From the gloom of the trees dozens upon dozens of shapes appeared and moved silently towards the hill, marching through the mist like a pack on the hunt. As the group neared the hill the silence fell away and laughter and chatter could be heard by the figure on the hill. It was a good haul. A very good haul. The sacrifice was good this year and would taste much better than the red sacrifices that had been offered to them from the first settlers. A sacrifice was a sacrifice but if there was one thing they liked about the stead march of time it was that humans got more squeamish about spilling the red and their sacrifices had gotten much, much sweeter. They had never had a taste for meat but a sacrifice that was offered fairly could not be refused. Ah but this, this was much, much more to their liking and the tribe would be well fed indeed with as many sweets as there were here.
As the other forms made it to the top of the hill they began to gather around the sacrificial stone and shared the sacrifice amongst them and all agreed that yes, the sacrifice was good this year. It was a good year, a very good year, and for the people who lived down below in the town of Yance it would be another good year as well. It was a Merry Hallow’s Eve indeed, for one and for all.