Eldridge Home for Boys and Girls closed going on ten years now. It was seated in a now-defunct area that is part of the place that some refer to as Helltown. It was torn down, and the land was reclaimed by the National Park, and the only thing that shows it ever existed is a tiny shed, now claimed by termites, in an overgrown field. I lived in an orphanage on and off until I was 18, and I moved away, never wanting to look back at my days at Eldridge.
I’m 25 now, I just finished my entrance into the ministry. I’m a man of God now, working under pastor Joe Dyser at a little Baptist Church in Jacksonville.
It is said that we all are on our path in life. Perhaps that is truer for some than others. My journey began the day my dark benefactor came to town. I know what this sounds like to those of you out there living in a practical world. In that world, there’s no room for the spiritual or the belief in the afterlife. I can assure you that until you see it for yourself, you will never truly understand it.
It was one of those typical Ohio afternoons in December. It hadn’t snowed enough to cover the entire ground, and what wasn’t snowed on was a muddy mess.
It wasn’t my first stint as a foster kid, most of the time, the people meant well, but being a teenager, I got in the way. My parents were dead both being drug addicts and having no known family to take me in- here I was. It was nearing the holidays again, and shortly after Thanksgiving, the decision was made. I would be going back to Eldridge-Merry friggin Christmas to me!
I sat in my latest foster father’s car, staring out the window at the orphanage that had recently been restored. The siding that used to fall off in huge pieces whenever the wind blew had been replaced with brick that was painted white.
I wasn’t taken back to the orphanage because I was an awkward kid, it was because the Masterton family had decided not to keep me around now that they had a newborn of their own on the way.
They were kind enough people, don’t get me wrong, but they were well off and decided to take me in the previous Christmas. They had been volunteers at a local charity event to raise money for Eldridge. After seeing others that had not only given tons of money but were also foster, parents decided to find a child to nurture as well to look good in front of their wealthy friends. I was that child, and after one year to the date of living with Mr. and Mrs. Masterton, I was being given back. Mr. and Mrs. Masterton wanted to concentrate on their unborn child fully. That meant the room I was sleeping in had to be vacated and would soon become a nursery.
I wasn’t angry at them, they had treated me very nicely, but they weren’t a “good fit” for me as I was told by the caseworker the day she came to break the news. They tried to make it seem like it was nothing I had done, but I had. I was too old, and they wanted a baby of their own. I suppose I should be angry, but I had been in enough foster homes to know that sometimes you have to take what you can get.
I had lived with a family that had eight other foster children, and sometimes there wasn’t enough food to go around. It was determined that we all weren’t being adequately taken care of, so the state moved me to Eldridge. Shortly afterward, I was taken in by an elderly couple who were kind and well-meaning, but the husband suffered from dementia, and one afternoon while I was at school, the man fell down the stairs and died. The sick wife was never the same, and once again, I went back to Eldridge Home for Boys and Girls.
That first night back in the children’s home after Mr. and Mrs. Masterton had taken me back was a bit unnerving. Everything seemed cold and damp. The halls echoed, and I recall the old night janitor would mop the floor well into the night. I would sometimes see Nick in the hallway, just wandering around if I had to get up to use the restroom. I seemed to be the only one that was bothered by it because I was a light sleeper. I’d wake up and find it hard to get back to sleep unless I had headphones on my ears. I had been gifted with a nice pair of anti-noise earbuds from the Masterton family the previous Christmas. I was sure going to miss their gifts because they gave out amazing ones. If only they had thought I was worthy of being a permanent fixture in their lives. The headphones got stolen from one of the kids at Eldridge, and when I didn’t have them, I found myself having conversations with Nick, the kindly old soul with a long white beard. He looked like he was 100 years old, tall, and overly thin, but Nick had bright blue eyes that smiled even when he wasn’t. I used to think that I was the only person that noticed him as no one else cared to take notice. I would sometimes get up and talk to him in the middle of the night, and on his breaks, he’d show me his wooden carvings that he’d widdle. Nick would gift the really cool ones to me, often leaving them for me under the Christmas tree.
Overall, my experience living at Eldridge on and off was okay. Most of the kids in the home kept to themselves. I quickly found myself gravitating toward one of the younger kids, Jamey. He was a bit sensitive and sickly, and so he never lasted long anywhere he was placed because of his medical issues. His mother had been a meth addict, and he was taken from her at birth because she was deemed unfit. He and I bonded since we came from similar backgrounds. We would hang out in the game room and sometimes watch television and play cards. None of the other kids bothered us, and then one day, she arrived.
Little Mara was what we called her because she was seven years old and never spoke. She wore the same little red, green dress every day, and I thought perhaps the reason she didn’t talk was the scar she had around her tiny neck. She would smile demurely at us and laugh when Jamey told one of his corny jokes. Mara hugged her teddy bear in her arms and would stare at us. She started following Jamey and me around like a lost puppy, so we decided to try and include her in things we did, such as play cards, watch television and walk around the woods that were around the home.
They liked to refer to the town as Helltown, and while it was creepy, I didn’t believe any of the rumors about Satanists and Mutants living in the woods. Jamey, on the other hand, felt everything and was terrified of his own shadow. Jamey was emotionally immature, and at 13, he would sometimes ask if he could crawl in bed with me because Jamey was so frightened of the sounds he heard at night. I was two years older and had not received a new roommate yet, so I was alone. I didn’t like Jamey trying to sleep next to me because it was weird, and I was always afraid other kids would see, so I let him sleep on the floor next to my bed. He’d make me stay up with him and talk to him until he fell asleep because of his irrational fears.
It was one of those such nights that Jamey arrived at the foot of my bed, shaking my feet. I woke up and rubbed my eyes, looking at him awkwardly standing there in his boxers and tank top.
“Dude, what the hell?” I asked him, slightly annoyed.
“I saw something outside by the field!”
“There’s nothing out there, go to sleep.”
I whispered loudly.
“No, I saw it Tyler, there has been a light on in the old shed out back for three nights now, and that place shouldn’t even have electricity.” The old shed was no longer functional but used to be a former slaughterhouse for the farm that once sat on the property that Eldridge Home was built.
“It’s probably just security or something. Go to sleep, Jamey I have a Math test in the morning.”
He sulked, but I heard him stomp back to his room, and then the next day on our bus ride into the school, he talked about it again.
“Tyler, it was bizarre. I think I saw people out there in that old shed.”
“Like who?” I asked, trying to cram a few more word problems before the big test.
“I think I saw a man dressed all in black staring up at me. I couldn’t see his face, just his black eyes. He had some kids I think they were kids with him, and he was watching me standing in the field by the old shed!”
I looked up at him and shook my head. “You’re crazy. There was no man or any kids from the other night. Everyone was in bed, and no one knows the alarm code to leave at night. I think you saw things. If anyone was out there trying to get us, they can’t get in anyway.”
While I did feel somewhat alarmed at what he told me, I had no clue why he would see anyone outside because it didn’t make any sense.
Our orphanage was on constant lockdown
no one got in or out without the head of the school, Mrs. Mallon knowing.
I tried not to think about it and then that evening at dinner I noticed that Mara wasn’t there. When I asked about her, no one seemed to know who or what I was referring to. I shook my head typical of the people in charge they couldn’t even keep track of us and were just a paycheck from the state. Half the time, they forgot my name at bed check and called me by my room number.
That night I was once again woken up from a sound sleep by Jamey this time. He was adamant that he was seeing at least two people in the field by the old shed, and there was a light on inside.
“You are insane to go to sleep, Jamey. I mean it!”
“Just come look for yourself, then you can go back to bed.”
I moaned and groaned but got up to go to Jamey’s room. I tiptoed, so I didn’t wake his roommate, and he grabbed my hand and peered out the large window.
“I don’t see anything,” I said, looking at the dark building.
He sighed and shook his head. “They were there just a few minutes ago!”
I went back to bed, and when I woke up the next day, I got dressed as usual, but just before breakfast, I got called into the head office of the woman in charge. Her name was Mrs. Mallon, and she was a fat old woman that was about four feet tall. She sat in a raised chair at her desk, and when she saw me, she smiled.
“It is a good morning because I have good news for you!”
I sighed, looking at her, “Another foster home?”
“I have one better yet! You are going to be adopted both you and Jamey by an older couple that lives just outside of town on an old farm. They are a wonderful couple, John and Anna Avery, and they are very active in the community they belong to the local board of trustees, so they have a lot of pull in this town. They are looking forward to meeting you both after dinner.”
I couldn’t believe it I was getting adopted and to my excitement so was my best friend, Jamey.
I was overcome with happiness that day, but Jamey was a bit cautious about the whole thing as usual.
“Why us? Why not some kid that is Mara’s age.”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care. It will be nice to have a family, one that has Christmas gifts.”
“Mara, we need to tell Mara we are leaving.”
I looked at Jamey and nodded solemnly, and after school, we made it a point to rush home and find her in the girls’ ward where she usually hung out by herself playing with her teddy.
Mara was nowhere to be found, and it saddened me. We were called to Mrs. Mallon’s office again, and this time we met Mr. and Mrs. Avery. They were in their late fifties and looked kind enough. Mrs. Avery had a giant smile on her face, and it never seemed to leave her face, which made me feel a bit uncomfortable. They shook our hands, and Mr. Avery gave both of us big hugs.
I sat looking at Jamey, who was ready to hyperventilate, and I put my hand on his shoulder to let him know it was okay.
We were set to leave that evening, and I took it upon myself to look for Mara one last time before we went. She was nowhere around, and so I left her a little letter to tell her I would miss her and signed both Jamey and my name on it. I put it on the windowsill that she played by nearly every day and left.
The drive to Mr. and Mrs. Avery’s house wasn’t long. They lived in one of the more prestigious areas, but when we got there, I was shocked to find that they weren’t as well off as they had made it seem. I took a deep breath and decided to give them a chance. When we entered the house, I felt a chill run up my spine, and there was something off about it that I couldn’t place.
For starters, the house was colder than I expected it to be. All the floors were wooden but dingy, and if you looked closely, they were unkempt. They appeared clean from afar, but if you looked at them, they were covered in dust as though no one had taken a mop to them in ages.
In one corner of the living room was a pet snake in a very elaborate herpetarium. It was the only thing in the room that even appeared warm. I looked at it for a long while as the giant black and brown boa slithered up against the glass, making itself taller and taller till it hit the top and then slithered back down again with its black eyes never wavering from us.
Jamey seemed in better spirits than I was, and Mr. Avery showed us around the big old house, and Mrs. Avery went to make us something to eat.
“You boys like sports?” asked Mr. Avery.
“Yeah, I like football, and Jamey likes running.”
I said, trying to seem like an average teenager, so maybe they wouldn’t want to send me back.
“Running, you say? Oh, that is just perfect!” Mr. Avery said with a sound of ecstasy. He put his hands together and touched his forehead as though in prayer while he closed his hazel eyes. He opened them and took a deep breath. “I ran track in high school, and these are a few of my trophies.” He said, pointing to a trophy in a glass case that also needed some dusting and then went to pour himself a drink.
I noticed he seemed to be sweating and appeared slightly nervous, but I figured it was just the fact that we were all new to each other. I stood up to get a better look at the trophy case, and then Mrs. Avery came in with a tray of sandwiches.
She had that smile on her face again and smiled back, but she never even blinked. I looked over at Mr. Avery, who seemed to be eyeing his wife while she put the tray of sandwiches down.
“Here, dig in!” She said to both of us with a cheery smile on her face.
We sat down, and I got to work at once on the delicious sandwiches, or I was just hungry. Jamey had some of his drink, which was coke with ice, and then after a few nervous gulps, he too got to work on the food. We listened to Mr. Avery tell us stories about how he and his wife couldn’t have children of their own and how happy they were to have children in their home once again.
Just then, there was a knock at the door, and Mr. and Mrs. Avery looked at one another, smiling with a sort of glee on their faces.
Mr. Avery looked at us “We have someone that we would like you to meet.”
I looked at Jamey, and he reflected my perplexed look. Who could we be meeting already? We had only just arrived.
Mrs. Avery walked over to the door and opened it. There stood a tall man with a black suit on, and he wore a hat that made him appear as though he stepped out of a movie from the 1940s.
“Please come in!” Mrs. Avery said, looking at him as though she may burst from joy.
The tall man walked in and didn’t bother to greet anyone. He only looked at Mr. Avery and said something I thought was rather odd.
“Are you prepared?”
Mr. Avery nodded profusely at the man. “Yes, very much so.
“Is this what you want? I do hope you have thought long and hard about it.” The stranger said to Mr. Avery.
“We are almost certain.” Mr. Avery said, grabbing his wife’s hand tightly up to his chest.
“You do know that nothing will ever be the same after tonight.” He said as he finally glanced in our direction.
Jamey had been too busy gulping down his soda to even notice, but the man’s eyes were so black. His skin was perfect, and there was something from another world about it. He sized me up, and then the expression on his face was one of a soulless Cheshire Cat. He grinned at me wide and then walked over to me, ignoring Jamey and extended his large hand.
“I don’t think we have met. I believe you are one of the new children that Mr. and Mrs. Avery adopted.”
I reluctantly held out my hand to him, and when he took it, he nearly crushed it. He held my hand for a moment too long, and when he did, you could hear a pin drop. Mr. Avery took a deep breath, and I felt dizzy as I looked into his black eyes. They were hypnotic, and I couldn’t bring myself to turn away from his gaze. The room around us was so cold, and yet looking into his eyes, I felt nothing but warmth as he gazed down upon me.
“It’s nice to meet you, sir.” I barely managed to muster.
“Likewise.” He said to me, and all at once, I felt an absolute honor to be in his presence.
He smiled at Jamey but seemed more interested in me.
“I will be going, but I brought gifts for you all if You could come to help me retrieve them from my trunk.” The man said, looking at me.
“Oh yes, Tyler can help you.” Mr. Avery said to him, having me stand up to follow the tall stranger to the vehicle outside. Once outside, I barely noticed the car at all, just that it was all black.
“Tyler, I think you should count yourself lucky to have met the acquaintance of Mr. and Mrs. Avery. Tell me, did they acquire you and the other one from Eldridge?”
“Well, so you know anything about the land?”
I thought it was a strange question, and I shook my head.
“It’s sacred land. The Cuyahoga Valley is the land of broken promises. Underneath us is something much darker. Tell me, are you afraid of the dark?”
“I never thought about it.” I managed to say. Again, a strange question, and I stared up at him. Removing my eyes from him was hard. He cast a spell on me the moment I met him.
Opening the trunk of his car, he pulled out four gifts. All of them were different types of treats and loaves of bread. He had me take them, and he went towards the front door of the Avery’s home and held open the door for me.
He grinned down at me just before leaving. “You will do nicely.”
“What is your name, I don’t think you said.”
He smiled at me, rubbed my forehead using his thumb, and it stung, but I couldn’t pull away to which I smelled sulfur. Some ash fell from my forehead, and it tickled my nose as it fell.
“Nomen mihi est momenti.” He said, and I recognized it as Latin from my English literature class. I usually would not have understood a thing, but when he spoke, I knew what he meant, my name is not essential. He walked away, briskly to his car, putting his hat back on. I felt disappointed that he was leaving, and I cannot explain it for the life of me.
Mrs. Avery came over and took the items, one of which looked like a black bread of some sort with fruit and nuts.
“This should do to fatten you boys right up!” Mrs. Avery said, smiling.
I heard the car start as she came over, interrupting my moment, but when I looked back to watch the tall stranger drive away, his car vanished into thin air. I paused and felt weird for a moment as though I were in some time warp that I cannot explain.
After Jamey and I finished eating our dinner, Mrs. Avery took us up to our bedroom, which she said we would be sharing, and both Jamey and I were okay with that. Mr. Avery came up and bid us goodnight closed the door and let us get to work on arranging our space exactly how we wanted to.
There were two twin beds and a big dresser in the corner of the room, and when I opened it, I noticed there was a boy’s underwear inside the drawer. I looked at Jamey, puzzled, and held them up.
“There’s boys underwear in here. I thought they said they couldn’t have kids.”
“Maybe they were fosters for a while.” Said Jamey, and I nodded because it was common for most adoptive parents to have had fosters before they made the permanent leap to adopt. I continued to place my stuff inside the dresser, and then we both were abnormally tired, and even though it was only seven in the evening, we got into our beds and fell asleep immediately.
The Next day we woke to the smell of breakfast cooking. Mrs. Avery welcomed us to the dinner table with open arms.
“Boys, I’m so glad you have come to us,” she said
I smirked and took my place next to Jamey at the dinner table. Mr. Avery was reading the newspaper and stopped immediately.
“You have a big day. I am going to show you how you can help Mrs. Avery around the house.
“You mean leaving me alone in peace so that I may finish my household chores?”
Mr. Avery smiled and then stood kissing his wife on the cheek. “We have to prepare for the grand party. We will need all the help we can muster.”
She shifted in her seat and then looked at us, grinning. I thought it was weird, but the food was so good. There were blueberry pancakes and honey buttered biscuits with bacon. The orange juice was freshly squeezed. To say it was divine was an understatement.
Later that day, we were paid another visit by the mysterious strange with no name. Once again, he seemed to seek me out, and I once again found myself mesmerized. I was helping Mrs. Avery by taking out the garbage. That is where he saw me. I was walking up the driveway when his car stopped.
He got out of his car and walked towards me with a grin. “Tyler, just the young man I wanted to see,” he said, grinning, and I noticed how tan he was. His teeth looked white as snow when he smiled. He was a good looking man, someone I wouldn’t mind being like someday. Someone distinguished with money.
“Hello,” I said shyly.
“Oh brother!” he said, suddenly bending down to scrape mud off his elegant dress shoes.
“Let me grab you a towel!” I said, suddenly wanting to please him.
“No need,” he smiled at me. “Let me show you something.”
I walked over to him. He picked up what I realized were insects holding them out to me.
“Worms?” I wrinkled my nose.
“Yes, worms, to the human eye. Look closer,” he said, showing me the giant earthworms.
“They are tilling the soil. Under your feet every day, they make this earth worth the harvests.” He plucked an apple from a tree and held it to me. There were signs of earthworms inside of it.
“Oh, I never thought about it.”
“That is okay. Most of you don’t. Well, I have to go now. I will see you soon.” he patted me on the head and then left.
When I went back inside, Jamey stopped me. “Who was that you were talking to?”
“That guy that is friends with Mr. and Mrs. Avery.”
“Oh,” Jamey had said, shrugging it off.
I thought it was strange, but everything about him was weird. That wasn’t the only thing I found strange. Mr. and Mrs. Avery were rather odd, as well. Every day began the exact same. I had mentioned it to Jamey, but he seemed so happy he didn’t mind the strangeness. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
The only thing that Jamey seemed to think was strange was that all the letters he had written to little Mara since we were adopted by the Averys were sent back RETURN TO SENDER. He was upset about it at first, then I explained that maybe he had the wrong zip code or incorrect address. That wasn’t the only odd thing, though. Things began to get stranger as time passed.
There were homeschooling lessons. We thought we would be enrolled in regular school like with all our previous foster homes; instead, Mr. Avery set about giving us weird lessons that didn’t seem to make any sense. He once had me dig a six by eight hole to teach me measurements for mathematics. He had Jamey, and I exercise with him in the morning for what he called PE. His own warped form of Physical Education. Two miles every morning before breakfast, snow, sleet, or hail. He would often insist we wear light clothing because he said the blood would keep us warm. Mr. Avery claimed it was proper training in the discipline.
There were the vitamins. Mr. and Mrs. Avery were completely insistent on us taking these great multivitamins every morning with breakfast and would freak out if they weren’t taken. I once dropped mine on the floor, and before I could toss it out, Mrs. Avery lost it rushing to ensure I had a vitamin to take. I thought it was strange but shrugged it off at the time. I had noticed Mrs. Avery was a somewhat nervous person. Mr. Avery seemed to be aloof to most of it. Neither he nor Mrs. Avery left the house much. The only time I saw him show any real concern or signs of excitement was when the Man came. He had never revealed his name. The strangest thing was that no one seemed to even think it was odd that he was never called by any name at all. There was no “Hello Mr. So and So” it was just he’s here, and then everyone would rush around like the King of England had arrived.
I never minded his visits because, with each visit, he brought a new gift. Two weeks before Christmas, he brought a brand new PS4. Then the very last visit he came to see us, I happened to overhear him discussing Jamey and me.
“I think so, I mean, I have made sure each and every day, please!” Mrs. Avery was almost pleading in a whisper to the stranger.
I was caught suddenly watching them from the other room. I found the strange man’s eye, and if looks could have killed, I would have been dead on the spot. He walked towards me softening.
“Tyler, you shouldn’t eavesdrop. You never know what you may overhear,” he said, patting my shoulder.
“I didn’t mean to. I mean, I didn’t even hear anything.”
“I believe you. I just have a question. Are you excited for the upcoming holiday?”
“Christmas? Not really. I don’t get excited as much as I did when I was little.”
“Someone has done you quite a disservice making you think that is the only holiday. Solstice is tomorrow. It is the darkest night of the year.”
I only stared up at him.
“Some of us still celebrate the original holidays.” he patted me on the head, walking out the front door.
That night Jamey and I ate dinner, which seemed to consist of some kind of bloody stew that Mrs. Avery said was a family recipe.
Jamey ate it all, but I had a hard time getting it down. Mr. Avery seemed to thrive on the stew lapping up every drop until the bowl was licked clean.
Then the clock struck seven sharp. The room became quiet, and all of a sudden, I became quite tired. Jamey followed my lead, and we both turned in early that night.
When we woke up, it was sometime in the middle of the night, and I was shivering from the cold. I felt something hard, cold, yet cushion-like beneath my body. I slowly began to open my eyes to find myself outside with no clothes on except for the pajamas I had when I went to bed and for some strange reason, my tennis shoes.
I sat up slowly, looking around, realizing I was in the field behind the old Eldridge School for Boys and Girls. I stood up shivering, and then I looked over and saw Jamey, who was also standing up, shaking nearly six feet in front of me, and then we looked at each other confused. We then turned to look behind us, and there was a tall girl about our age bawling her eyes out, and just behind her was another boy who was standing there looking just as preparing himself for a sprint like he was at a track meet.
There was laughter coming from the distance, and then we saw them. There was a group of adults, including the Avery’s. They were dressed in fine jewelry and fur while we stood in the cold night air with barely anything on. Looking down at my shirt, I realized that like Jamey and the other’s, I had a number as though we were tagged animals. I heard something growl and scream, and I heard chains rattling against something I guessed was a cage. I began to feel scared in a way I cannot explain, and then I saw him was the man from earlier standing behind the crowd of adults. He said nothing, but I recognized his hat in the shadows. Then a tall man with light blonde hair spoke in a high pitched tone. I don’t know what was more alarming seeing the adults we were told we could trust putting us in this situation or this creepy man speaking in a fake high pitched voice.
“Merry Solstice my children tis’ the longest night of the year and together we will give new life to ourselves as we are born anew in your blood. You are our sacrificial lambs for our new God. To celebrate, we have a new weapon in this most dangerous game. This is Moloch, our little pet! Freshly bought on the black market from the little secret labs down below this beautiful park. I do think we got ourselves a good deal!” He chuckled, “I plan to give you all a head start, and when I fire my gun, you will all play a game of hiding and seek! If Moloch can’t find you, you live another day, but if Moloch does find you fine, game over.” I looked into the distance, and there in the field was a creature like the one I had never seen before in my entire life. It was tall and hairy with fangs and only black holes for eyes.
I began to think of the stories of mutants I had heard at the old children’s home for boys and girls, and when this thing roared, I knew then I only had seconds to run. This had been what the training had been for. The weird multivitamins, the early morning runs in the cold. They were making sure it was worth their time. Having us being in good shape was a more significant challenge, the bonus we were orphans, and that meant no one would be looking for us. So I thought.
It had chains around its neck, and the four adults seemed to all be holding one of the chains as the fair-haired man tased the creature, and it screamed in pain as they laughed and carried on. They took sick pleasure out of our cries, and I began to panic as I looked at poor Jamey, who was so full of fear I was afraid he would die on the spot of a heart attack. He had always been a nervous kid, and seeing what this was doing to him made me fear for his heart. I looked at the kid who positioned himself as though in track blocks, and he looked at straight ahead as though he knew what to expect.
“What the hell is this?” I begged him, hoping this wasn’t what I thought it would be.
He glared at me from the corner of his eyes. “What do you think this is? You run for your life, or you die. This is day three for me.” he said with an air of pride.
We heard the gun, and then one of the adults began to count to ten. I looked at Jamey and grabbed his arm as we ran like bats out of hell. I heard the creature started to roar again, and I wasn’t sticking around to find out what would happen next. We ran as fast as our feet could carry us.
The tall girl in the field was running past me when I heard something snap, and then I heard a blood-curdling scream. I stopped to look back, and I was about to help her when I saw that creature’s stomach split in two, and on each side were a set of teeth that clutched her flesh and split her in two. I had tears in my eyes, and I prayed as I realized I still had a hold of Jamey’s hand. He was keeping pace with me, and he didn’t even bother to look back after that. When you run track, according to Mr. Avery, you learn not to look back, or else you slow down. It was chaos, but due to the girl’s inability to run, we were spared a few moments, which is what we needed to find a place to hide.
We ran until we saw an old shack in the distance near some woods, and when I got closer, I saw it was a makeshift Hostel that someone had made a while ago for local hikers. I knew it may be stupid to hide in here, but it was our best defense right now. Plus, it was warm, and right now, I was shivering to the bone.
I looked over at Jamey, who had wet himself appearing to be in shock. He was staring into space and on the floor, unable to move. The older kid came in after us and slammed the door looking for something to bar it. He was prepared and more intelligent than we were,
“Where did that come from?” I asked.
“I don’t know I mean I’ve heard rumors about this place, but I never believed any of it till now,” he said, referring to the Moloch demon.
“What do you mean, rumors?” Jamey asked, barely able to spit out his words; he was breathing so hard.
“Experiments and mutants weird shit you see in horror movies. I don’t know if there is a way out of here”.
“ I just want to get out of here!” I said.
We heard the door rattle then, and the three of us stood fearing that the bolted door wouldn’t stay that way for long after what we had just seen with our eyes.
It rattled again, and I could hear that thing roaring, but it wasn’t near the door.
“LET ME IN!”
The three of us looked at each other. Jamey began to flip out, “No, don’t open it, don’t open Tyler!”
I walked over to the door and opened it there was another boy who was in bare feet and was sobbing. I pulled him inside the tiny hostel, and as he entered, the four of us slammed the door shut so that the creature couldn’t get inside.
I heard the creature roar, and I heard a gunshot, and I could hear the man from the start screaming. “We know where you are. You can’t stay in there all day that is considered cheating, and we don’t want to have to do this again tomorrow!”
We looked at each other, hearing a roar outside of the door as we all stood in a panic, each of our eyes darting from each other toward the door. Another bang and then I saw the hinges began to vibrate, and I knew it was only a matter of seconds before we all died in the trap we had set for ourselves.
I heard something coming from the bathroom of the hostel, and when I looked behind me, I saw her standing there with her long dark hair wide-set eyes and the teddy bear in her arms.
“Mara?” I ran over, confused, stooping down in front of her while the chaos continued all around me. She just looked at me and then she pointed behind her.
I quickly followed, and when I did, I saw there was a window inside of the tiny bathroom I realized she was trying to tell me to jump out of the window. I called out to Jamey and the others, and before they could move, the door was opened, and the tallest boy was swept up in the jaws of the creature’s stomach.
“Jamey!” I called out to him, and as I opened the window, I saw him behind me just as the other boy was running towards us. Sadly, before he could get to the bathroom door, he too was grabbed and taken from us. I helped Jamey up into the window and looked for Mara. I didn’t see her escape, but she was on the other side of the window with Jamey, and I crawled out just as the creature tried to grab hold of my ankle. I managed to get away, and the three of us disappeared into the forest.
I listened to the creature stalking us just beyond the woods as we ran, but Mara helped us by showing us a little cave that would be hard to see in the daylight, let alone the dark of night. Once inside, we held on to each other, and somehow, we fell asleep hugging each other. When we woke, the sun was beginning to come up. Mara was standing by the opening of the cave as I looked at her, she was standing next to the old night janitor from the children’s home.
Jamey and I stood up as he smiled at us and waved toward us to follow the two of them. I was relieved and happy to see that we were now being rescued. As we stood hand in hand, that feeling of relief washed over us, but then I was the first to see him. My heart dropped but at the same time, lept. There stood the nameless man with his brimmed hat and dark eyes looking at me.
Nick, the night janitor, stepped in front of me. “You won’t have him.”
“Step aside, Saint Nicholas. You can’t save them all.”
“I will Bael just as I saved the others.”
“You’re a phantom that sneaks into houses at night to bring brats toys and treasures. You have no power, and the boy is mine,” he said, looking at me as I found myself stepping toward the dark angel. I wanted to go, but I knew it was my ending.
Then she stepped in between the Devil and me. Mara took one look at me she put her teddy bear down and opened her blouse so I could see her tiny neck. It had burn marks all over it, and I could see that she had been damaged by this man in some way somehow. She was warning me.
“Tyler?” her tiny voice creaked. “Don’t go.” her voice was barely a whisper.
“Mara?” I looked at her, but I still felt the pull of the man with the black eyes. I could feel the warmth mingled in with his broken promises like a dangerous drug I was addicted only after one previous encounter.
Nicholas or Nick, as I had known him, also stepped in front of me. “He is the father of lies and as intoxicating as he is, you have much work to do, Tyler. Once he is gone, the desires will go too.”
I heard it then, “NO! GO with him!” it was my adopted parents, the Averys.
The man with a hat looked at them and scowled at them in anger. “Your sacrifice is nothing!” He growled. “You shall have everlasting life – in the fire!” he said, incinerating them to black dust with one flick of his index finger and thumb. I looked upon them in shock, and then my first thought was of Jamey. I turned back to where he was standing, and he was being walked by Mara’s hand in hand out of danger.
“What will it be?” asked the man in the hat as he stepped in front of me. He gently touched my cheek in a fatherly way. The touch made me feel weird, and I cannot explain it, but I felt loved. It was as though he were marking me for something.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at the man that I should hate for being a monster. I knew I had to back away my very soul depended upon it.
“No,” I said.
He smiled and then looked down at me. “My son, you will come back to me. Before the end of days, I will find you again.” with that, he kissed me on the forehead, and then I felt another sting and then saw a fire burning where he was standing. It slowly faded into smoke, and St. Nick took my hand.
“Let’s go, boy,” he said, leading me out of the forest.
After that day, I realized I had to be a good man, a better man. With the Averys gone, there were still others out there participating in these “most dangerous games,” where they hunted innocent children as sacrifices to their God. I recall the cops coming and questioning me after investigating the orphanage, and I wasn’t the only one that the elite in town had used. The fake adoptions had been going on for decades. That is when I saw an old photo of Mara. She was standing next to the night janitor or Santa Clause. I never believed in him until that night when one of the detectives told me there was no record of the man called “Nick” working at Eldridge Home for Boys and Girls. It was as if I had guardian angels looking out for Jamey and me. I now think that is who Jamey saw out there in the field at night – watching.
It has been ten years, and I still see him sometimes out of the corner of my eye. I became a minister of God to deter him, and yet every Winter Solstice, I receive a check from my mysterious benefactor. I always toss it in the garbage.
The only thing that keeps me going is that every Christmas when a little boy or girl talks about their love of St. Nick, and I recall that the real St. Nick is indeed the savior of children everywhere.