Night Harvest: Harvest Moon by Brian LeTendre

Posted by on Oct 15, 2015 in Night Harvest, NightHarvest, Writing | 1 comment

Night Harvest: Harvest Moon by Brian LeTendre

Welcome to the Night Harvest. For the entire month of October, we’ll be featuring scary stories and illustrations from talented authors and artists around the globe. I hope you stay awhile. After all, the Night Harvest is quite a scream. You can see the live list of participants and their posts dates on this link.

 

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Harvest Moon

by Brian LeTendre

 

“Dad, why do we have to go to this stupid thing?” Kevin groaned loudly from the back seat of the car.

“First of all, take your earbuds out if you’re going to have a conversation,” his dad answered, giving him a glare in the rearview mirror.” Tonight is a special night, and we’re going to celebrate it as a family, along with the rest of the town.”

“I’ve been going to the Mabon festival since I was a baby, dad,” Kevin rolled his eyes. “It’s just like all the other festivals this town has–boring.”

“I used to say the same thing to your grandmother,” Kevin’s mom said with a smile. “But having traditions is important, and Mabon is a time for reflection and preparation. And like your father said, this one is special. This year’s harvest moon is both a blood moon and a supermoon. A full lunar eclipse while the moon is at its closest point to the earth. It’s amazing.”

“Whatever,” Kevin sighed.

“Just remember to be respectful,” his dad said, with just a slight hint of threat in his voice. “The people gathering tonight are from many different spiritual paths. Not to mention, Stacey and Tom have opened up their farm to us for this year’s festival, and we’re going to show them they made the right choice settling down in New Lakeford.”

Kevin bit his tongue and put his earbuds back in, starting out the window and letting the crunching sounds of Black Label Society drown out his parents conversation. He didn’t care about Mabon, or equinoxes or solstices, or any of that stuff. He couldn’t wait until he graduated high school next year and got the hell out of New Lakeford.

Not that the town didn’t have its charms, even for a rebellious seventeen year old. Nestled in the foothills of Mount Greylock in Western Massachusetts, New Lakeford was one of the most beautiful places on the east coast. And during this time of year, the colorful foliage that blanketed the hills and mountains brought cars full of tourists from around the country driving through the entirety of the Berkshires.

But New Lakeford was a tiny little town that no one bothered stopping in, save for those who lived there. It had been settled in the late 1700s by a small group of non-Christians, looking to escape the close-mindedness and paranoia that had led to the witch trials and was still rampant almost a century later.

The station wagon pulled into a large dirt parking lot that was already packed with cars, and a few families were making their way up a large path to the huge apple orchard above. Kevin slid out of the backseat.

“Don’t forget,” his father said, pointing to his ears. “Those stay in the car.”

Kevin wordlessly pulled his earbuds out and threw them and his phone on the back seat. No technology–that was another rule of these gatherings that he couldn’t wait to get away from.

“You can plug into the real world for a couple hours, dear,” his mother said, noticing his scowl. “It won’t kill you.”

“I suppose if you could die of boredom it would’ve happened already,” Kevin replied.

His mother smiled and handed him two pies. “Take these up to the Wallaces. They’ve got apples coming out of their ears, so I made one blackberry and one pumpkin.”

He took the pies and strode up the path. The crisp September air went right through his sweatshirt, and he was already regretting not bringing a heavier coat like his dad had suggested. Not that he’d ever admit it. As he crested the hill, the red-tinged moon rose over the sprawling valley of the apple orchard. Kevin would never admit it to his parents, but the sight was breathtaking, and he couldn’t help but feel a bit of magic in the air.

Over to the left of the path was the Wallace’s house and the converted barn that served as the orchard store. The large dirt parking lot up there was filled with tables overflowing with food, and a large wooden stage with an altar in the middle of it. The altar was decorated with candles, seasonal flowers, and various fruits and vegetables. Not surprisingly, the tables of food were filled mainly with apple-related dishes, both because of the orchard and for their association with Mabon.

“You can put those pies right over on that table there,” a female voice said, and Kevin turned to see a young woman who looked about his age. She was standing behind a table ladling out cider from a cast iron pot into wooden cups.

Kevin was captivated by her striking blue eyes and long black hair, which the night breeze was playing havoc with. It lent an otherworldly quality to her, as if she was surrounded by an energy that belonged to no one else but her.

He realized he was staring when the young woman repeated herself, nodding to the table next to her.

“Oh–yeah, sorry,” he shook his head, putting the pies down among the other dishes on the table, which included at least a half dozen other pies.

“There’s no way all this food is getting eaten tonight,” the girl shook her head. “I’m pretty sure we’re just going to dump the leftovers in a pit and offer them up to the gods.”

“Right?” Kevin smiled. “I told my mom she was wasting her time. “I’m Kevin, by the way.”

“Jamie,” she replied. “My folks own this place.”

“No way, really?” he said. “Seems like a pretty cool place to live. The view from up here is amazing.”

“It’s pretty cool, I guess,” she replied. “I’m kind of sick of apples, though.”

They shared a laugh, and Kevin realized the night might not be so boring after all.

“Speaking of which,” she nodded toward the crowd. Do you want to help me serve the cider for the toast?” she asked. “I think we’re starting soon.”

“Absolutely,” he nodded, and he joined her behind the table. As fast as they could fill cups, people were coming by and grabbing them.

“Your parents bought this place over a year ago, right?” Kevin asked as they worked. “How come I haven’t seen you at school?”

“I’m home-schooled,” she replied, her cheeks reddening. “I’m helping my mom and dad out most of the time with the orchard, so it’s kind of easier that way.”

“You’re not missing much,” he reassured her, and the smile she gave him rendered Kevin speechless.

“Who’s your new friend?” a voice said, and Kevin looked up to see his smiling mother standing at the cider table. He wanted to melt into the ground.

“Jamie Wallace,” she answered for him, extending her hand to Kevin’s mom. “My parents own the orchard. Your son was just helping me serve the cider.”

Kevin’s mom raised an eyebrow, and he wanted to teleport out of there as he dreaded the next words out of her mouth.

“Well, I’ll let you two get back to it, then,” she smiled, grabbing a cup for herself and one for Kevin’s father. “It was nice to meet you, Jamie.”

Kevin couldn’t believe it. His mom had actually played it cool. He made a mental note to stop being such a jerk to her.

“Here we go,” Jamie said, and Kevin watched a short woman in a flowing green robe climb the steps of the stage. The crowd of almost two hundred that had gathered in the large field began to quiet as their attention turned toward her.

“Merry meet to you all, and thank you for coming,” the woman said, in a voice that was much bigger than she was. “I’m Beverly, priestess of the God and the Goddess, and I’d like to welcome you to a very special Mabon festival. Not only are we blessed with the Mulberry Moon tonight, but the Wallace family has opened their beautiful orchard to our community, that we may celebrate the harvest together. Before I introduce them, let us start with the toast. Everyone please raise your cups.”

Beverly took a maple-colored wooden chalice from the altar and raised it high. Everyone in the crown did the same with their cider cups. Even Jamie had poured herself some.

Kevin hated cider, but he went through the motions anyway, raising his cup as Beverly recited the toast:

“Summer ends and fall begins

The days grow short, the daylight dims

The fields are empty, the crops are stored

Seeds long sown have brought reward

As darkness brings long-needed rest

We thank the gods for our harvest.”

Beverly drank deeply from the chalice, and the crowd followed suit. Kevin put his cup down next to him, not bothering to drink.

“Not a fan either, huh?” Jamie asked, and Kevin noticed her cider was untouched as well.

“More of a beer guy myself,” he replied with a smile.

“My parents have a fridge full in the house,” she replied. “I’ll go get us a couple and we can sneak out of here when they get into all the ritual stuff.”

“That is the best idea I’ve heard all night,” Kevin agreed.

“Keep an eye on the table, she told him as she turned to go. “Once my parents are done blathering on, everyone will start eating and we can get out of here.”

Kevin watched her slip amongst the crowd and disappear. His attention turned back to the stage, where a man and a woman dressed in crimson robes with yellow trim were ascending the stairs.

Beverly smiled wide as the couple walked across the stage to stand beside her. “I’d like to welcome our hosts for this evenings blessed celebration, Tom and Stacey Wallace,” she beamed, and the crowd applauded. Stacey was a tall brunette who appeared to be in her early forties, and Tom was the classic definition of tall, dark and handsome. They thanked Beverly and she left the stage, taking her place amongst the crowd.

“Merry meet to you all,” Stacey greeted the crowd. “Tom and I are so humbled that you allowed us to host this gathering here tonight. In the eighteen months since we arrived in New Lakeford, you all have been wonderful to us. Never have we felt more welcome by a community, and we hope to return that welcome tonight, as we have something truly enlightening to share with all of you.”

Excited murmurs rippled through the crowd. Kevin rolled his eyes and looked toward the house for any sign of Jamie’s return. No such luck.

“You celebrate this Harvest Moon by reflecting on the year that was, and preparing for what is to come,” Stacey continued, gesturing toward the reddish orb that hung in the sky over them. “You express gratitude to the deities you worship, and you perform rituals that draw upon the energy of the moon during its closest time to the earth. Some of the crowd nodded and murmured in agreement, while others seemed to be waiting for Stacey to make her point.

She smiled, sensing a bit of unrest. “For you, the moon is a symbol of many things. But for others, it is a door.” She turned to her husband. “Tom, would you do the honors?”

Confused glances and mumblings rippled through the group, as Tom walked over to the altar at the front of the stage. He yanked the brown and orange altar cloth off of it, scattering the candles, apples, gourds and other decorations everywhere.

There was a collective gasp from crowd. Then–complete silence.

Kevin, who hadn’t even been paying attention, turned to see the entire crowd fixated on the stage with vacant stares. Tom was holding the altar cloth, which had been pulled away to reveal a bright white altar with a strange yellow symbol painted on the front of it. The symbol resembled a coiled tentacle or serpent’s tail with a small circle on top. Two more wavy lines extended out from the sides of the circle like appendages, reaching for the sky.

Kevin thought it was weird looking, but everyone in the crowd–including his parents–seemed absolutely mesmerized by it. There was something…wrong with the whole scene. This wasn’t like any group ritual he’d seen before.

“There are many doors to our world, and they open to many different places” Stacey explained to the rapt crowd. “All of them have locks. Tonight, as the moon reaches perigee and aligns with the sun and earth, one particular door opens.”

Kevin’s stomach began to tighten as he realized the Mabon celebration had taken a very dark turn. Whatever was going on, it wasn’t good. And he was the only one who seemed to realize it.

He decided to play along until he could figure out what to do, staring straight ahead at the stage, and praying that Jamie had seen what was happening and called for help.

Kevin watched as Stacey’s husband Tom came to stand beside her, and in unison they began to chant:

Strange is the night where black stars rise,

And strange moons circle through the skies,

But stranger still is

Lost Carcosa.

A crack of thunder echoed throughout the hills, and the night sky began to take on the reddish hue of the blood moon. Whimpers of fear rippled through the crowd, and everyone dropped to their knees. Kevin quickly followed suit, stealing a glance at the house. No sign of Jamie. The chant continued:

The waking world begins to quake

A red sun rises above the lake

A new day dawns

For lost Carcosa

Stars cower in the night sky

A moon bears witness with a lidless eye

To the birth of

New Carcosa

No sooner had the Wallaces finished speaking those words than the sounds of terror in the crowd became cries of agony. While still on their knees, the enthralled group began to claw at their own faces, as if they were trying to tear off the masks that were their own flesh. The scene descended quickly into chaos, as the coppery smell of blood filled the air.

“Mom!” Kevin blurted as he watched her plunge two fingers into her left eye socket, tearing away the side of her face with the an unnatural strength.

Kevin could not fight the urge to flee any longer. He jumped up and bolted for the house.

Gotta find a phone. Gotta find Jamie. Gotta get out. Those three thoughts played over and over again as he ran. He never glanced back at the crowd or the stage.

“Jamie!” he shouted as he burst through the screen door of the house and into the living room. The house was pitch dark, the only light provided by the red glow of the moon outside that seeped through the edge or the curtains.

Kevin grabbed the wooden door and slammed it shut behind him, locking it. The barrier did little to muffle the chorus of agony that was going on outside.

Taking a deep breath, Kevin crouched low and made his way to the window. He pulled back the curtain just enough to see that Tom and Stacey Wallace were still on the small wooden stage, chanting to the writhing mass of self-mutilation in front of them. If they had noticed Kevin escaping, they didn’t seem to care–at least, not yet. Kevin knew enough about rituals to know that stopping in the middle of one was bad.

That’s it, he thought. I need to stop them before they can–

“Kevin,” a female said from behind him.

He jumped a foot in the air and wheeled around at the same time, heart leaping.

“Jamie!” he sobbed throwing his arms around this girl he barely knew. “It’s crazy out there. Your parents, they’re killing people. We have to get–”

“I know,” she said, and he pulled back to see that she looked terrified as well. “They’ll be coming for me soon.”

“What do you mean?”

“The things my parents are opening the door for,” she replied. “I’m supposed to go with them.”

Kevin pushed her away and stepped back. Even in the low light, Kevin could see Jamie was wearing the same crimson and yellow robe that her parents had on.

“What the fuck–you’re helping them?”

She reached out to him. “Kevin you don’t understand–”

“Stay the fuck away from me,” he said, showing Jamie to the floor as he ran past her into the kitchen. He flipped on the light and scanned the room until he saw what he was looking for–the knife block next to the stove. He ran over and grabbed the biggest one from the block and then ran back to Jamie, grabbing her as she was getting up.

“Where’s the phone?” he asked, putting the point of the knife to her neck.

“We don’t have one,” she replied, and cried out as he pushed the point into her flesh, causing a rivulet of blood to trickle down her neck. “I swear!”

“Then I guess I have to kill you,” he replied. “Your parents won’t be able to complete the ritual.”

“They don’t need me to bring them here,” she replied. “It’s already happening.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” he said, pressing the knife ever so slightly against her neck. Who’s them?”

“I don’t know what they’re called,” she said. “I just know that they can travel between worlds, and they work for him.”

“Who?”

“You’ll see soon enough,” Jamie replied as she jammed her elbow in Kevin’s stomach, spinning away from him as the knife slashed the flesh of her neck. Kevin went down to one knee, gasping for air. He took a wild swing at Jamie, but she sidestepped it easily and punched him in the face with the force of a sledgehammer. He collapsed on the floor, clinging to consciousness as Jamie bent over him and whispered in his ear.

“Let me show you.” She took two fingers and pressed them to her neck, causing the wound Kevin had given her to weep a thick droplet of blackish blood. She let the blood cover her fingers and then held Kevin’s mouth open a few drops of the heavy liquid fell in.

As soon as they hit his tongue, the world around him faded away completely. He could still hear Jamie whispering in his ear.

Once again the Hyades shall sing

As they welcome back the King

Their songs a herald of

New Carcosa

A feral moan came from deep within him as Kevin finally saw what the others had seen. A mass of writhing, mutilated bodies, tearing at themselves and one another. Just like the scene he had witnessed outside, except for one thing. A hooded figure in tattered, yellow robes floated above the bloody scene, basking in the screams as his worshippers offered ripped flesh from their bodies and offered it up. The figure seemed to notice Kevin’s presence, and it raised its head. Kevin screamed and tried to rip his own eyes out so he would not have to face the gaze of the King in Yellow.

A low, bellowing note like the sound of a fog horn roused Kevin from the darkness and he blinked open his left eye. He tried to open his other eye but there was just a dull ache that made the right side of his head throb with pain.

Kevin realized he was walking in a line a people, each one of them covered in blood and gore, flesh stripped from various parts of their bodies and faces.

And yet, he no longer felt afraid.

Up ahead, he could see a ramp, made of some kind of dark wood. The ramp led to a large sailing ship that reminded him of the galleons he had learned about in history class. The huge ship sailed on the night air, its sails almost blotting out the moon itself.

Standing at the foot of the ramp were three figures in crimson robes with yellow trim. Each of the three figures wore a pale white mask with a yellow symbol painted on its forehead. Kevin now recognized this as the Yellow Sign and he counted himself blessed that it had been revealed to him.

As his turn to ascend the ramp came, one of the robed figures addressed him.

“You will be delivered to our Lord and Master, so that he may forge the tools that will make possible his return, a female voice said. Somewhere in Kevin’s mind he knew it was Jamie’s.

“He will be free of his prison one day, and your sacrifice may be the key.”

“Thank you,” Kevin replied, his heart filled with pride and gratitude for such an opportunity.

The robed figure nodded and Kevin ascended the ramp toward the large ship above. His vision was blurred by tears of joy as each step took him closer to oblivion.

 

Brian-LeTendre-SBWAuthorPic

Brian LeTendre is the writer of the Parted Veil horror series, which includes Courting the King in Yellow, Lovecraft’s Curse, and Lovecraft’s Pupil

A gaming, comics and horror lover, Brian has co-hosted and produced a podcast about geek culture called Secret Identity since 2006, producing well over 1000 hours of programming. He also hosts and produces three other podcasts about writing (See Brian Write), design and small business (Kitbash Radio) and gaming (Co-Op Critics). In addition to podcasting, Brian has worked as a freelance games journalist, and currently writes a webcomic called Mo Stache, which can be read for free online and will be collected in print in 2015.  Brian lives and works in Massachusetts.

Brian on Twitter

Brian’s Blog

Brian on Amazon

Brian’s Podcasts

 

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One Comment

  1. Well! That was creepy :D

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