THE RITES OF THE MOON

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Group of five scary figures in hooded cloaks in the dark

CHAPTER 1 

The tires of the sedan hummed against the rough back country roads that lead away from the highway. A choke point somewhere far ahead had brought traffic to a standstill and the occupant of this car, Thomas, grew quickly impatient and found an alternate, side access road that split off and re-joined the highway a few hundred miles ahead. The only downside to this shortcut that could be seen was it ran straight through a thick swamp that had no information available on the GPS, to make it worse there’s almost no reception out here. Thomas kept scanning through channels on his cars radio to try and find any voices to break the silence. His phone had only enough battery to keep the navigation app working so he dared not drain it by connecting his Bluetooth and as always, he had forgotten his charging cable. He was driving north to see his family as it had been now a solid six months since his 25th birthday and he was far too busy back then to make the trip. He was now in hour five of an eight-hour drive and he realised he should have broken it into two days but he always settled into long drives quiet well. Now he was passing through the thick swamps that stretched seemingly out into infinity. The temperature was still high as he was constantly having to take his glasses off and wipe the sweat from his forehead and with each wipe, he caught a solid whiff of stagnant body odour seeping through his plaid shirt. The sun was beginning to set and the thick swamps seemed more and more menacing as the sun fell below the horizon. The trees crept their way right up to the road and in some spots their thick dark green roots breaking through the asfualt on the road as if nature was beginning its war on human civilization right here ever so slowly. He began wondering if anyone lived out here, if there were any strange swamp dwelling people that lived in the clearings, if there were any. When Thomas looked out into the swamp, he could only see maybe ten meters from the tree line, tree coverage so thick that the canopy of leaves blocked out the sun’s rays. The base of the trees and much of the ground was almost all murky brown water, lapping against the slightly raised road like a gentle swell on a beach, the water colour reminded Thomas of rust. The sun was almost fully set now and stars where beginning to light up the sky, the warm comforting glow of the lifegiving sun finally extinguishing in those last moments of afternoon darkness before the world would be graced by the calming glow of the stars and the moon. The radio crackled and hissed and faint voices were slipping in and out of the fuzz as Thomas furiously searched for another human voice, he hated being out here in the silence, he needed something to distract him from the feeling of apprehension that was growing inside him. Places like this freaked him out, so remote from anything without any real sign of human presence, as if he was the last man on earth and the world was simply waiting for him to leave Aswell. Finally, he turned the radio off, he wasn’t having any luck so he probably should stay focused on the road, he hadn’t stopped in a while and he could feel his eyes becoming heavy and he knew out here it would be easy to have a fatal micro sleep, he shuddered at the thought, a split second of lost control becoming fatal. Slowly the road became brighter as the moon was rising behind him, it seemed extra bright now but with no light pollution from the city it made the world seem ethereal and it was hard for him to imagine this brightness as natural. The night was now silent. He had the windows all the way up and the only sound now was the low hum from the engine and sound of the tires on the road. Outside the swamps became impenetrably black and now the shadows cast by his headlights and the moon seemed like menacing tendrils from some deep-sea leviathan reaching out to ensnare and pull him under surging waves. The atmosphere in the car was becoming increasingly tense. His eyes were now fixed ahead in the blackness and his shoulders were slowly tightening up. “To hell with it” he said to no one and he reached into the front pocket of his denim shorts and awkwardly pulled his phone out, 23% Battey remained, he turned on the Bluetooth function on his car radio and swiped his lock screen open on his phone. Looking down and up quickly to keep driving whilst trying to find a song to play. He only slightly caught a glimpse of the brown flash out of the corner of his eye when a sharp thumping noise broke the silence. Thomas struggled with the steering wheel as the car started to slide wildly across the road, he steered right as the car slides to the left and the back quarter panel collided with a low branch from an overhanging tree, spinning the car wildly. Thomas let go of the wheel as the car was now completely out of his control and he braced with one hand on the roof and the other holding the dashboard. The car made two full spins, the headlights flashing over the trees and beaming into the black night and for a second out his half-closed eye, Thomas thought he saw a human figure deep in the swamp. Finally, mercifully, the spinning stopped and the car had spun to a stop in the middle of the road. He sat motionless and was trying to focus his eyes as his glasses had come off of his head during the excitement and his breath was short and fast. Slowly he began to calm down and gain his bearings and take in the surrounding scenery. The car was tilted slightly towards the back left and instantly Thomas thought of a blown tire. He remained in the seat but mentally searched the trunk for a spare tire as it had been months since he really looked back there, he usually rode his pushbike everywhere. He took a deep breath in and unbuckled his seat belt, “that tire won’t change itself” he thought. He shut off the engine and opened the car door and stepped out into the humid summer night. The air was thick and stunk like rotting meat, undoubtably from the swamps that flanked him on each side of the road. He felt so small and exposed out hear by himself but strangely he also felt as if the treeline was closing in on him from both sides, as like a Venus fly trap that had been waiting for him to stop so it could spring its jaws around him. He reached his hands to the sky and stretched, at six feet tall his body had locked up during the drive and it was just his sheer determination to get through the drive that made him power on. Putting his glasses back on the world came into focus, the moon and stars were bright, even for this time of year and the moon had a strange light blue glow to it that bathed the road and made the surrounding trees cast eerie shadows over it. Looking into the blackness of the thick jungle like swamp reminded him of Nietzsche and his talk of abyssal spaces, indeed Thomas felt as if the blackness of those swamps were staring right back into him. He shuddered then made a quick mental note to not look at the swamps again and he turned his attention to the car. A deep gash had been gouged about 10 inches from in front of the back wheel, which was completely shredded and was hanging limply from the hub. He sighed and walked to the trunk when a shape down the road caught his eye. A small circular object was lying about 10 meters from his car and was completely shadowed in the pale blue moonlight, he didn’t remember seeing it when he was driving and his gaze was never really off the road even when he was fumbling with his phone. He walked slowly toward the shape, with each step, new dimensions to the shape made themselves known to him, he began to make out large stick objects, maybe an ear, then the information that Thomas’s eyes were seeing was now fully interpreted in his brain. At his feet lay the head of a large deer, one of its antlers missing, the other one had its ends filed sharp. It appeared to be fresh as there was no sign of decomposition on it and the fur looked quite healthy. Thomas had been a police officer for 3 years before failing a drug test, he was never a model officer but he was never corrupt, he saw his use of narcotics as a way to escape the degradation he was around most days. The skills he acquired in those years allowed him to see the two things that were starting to worry him, the first was that the head was cleanly severed as if done by a tool for a purpose, the second thing was that a little way behind the head he could make out blood droplets that led from where he presumed the head struck his car, then leading toward the side of the road, someone had hurled the head at his car. Thomas turned and briskly walked back to the car and opened the trunk trying to put the thought of a random attacker in the back of his mind, he riffled through the seemingly endless amounts of clothes and random equipment in the trunk and finally found the spare tire kit. Taking the tire iron out, then pulling the spare out of the well in the bottom of the trunk and sliding it over the rim to let it settle on the road leaning against the car, pulling his gaze from the trunk to ahead of the car is when he saw them. Four human shapes, about twenty meters in front of the car now stood in the middle of the road, they seemed to be wearing long cloaks that started in a high pointed hood and finished on the ground obscuring their feet with their hands were folded in front of them. “Are you guys the ones the threw that gross head at my car?” shouted Thomas. The figures just stood in silence. “Hey! I’m talking to you! Or are you guys some sort of inbred bumkins!?” he shouted again, unsure if insulting these obviously disturbed people on a random backwoods’ road in the middle of a swamp was a good choice. Again, the figures just stood silently. “Ok, be weird then, don’t help or anything its fine I’ll go fuck myself.” he shouted as he hurriedly started to unscrew the nuts on the shredded wheel. As he changed the tire he kept looking up at the figures, they didn’t move or make a noise, the air was full of crickets chirping and cicadas, yet nothing came from the direction of the figures. Finally, he got the spare tire on, threw the tire iron in the back seat and climbed back in the car not bothering to put the shredded tire in the trunk. He locked the doors and started the car, “if this where a horror movie, my car won’t start now” he though as the engine of the small sedan rumbled into life, a wave of relief crashing over him as he buckled his seatbelt. The figures ahead of him did not move as he slowly put his foot on the accelerator and let the car creep toward them. He flashed his high beams on them and could now make out the deep red of the robes they wore, their hands hidden as the robes trailed over them, a rope tied around their waists, but more disturbingly their faces hidden behind masks that looked like wood. He beeped the horn and the figures still did not move, the car was now five meters from them and creeping at a snail’s pace, Thomas made sure the doors were locked and the windows tightly wound up. Just as the bumper was about to make contact with the figures they spit and let the car pass between them. Thomas’s car was now flanked by two pairs of these mysterious figures and as he drove past them, he could make out the masks more clearly. The mask was a depiction of a man’s face contorted in agony, and as it had been carved out of wood, it seemed all the more disturbing, the blue moonlight showing every notch in the wood and every colour shift between the fibres. As soon as he was past them, he took the car up to speed and gave a deep sigh of relief. He looked in the rear-view mirror and watched as the figures split apart and walked quickly to the treeline and disappeared. “Who were these freaks” he thought, “were they kids playing a prank? Some weird druggies out for a stroll or am I having acid flash backs again? “. The more distance he put between himself and them the better he felt. Then his driver side window shattered and something pierced his arm, he had no time to make thoughts as he looked down and saw a dart protruding from his arm just above his elbow, then he felt a sharp pain in his head and the world went black.

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