Fiction: Half Moon Manor
By Victoria Contreras
Far out in the countryside, down an endless dirt path winding between heavy firs, proud oaks, and ancient mahogany trees, lived a lonely, terrible old man. Day after day, night after night, he sat in his giant manor, staring at the flickering embers lying amongst the ash of a long dead fire, and hated. Hated the way his neighbors shunned him, hated the way the villagers glared and snarled as he walked past, but most of all, he loathed their children and how they taunted him. Everything, from their innocence and youth to their bitter, mocking laughter as they pelted his beautiful home with rotted fruit and tore apart the carefully tended hedges. It was as if their only purpose was to make every second of his life miserable.
His already cynical heart grew black and withered, the man soon forgetting how to feel anything more than dark, venomous hatred. In a fit of vengeful anger, the man turned towards the cold embrace of the darkness and began to consult an ancient book rumored to have passed through generations of witches burned at the stake. Brittle, yellow pages stained with ink were filled with nigh incomprehensible descriptions that blended in with each other, broken by the occasional bulleted list of spell ingredients and warnings of painful, excruciating deaths if performed incorrectly. The book was filled with incantations for better crop yields, enchantments to ensnare the mind of another, and alchemic equations to turn water to liquid gold, but none of these were what he desired.
Finally, there, among the final pages, was a jagged symbol of a broken moon burned above a complex summoning circle. In faded, flaking blood scrawled over a list of required items, the line read “DO NOT SUMMON HIM,” yet what grabbed the man’s attention was the neat, curled script of “To Achieve Your Desires” above the list. Then, a spark of excitement shone through the cloud of hate for the first time in years.
It took weeks for the man to gather the necessary items and even longer until the moon was at its highest zenith, with her face split so perfectly in two. There, in a tranquil, heavenly clearing deep within the meadow, the man spread the gunpowder and blackened the grass to create his unholy shrine. Black candles sat at six key points along the burned lines, the melting wax bubbling like acid and hissing low and soft. Silver bowls filled with young, viscous blood mirrored against polished ivory bones surrounded a pure chunk of moonstone.
Kneeling in the rotted, wet grass, the man set fire to a bundle of milk thistle and sage and dropped it in one of the bowls. Town records make a note of a peculiar night where the half-moon flared so brightly in the sky that its beams shone through heavy curtains and minuscule cracks in stone walls. The moon burned as bright as its lover until the dawn hours began to creep in, and as the sun rose, the moon’s divine light faded with the terrorized wails of the villagers.
Doors were broken in, furniture torn and destroyed, and expansive trails of blood wove over the cobbled streets and out into the forest. Women fainted in the streets at the sight of severed fingers and feet left behind, and the men-
“Stop! Hit the brakes - it’s right here!” Liam shouted, his arm flying in front of Adrian’s face as he pointed towards a dirt path just off the left side of the road. The brakes screeched against the tires as Adrian jerked the wheel towards the barely visible road, the rest of the passengers yelling out in alarm while Mötley Crüe thrummed violently in the background. The car rumbled quietly as it sat still on the road, situated comfortably over the double yellow line, and Adrian glared over his shoulder at Liam as they all caught their breath.
“You… are so lucky-” Adrian started, his lips curling in the beginnings of a snarl that was quickly cut short as Sienna screamed at them to move. The blinding lights of a truck’s high beams crested over the curve of a hill not too far away, illuminating the terror across everyone’s faces before Adrian slammed his foot down onto the gas pedal. The tires squealed against the tarmac, and Adrian’s tiny car peeled off into the dark forest, leaving behind nothing but a set of black tracks and a cloud of foul-smelling smoke.
“When you said, ‘it’s right here,’ I was expecting the house to, y’know, actually be right here,” Adrian grumbled, wincing as one of the wheels thudded into an unseen pothole hidden among the overgrowth of the gravelly road. There were no signs or hints that there had ever been a person living this deep in the woods, and a sense of unease and nervousness was growing throughout the group as the trees only seemed to get thicker and taller the more they pressed on.
“Nah, trust me, it’s around here somewhere,” Liam said, waving off his friend’s complaints as he peered out the window, his breath fogging the glass.
“Somewhere?! I thought you knew where this place was!” Adrian shouted, twisting his head around to glare at Liam before another rough pothole shook the car and all its passengers. Elenora, who had been quiet the majority of the ride, smacked her brother’s arm, hissing at him to pay attention to the road.
“Dammit, Sienna, kill Liam for me, wouldja? I’m busting my car up for nothing. Again,” Adrian said, turning back around. Liam let out a terrified yelp as Sienna, without a second thought, leaned over and started smacking at her friend’s head. The two tussled in the backseat, shouting out curses and names at each other while Elenora sank further into her seat with a loud groan.
“I can feel myself becoming stupider the more I hang out with you guys,” she lamented, fiddling with the buttons of her cardigan. A soft, flickering light caught her attention outside her window, and, despite the warm breeze blowing from the air vents, Elenora felt a cold, terrible chill crawl up her spine.
Gradually, the road had begun to widen, and the grass and gravel melted into a smooth, cobblestone pathway lined with scattered, overgrown steel lamp posts that encased small, flickering flames between scratched, frosted glass panels. Among the creeping moss patches and scattered leaves, the darker stones of the path were marred with bright tears and deep gouges, while others were unevenly discolored by muddy splotches and puddles that had long since dried up. The few trees that still grew by the broken stone fence were scarred very similarly to the cobblestones, with the bark split to expose the pale interior of the wood spotted black with illness. The moss and vines that shrouded the rest of the tree in vibrant greenery refused to grow where the wood was damaged.
The car came to a slow, tentative stop, as if the vehicle itself was hesitant to get closer to the condemned property. Adrian quietly cut the engine, turning the keys with a barely noticeable tremble in his fingers while his eyes focused solely on the steering wheel, and he refused to look up at the rotting house. If he did, it would make this nightmare real, and Liam would be right that it was more than just an urban legend.
Perhaps back when it was first built, the manor would have been a beautiful sight to behold and an envy to those who could only view it from afar. However, the small parts of the forest that dared to grow further than the stony perimeter had invaded the many open panels and holes in the structure. Some of the vegetation had even broken through on its own, ruining the airbrushed tags and poorly drawn graffiti that other visitors had left behind. With the passing of the seasons, the vines had begun to die, and the sickly brown color of the vegetation made it look as if decay was spreading over the gray wooden sidings and leaching into the very building. A small awning covered the doorway, held up by a single pillar as its sister lay broken in the bushes, with bleached white stones scattered about the entrance next to dented beer cans and shattered bottles. It looked recently broken, with the vandal’s signature spray painted in a searingly bright orange along the length of the pillar.
“So… who’s ready to go in?” Liam asked enthusiastically. Adrian and Elenora turned to look at him with wide, disbelieving eyes that soon shifted to stare at Sienna, who nodded with just as wide of a smile.
“I am! I didn’t come all this way out here just to get put off by some plants. I came to get scared by some creepy ghosts and ghouls,” she declared as she exited the car with Liam, who laughed with glee. The car shook when the two slammed their doors shut while Elenora watched as they both strutted around the front and made their way through the wild, broken garden. The two siblings sat in silence for a few moments longer before Adrian let out a forceful, angry groan as he ran his hands through his fluffy, black hair.
“Assholes are gonna do something stupid, and then I’ll have to listen to them complain and cry about it all the way home,” he sighed irritably, stuffing the keys in the pocket of his leather jacket before he turned his glare on his sister. “Are you coming with us?”
Elenora sat quietly, glancing out at the dark, jagged outlines of the trees that were illuminated only by the flickering firelight in the lamp posts, weighing her options. Taking in a deep breath to steady her racing heart, she turned back to her brother and nodded softly before exiting the car to face the looming mansion.
Somehow, the manor was even creepier without the windshield between her and the decayed building. Dead leaves scratched at the cobblestone path as the weak wind stirred them alive, and Elenora could hear the house moan and whistle in the breeze. Her lips trembled as she inhaled the cold air, trying to steady her hammering heart, but it did little to comfort her, only forcing the icy fingers of fear to grow tighter and squeeze at her lungs.
“Nora!” Adrian’s insistent voice snapped Elenora out of her thoughts, and she hurried to catch up with him as Liam and Sienna began to ascend the splintered stairs. The once elegantly crafted and expertly painted steps were now husks of what they once were, and Elenora swore she saw a rat’s tail disappear into one of the holes just before Sienna’s boot covered it up.
Elenora set a tentative foot on the lowest step, leaning forward a bit before retreating as the wood groaned under her weight. She knew her brother was waiting behind her, impatient as he was with his dirty sneaker tapping against the ground, and forced herself to climb. She told them she could handle it, that some supposedly cursed or haunted house far away from the nearest light of civilization wouldn’t scare her, that she wouldn’t need any babysitting. She’s fifteen now, for God’s sake! However, now that she was standing face to face with the looming, dreary Half Moon Manor, Elenora was really starting to regret her decision.
Pausing on the last step, Elenora gave Liam and Sienna a curious look. The two were stopped on the doormat, standing almost stock still, staring at the rotted door. Peering over Sienna’s shoulder, Elenora let out a soft gasp at what she saw.
“Why the hell are you guys just- whoa,” Adrian grumbled, thumping up the stairs behind his sister before he, too, saw what they were all staring at. A brass doorknob, set into bleached wood, was littered with scratches, and the handle was completely dented and chipped while the keyhole looked as if it had been torn open, rendering it completely useless. Deep gashes and claw marks covered the door from top to bottom, and a large hole had been ripped away at its base with teeth marks gnawed along the perimeter. Bright, ivory scars on the gray porch under what was left of the door faded into the darkness of the house, looking uncannily like something was dragged inside. Elenora’s eyes drifted to the hinges of the marred door frame and felt her breath catch in her throat as she realized that one of the large patches of missing wood from the door was still attached to the back of a bronze lion holding what may have been a knocker in its maw. The lion had been torn directly from the door, claw marks and scratches sullying the carefully groomed mane while the ring was nearly entirely missing.
Liam was the first one to break the silence, a grin splitting his face as he laughed, absolutely giddy with excitement. In the light of the waning moon, illuminating his already pale skin, he looked sickly as the shadows seemed to stretch and contort his face into something unnatural. His face turned away from the wounds of the door, his wide, dark eyes roving over each of his friends as he pressed his bony hand against the wood and pushed.
The group collectively backpedaled as the hinges screeched with a terrible, echoing whine that sent a large flock of magpies careening into the night sky, letting out wails and screams of their own. Elenora’s hands clutched the sleeve of Sienna’s varsity jacket as they all watched the birds spiral above them. Liam paid little attention to them as he peered into the house, his smile returning in full force. Fishing a small flashlight out of the pocket of his windbreaker, he flicked it on before taking a confident step into the house.
“Are you still good to go in? You don’t have to if you’re getting too scared,” Sienna asked Elenora gently, patting the younger girl’s hands soothingly while Adrian moved past them with a flashlight of his own. Elenora considered backing out for just a moment, thinking fondly of the safety and comfort of her brother’s car, but the hidden, mocking tone of the older girl didn’t escape her for one second. Firmly, Elenora shook her head and let go of Sienna.
“No, I’m fine. I was just startled, and so were you! I saw the look on your face - you were scared, too,” Elenora said defensively, glaring up at the taller girl as she rolled her eyes and strutted inside the building, waving the accusations off.
“You haven’t even stepped foot in the house, and you’re already seeing things. At this point, you might see the ghosts of the entire town this guy killed!” Sienna called over her shoulder, pausing in the center of the foyer to feign a panicked yell. She pointed a trembling finger up at a large, empty picture frame set upon a narrow piece of wall between two curving staircases that disappeared upwards in opposite directions.
“Uhh, uhh, it’s him! It’s him! It’s the Wolf Lord of Half Moon Manor. He’s real! He’s real, and he’s gonna kill us all, ahhh!!” Sienna screamed, dramatically buckling her knees and crumpling into a shaking heap onto a moth-eaten rug as Elenora stomped up behind her. Her whimpers soon turned into playful laughter as she straightened up, dusting her dark jeans free of dirt. Elenora’s face was burning in embarrassment as she lightly shoved Sienna, causing the girl to stumble away dramatically towards another decayed piece of furniture, still laughing.
“Listen, it’s literally just some story Liam found on the internet during one of his history classes. An urban legend made up by parents to keep their kids from skipping out on their chores to go make out or smoke in the woods, y’know? It’s not real. None of it is, so don’t let it get to you!” Sienna said, flopping back against the torn couch. A cloud of dust shot into the air around her, causing the girl to cough violently and fan away the haze to save her lungs.
Elenora scoffed at her and turned on her heel, pushing through one of the other rotted doors to follow the jerking light she saw flashing through the cracks in the wood. As she looked around the hall, the unease set in as she saw more jagged claw marks littering the floor and lower walls. Discolored spots on the wallpaper hinted at the ghosts of photographs and paintings that used to hang there, yet Elenora could only find pieces of shredded paper and broken frames scattered over the floor next to cobwebs and shriveled leaves.
The room at the end of the hallway seemed to have once been an office of some kind, yet it was in the same state as the rest of the house. Bare, towering bookshelves were rotted and broken through by thick, withered vines, while a desk had been completely overturned in the corner and the contents thrown about the room. There was a dark stain on the carpet by an empty ink pot, but Elenora wasn’t sure if it was ink that had been spilled.
Liam was poking around with the leg of a broken chair by a large, gaping hole in the far end of the room. Vegetation of all kinds seemed to have grown over the split wood, with more claw and teeth marks scratched into the wall and torn through the carpet. Elenora could even see an expertly built bird's nest resting up in the corner of the room.
“Hey, uh, Liam? Did-did your story say anything about what hah-happened to the old man? Af-after the ritual, I mean,” Elenora said uneasily, taking a hesitant step towards the wall by the entrance, trailing her finger over another gouge in the wallpaper. With a quick gasp, she jerked her finger away as she felt something prick her and frowned as a dark spot of blood welled up to her skin’s surface.
“Whoa, be careful! Don’t let your blood touch anything in here,” Liam warned, picking his way over towards her and pulling a handkerchief out of one of the inside pockets of his jacket. Carefully, he dabbed away the blood for her as he continued, barely containing his smirk. “The Wolf Lord’s curse still lingers over his manor, waiting for young, unlucky souls like you to make one tiny, tiny mistake and give him control to continue enacting his vengeance on the town!”
Elenora stared at the cleaned, minuscule pit on her finger, and she began to lose focus as images started flashing in her mind while Liam tucked away the soiled handkerchief, his voice now sounding muffled in the fog. She hadn’t pulled her hand away in time, the wood absorbing her blood too fast for her to notice. Under her touch, the walls pulsed, swelling with bright, blinding light as the house began to tremble and split apart, muddy smoke pouring from the gouges in the wall. She falls to the floor, her knees resting among the withered roots and dead flowers, with her bleeding hand locked above her head. Liam screamed behind her, the sound bursting from his chest and shredding through his vocal cords, yet the throbbing of the walls and shrieking of the house drowned him out. Scorching moonlight cut through the red smog, and Elenora couldn’t utter a sound as a pale, white hand began to form from the smoke clenched around her wrist. Cracked chains lain over transparent silk and velvet snaked up and over his body, the rattling of the bleeding metal drowning out all else. Two crescent horns curved from his temples, tearing through the cloth that obscured his face and dragged upon the heaving floor. The links of the chains screeched against each other as he lifted his other hand up to her face, horrible, dripping black talons reaching for her mouth, suffocating her with the stench of the chains, and she sobbed as he-
“Hey, you spacin’ out on me? I thought you wanted to hear what happened to the old man!” Liam said with a chuckle, waving a hand in front of her face. Elenora jolted from her thoughts, returning to reality fast enough to make her head spin, and quickly moved away from the wall, clutching her finger tightly in her hand to protect it from the wood. Liam gave her an odd look before he shrugged, tossing the chair’s leg away from him towards the desk. It landed silently in one of the bushes, sinking into the leaves until it disappeared with a muted shudder.
“So, anyway, I can’t get any service out here, so I won’t be able to… enthrall you with all the flowery details and descriptions, but whatever. The gist of it was whatever deity he summoned cursed him with a weird, abnormal case of lycanthropy,” Liam explained, turning away from her to shine his phone’s light onto the various objects in the room. Elenora blinked back against the harsh glare as the light reflected off of more broken beer bottles, almost missing the book that Liam was pointing at. Many of the pages had been torn out and lost, with small paper shreds littered around it, but there was a clear depiction of a wolfman staring up at her from the floor.
“As everyone knows, werewolves transform on the full moon of every month, driven by the animalistic need to wreak havoc on anything living in the surrounding area, with most of their victims being unsuspecting villagers watching over their sheep or something.” Elenora could hardly focus as she stared at the shadows that seemed to warp and grow as soon as Liam turned his light away from them.
“I did more digging around after I read the story, and some other local interpretations of it were that the old man had actually summoned some kind of weird, humanized version of a monkey’s paw, which was why the guy was cursed instead of being given exactly what he wanted,” Liam rambled, stepping away from Elenora to peer into the contents of a bookshelf that was still mostly intact. From her spot by the doorway, she could see him shine a light over a series of history and mythology books, but he moved too fast for her to see the full titles. “Guess he musta been researching how to get back at this thing, huh? Anyway, the entity gave him the ability to take vengeance on the town like he wanted, which, through the power of cliches, was to turn him into a terrifying, powerful werewolf. But, sticking to its genie theme, the thing made it so that it was every half moon the man changed, so it was twice every month that he underwent this transformation, and let me tell you, the original legend went into some gory, disgusting detail over how painful it was every time he changed.”
Elenora felt like she was about to vomit, her eyes trailing over to the broken furniture and scores of claw marks that were present all over the manor. She was told that it was ghosts they were going to be trying to find, not demon werewolves!She was rational and logical, and she rarely let her emotions take the reins and blind her, but what could have been brushed off as simple coincidences were soon turning into stone-cold evidence that this local urban legend was dangerously, horrifyingly real.
Liam was still rambling on about the legend, but his voice sounded like a dull roar in her ears as she struggled to breathe and her thoughts raced. ‘Maybe Adrian was right, maybe I’m still too much of a baby to be doing things like this. I should have just stayed home, I should have just-’Both of them froze as they heard a deep, guttural noise in the direction of the dead overgrowth. The broken wood panels seemed to groan as the noise grew louder, buzzing low in Elenora’s ears and shaking her to her core. The shadows shook and crumpled under the parting of plants, moonlight briefly glinting off something dark and smooth as the buzzing pitched high into a wet groaning.
Liam let out a harsh curse as one of the planks suddenly snapped with a horrible, grating noise, flinging itself outwards to the thick trees and landing with a heavy thud in the grass. Another one soon followed. Then another. The groaning filled the room until it became closer to a wail, like it was choking on bubbling liquid trapped in its throat. Elenora couldn’t tell if the pain in her chest was from the vibrating in her sternum or the lack of air in her lungs, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it as Liam grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the room.
Elenora stumbled along behind him, letting Liam drag her by the threads of her cardigan as he raved with a tremble in his voice about the legend being true and how he was going to rub this in everyone’s face. His victory was cut short as he let out a startled shout, and Elenora felt him yank harshly on her sleeve as something caught his foot. The force brought her down with him, landing on his arm with a muffled grunt. Liam let out an anguished yell, his arm jerking underneath her as he began screaming. It was barely audible under his wailing, but Elenora could hear the flapping of something above them. The fluttering stopped as Liam quieted down into soft whimpers, clutching at his shoulder and rolling around on the rotted floor. Elenora reached over to paw at his general shape in the dark, trying to figure out what happened, but she jerked away as she heard a shrill wail followed by a booming noise above them. Soon they were both covered in old paint chips, thick wooden splinters, and suffocating dust. Sputtering, Elenora patted frantically at her arms and legs to rid herself of the debris, pushing herself to stand as she gagged at the smell. She heard another crack, and she felt Liam seize her ankle.
“SOMETHING’S ON ME!!!” Liam screamed, using Elenora as a support to pull himself off of the floor. He shoved her aside, swatting himself all over with one arm as he took off down the hall, still hollering in terror. Elenora gasped as she slumped against the wall, still hacking on the dust and vaporized paint. Her hand sank into the wallpaper, and she jerked away in disgust as something wet and sticky clung to her skin. Stumbling after Liam, she felt her vision swim as a heavy fog descended onto her mind. It was hard to think clearly, and all she could do was feel the ache in her chest spread throughout her body. The weird slime dripped from her hand, her mouth drying up to leave her throat raw as she tried to stay upright.
Elenora felt as if she’d been shot with a bullet made of pure ice. An electrifying chill pierced through the fog in her mind straight to the back of her head, traveling down her spine and settling heavy and dreadful in her gut. She could feel the bones in her neck creak as she turned to face the darkness, her vision swimming and making it seem as if the hallway was compressing in on itself, dragging the broken office door to meet her with terrifying speed. The wailing had stopped, and the eerie silence filled the air and made Elenora feel like she was breathing in honey.
Elenora wasn’t sure what she was seeing, but she knew from the cold clarity in her mind that it was real this time, that she wasn’t just imagining it out of terror or because she had passed out. She was wide awake and was watching as a large, maned wolf stepped through the door, its body phasing through what was left of the solid wood. From its neck, she could see the wolf’s severed throat hanging out, shredded muscle and flesh swinging like cut threads as it swung its head from side to side.
Elenora felt all the air leave her lungs and her heart stop beating when the wolf stopped, fixing her with its sickly white eyes that shone like beacons in the darkness. It peeled its lips back and opened a mouth that was full of too many teeth, and Elenora let out a scream as it let out a wail that sounded like it was coming from inside her own head. Her neck snapped backward from the pain, her hands slapping over her ears despite the slime, and she begged it to stop.
Underneath the shrieking in her head, she could just barely make out a thick, bubbling sound, like someone was trying to speak through a throatful of molasses. “You must be punished. Not even He could have foreseen the misery you brought to this land and its descendants. You must be punished!” the voice snarled, and Elenora sobbed from the harsh feeling of pure rage and hatred that washed over her.
The hallway trembled as the wolf took a step towards her, then another, and another and then one more until Elenora couldn’t even see straight from how hard the hallway was shaking from the force of the wolf charging towards her. The blinding white of its eyes filled her vision, and a tiny voice in the back of her mind commented through the screaming that the eyes looked like two moons.
“YOU MUST BE PUNISHED! YOU WILL NEVER KNOW PEACE! YOU MUST BE PUNISHED! YOU WILL BE TRAPPED HERE UNTIL THE SUN DIES AND TAKES EVERYTHING WITH IT! YOU MUST BE PUNISHED!” More and more voices chanted in her head, overlapping each other until everything melted together and all Elenora could feel was the bitter malice emanating from the ghost bearing down on her.
Abruptly, the wailing and chanting stopped, and the vibrations of the hallway ceased, taking with it the oppressive feeling in her lungs and ice still clinging to her spine. Elenora looked around, her terror slowly ebbing away as it was replaced by waves of confusion. The wolf was nowhere to be seen, having left no physical signs that it had ever been real aside from a small, fading cloud of mist floating down towards the floor in front of her. Elenora slowly pulled her hands away from her still ringing ears, stiffly patting herself down to make sure that she was still in one piece. Leaning forward and away from the wall, she ran her hand over the old wallpaper and noted that the material was freezing to the touch despite the fact she had just been leaning on it.
“It’s- I’m- no, it was real, I know it was, but- I’m okay?” Elenora whispered, bracing herself against the wall as she pushed herself to stand. Her legs shook briefly under her weight, and she stood there, completely dumbfounded, staring at the cold spot. It didn’t hurt her. It clearly wanted to, but it barely ruffled her hair.
A bright feeling of clarity washed over her, and she felt the remaining fear evaporate from her body. A soft smile spread over Elenora’s face for the first time all night as she pushed off the wall, confidently taking off down the hall to find the rest of her group.
The foyer looked even dirtier than when she had first left it: the furniture was torn even further apart, the stuffing and insides of Sienna’s couch scattered all over the room, and splintered pieces of railing from the staircases were embedded in the walls and floorboards. Liam was set up against the far wall next to the ruined couch, his flushed face stained with dry tears while Adrian and Sienna argued over what to do about his arm. Elenora paused as she took in the scene, the implications of what happened dampening her mood and slowing her steps. The wood underneath her foot creaked, and three sets of terrified eyes stopped Elenora in her tracks.
“Oh, thank God you’re okay! When Liam came out of the hall without you, I thought you’d been-” Adrian cried, disengaging from Sienna to run up and seize Elenora in a crushing bear hug, squeezing the air out of her lungs. She let out an uncomfortable wheeze, her nose stinging with the strong smell of rotted wood and dust that clung to Adrian’s jacket, but let her brother inspect her for injuries anyway. Once he was satisfied, he clapped her on the bicep before turning towards Liam and Sienna.
“Liam, get on your feet. We’re leaving now,” Adrian ordered, his hand tightening on his sister’s arm to pull her towards the main door of the house. Sienna helped Liam to his feet, and Elenora felt uncomfortable seeing how subdued he looked, as only moments ago, he had been jumping off the walls in excitement over the legend being true.
Elenora pulled her arm free of Adrian’s grip, stumbling away from the momentum. He turned to snap at her, but instead let out a startled shout as the house came alive around them. The floor violently separated with a deafening shriek, the wood boards shooting back towards each other and breaking upwards before pulling apart again, splattering the walls with black gunk as it spewed out splinters and unearthed bones. The walls pulsed towards the four teenagers, with the wallpaper peeling off in long strips, and Elenora gagged as she was hit with the scent of infected flesh.
She barely registered it as she was pulled from the house as the foyer shrank in on itself, still screaming and shaking, but the weight on her back and twisted into her cardigan was grounding, keeping her from disassociating once again. Pain briefly shot through her leg as her foot connected with the hard ground of the broken stone path, and she didn’t stop moving until she was settled behind her brother’s car. The weight on her back finally disappeared as Sienna stepped away from her, panting heavily as looking out towards the house with a scared expression on her face.
“Screw this, and screw you for dragging us into this!” Adrian spat in between breaths, glaring at Liam, who looked at Adrian with a bewildered expression.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t plan for this! I just thought this would be a cool thing to do for the season. How was I supposed to know the warnings were legit?” Liam shot back. “I got my arm dislocated over this crap. You think I wanted this to happen?”
“There were warnings, and you didn’t even say anything?!” Adrian yelled, marching right up to Liam and making a move to grab him. Sienna stepped in front of Adrian and shoved him back, standing defensively.
“Would you get a grip? We almost died, and you’re deciding now is the best time to start blaming each other for- for what? For a house coming alive?!” Sienna shouted at Adrian, running her hands through her curly hair with a tired, frazzled look. “Whatever, we just need to get the hell out of here. Adrian, give me your keys. I’m-”
“No! No, wait, we can’t leave yet!” Elenora gasped. Immediately, all eyes were on her, and she swallowed thickly around the lump in her throat. They won’t like it, but it needs to be done.
“We should- no, we need to find the place where Liam's Wolf Lord performed the ritual and figure out a way to interrupt it or destroy it or- or whatever!” Elenora said. Adrian and Sienna opened their mouths to argue, but Elenora held up her hands to stop them. “The thing that ran Liam and me out of the office was a ghost or something, and it told me-”
“It talked to you? And you talked back?!” Adrian cried.
“No! The details don’t matter. The point is that whatever this man did, it pissed off the deity he bargained with, and now he’s… he’s trapped in the Manor forever!” Elenora snapped, glaring at her brother for interrupting her.
“And you want to go find the book and shrine to let him go? Are you insane?!” Liam interjected, wincing as he hauled himself up into a standing position. “I told you how bloodthirsty this dude is! I don’t think he’ll be on his hands and knees thanking us for freeing him from something that he caused!”
“I’m not trying to free him because I feel bad for him. I’m trying to prevent more people from getting hurt like you did! Like how we almost did!” Elenora said, pointing at Liam’s dislocated arm before gesturing back at the Manor. It was eerily quiet - the air around it stilled in anticipation.
“For the record, it was actually you who dislocated my arm-” Liam started, but quickly shut his mouth at the glare he got from both Adrian and Elenora. She sighed, exasperated, and pointed at the building once again.
“You all know we aren’t going to be the last ones who ever come here. We weren’t even the first! You all saw the garbage and graffiti,” Elenora said, her voice pleading. “If we can find where he first did the ritual, we can do something to settle the restless ghosts in that house and protect anyone else who decides to come here.”
Liam and Sienna shared an unsure look, and Adrian turned away, glaring at the ground. Elenora felt a flash of hot anger behind her eyes, bringing with it the urge to stomp her foot and beg even more for them to see it her way. Her hands curled into fists, biting her tongue to try and suppress the slow onset of frustrated tears.
The force of the front door slamming against the side of the Manor sounded like an explosive clap of thunder, causing everyone’s heads to snap towards the rotted building. A large hand covered in mangy, gray fur curled around the door frame, the wood splintering under black claws as white eyes stared at the group from the darkness of the house. A scarred muzzle slowly emerged from the inky blackness; its lips curled upwards to reveal rotted tissue and cracked teeth. The moonlight seemed undecided, partially illuminating the beast’s snout while the stronger beams of light passed right through.
“Run!” Sienna screamed, grabbing Liam by the arm and pulling him with her as the group took off into the forest. A deafening howl echoed through the trees, and Elenora felt the ground tremble underneath her feet as the creature followed after them, but she didn’t care to check behind her to make sure. She was too focused on jumping over gnarled tree roots and weaving between thick trunks to spare a moment to look back.
In the brief patches of moonlight that cut through the breaks in the canopy, Elenora could barely see the back of her brother’s head as he led her deeper into the wood. She could hear Liam gasping for breath and Sienna urging him to keep moving, but Elenora wasn’t sure if the two were on her right side or even close to her at all. A stitch formed in her side, shooting stabbing pain through her body every time she tried to breathe, but she did her best to ignore it and search for any signs of the clearing Liam had described.
A resounding crash behind her nearly made her miss it, but out of the corner of her eye, Elenora caught a flash of vibrant orange. Changing directions toward it, she heard Adrian shout out in concern as he saw her turn away from him. A spark of excitement cut through the stark terror she felt as she saw an orange arrow spraypainted across the trunk of a fir tree, pointing in the direction they were running in. Underneath the arrow was a crudely drawn crescent moon that had been scratched into the wood, and Elenora almost let out a cry of joy. They were on the right path! They could do this, they could - Her excited thoughts were interrupted as she was tackled to the ground, and Elenora was plunged into darkness as a massive shadow obscured the light shining down onto the marked tree. Something warm and wet splattered on her upturned face, and she could just barely make out the sound of Adrian screaming at her to move as the Wolf Lord shrieked above her. Elenora felt hands underneath her arms, and she was off running again as the liquid dripped down her face.
“Follow- follow the arrow-” Elenora gasped, gagging when the smell of copper hit her nose. Wiping a hand over her nose and mouth, she saw her fingers stained with black blood as she passed through the small breaks in the leaves.
Elenora could barely think as her and Adrian continued to run through the trees, her lungs straining to take in any air and every muscle in her body screaming at her to stop. It felt like an eternity had passed by the time Adrian began to slow down, breathing just as hard as she was. Elenora sagged in her brother’s arms when they came to a full stop, coughing forcefully as she tried to breathe.
“What the fuck is that.” Adrian whispered. Elenora used every bit of strength she had left to lift her head up to see what he was looking at. The moment her brain could process what she was seeing, she felt all the warmth and feelings in her body evaporate, leaving only paralyzing terror and awe.
It was exactly as Liam had described it, but age had changed and mutilated the surrounding area so that the clearing was no longer as beautiful as it may have once been. The lines that were burned into the ground have spread out like black varicose veins, and the grass refused to grow near the infected soil, which left the surrounding area as barren as a desert. The black candles had long since melted into lumpy handfuls of wax, but the flames still burned brilliant and strong, no longer connected to any source. The bones and bowls were missing, leaving all but the moonstone in the center of the circle that shone powerfully in the moonlight. Elenora thought she saw something press up against the inside of the gemstone, but when she blinked, it was gone.
“What are we- there’s no book, how-?” Adrian sputtered, shifting anxiously on his feet. Elenora slowly slid out of his grip and took a step towards the shrine. The light of the moonstone glowed even brighter, and the flames shuddered and burned higher in the air as a pale mist swirled around the darkened ground. At the points of the circle where the candles originally stood, the mist seemed to curve upwards towards the moon.
Elenora jolted as Adrian grabbed her wrist and pulled her back, and the two watched as the flames flickered back to normal and the mist disappeared. Distantly, they could hear screaming.
“Adrian, what are you-?”
“I don’t think you should get any closer.” Adrian said, his eyes locked on the moonstone. Elenora felt her irritation fizzle at the seriousness in her brother’s voice, and she nodded. Adrian let go of her hand, and Elenora took a moment to pace at the edge of the clearing. Her eyes kept drifting back to the moonstone, still shining as bright as a beacon, and she felt like someone else was there with them.
The two whipped their heads around at the sound of something large thundering up behind them and let out a scream as the Wolf Lord came barreling through the trees. The beast’s face was covered in blood, and one of his eyes was rolling in his head as he scrambled around the clearing, hollering and shrieking. Elenora felt her gut heave at the sight of the broken end of a branch sticking out of the socket of his other eye and his cheek torn apart as if he had tried to get it out himself but in his frenzy, did nothing but make it worse.
Adrian took a step backward as the Wolf Lord writhed on the forest floor, still screeching in pain and oblivious to the two teenagers watching him. Elenora glanced over at the moonstone, now shining with the intensity of a small star, and an idea formed in her mind’s eye. She shared a look with Adrian, and he met her steady gaze with wide, terrified eyes, and he frantically shook his head.
Elenora watched her step as she moved around the edge of the clearing, keeping her distance between herself and the Wolf Lord. His gnarled hands covered his face as he made noises that sounded uncomfortably close to sobbing, but Elenora kept her focus as she stepped fully into the clearing. On cue, the flames burst into tall, wavering columns of fire and the mist flooded the clearing, wrapping around Elenora’s ankles and twisting over the Wolf Lord. He was no longer crying, his head waving in the air like a snake’s as his nose twitched violently. Adrian looked as if he were about to have a heart attack as Elenora inched closer to the shrine.
The moment her foot touched the edge of the circle, the Wolf Lord’s head snapped over to where she stood, and he let out a piercing screech that turned the flames into powerful, blistering arches of light. Elenora felt frozen to the spot as she stared at the Wolf Lord dragging himself over, his one good eye staring right through her as his other continued to gush and leak onto the ground.
A rock came sailing through the air from the darkness of the trees, connecting with the lower half of the Wolf Lord’s jaw and breaking his focus on Elenora. He let out a blood-curdling scream as he pushed himself away from her, his head swinging around to try and locate the source of the assailant. Another rock whizzed past his nose before a third found its mark on his shoulder, confusing the beast and sending it into a panic.
“Try running away somewhere that isn’t a damn spotlight, you stupid old dog!” Sienna spat, emerging from between the trees with another jagged stone in hand. Adrian was nowhere to be found, but Elenora wasn’t worried as she stepped fully into the circle while the Wolf Lord turned in the direction of Sienna’s voice. She continued to pelt the beast with anything she could grab, but as she ran out of ammo, the Wolf Lord was pushing himself to his feet, ready to launch himself at her.
Elenora took the distraction as a chance to grab the moonstone, flinching back as the gem shone even brighter than she even thought possible. Voices filled her head, and she could feel the flames around her burn even hotter as she tried to find her way out of the circle. Squinting against the light, Elenora took a steadying breath before letting out a powerful yell and charging at the Wolf Lord. By the time he turned to face her, it was too late. In one swift movement, Elenora brought the moonstone down directly onto his head. Upon contact, there was a sickening crunch, and the moonstone shattered in her hands, sending everything into darkness.
Elenora didn’t know how long it took for her eyes to adjust, but by the time she was able to see the outlines of her own hands, she knew it was over. The Wolf Lord’s body was nowhere to be found, but there was an outline reminiscent of his head among the shards of moonstone lying at her feet. The flames had disappeared entirely, and the mist settled lazily on the ground.
Hands connected with her biceps, and Elenora let out a startled scream before she was flipped around, now staring at an ashen-faced Sienna. Her phone’s flashlight illuminated her face, and she didn’t need to say anything for Elenora to nod in agreement. Wrapping their arms around the other, they hurried out of the clearing while keeping a wide berth around the gem shards.
Elenora knew that once she was back home, she was going to do her best to forget the feeling of the man’s head caving in underneath her hands, or the sound his skull made as it broke. Perhaps it would be best if she forgot everything that happened tonight.
Victoria Contreras is a college student who has been writing creatively her entire life. Inspired and motivated by great authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King, she's ready to step into the world of publication and let her work be known.