The Witching Hour This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 19, 2011
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I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die.
Sadly, these thoughts were racing through my head too late. I could feel the cold air my ragged breathing kept pulling into my lungs, those icy breaths feeling like knifes scraping my throat and chest. My feet pounded the ground, kicking up clouds of dust behind us. I was barefoot and, not for the first time in my life, wished I had shoes. Rocks and old pieces of glass had shredded my feet. I ran on only out of fear. If I’m going to die, I’ll die running.
This all started because of the Line and a stupid game. I couldn’t really blame the Line, it really was just a line of smooth round black stones that cut across the land as far as one could see. Who can blame a normality of life? Not I. However, I can easily blame Manny. Manny, Henry and Alice, I hate them all now, but most of all, I hate myself.  One of us should’ve said no.
The four of us were playing tag by the Line. Manny was “it” and was chasing me as I ran in circles, always sure that my feet weren’t going to cross the Line. But Manny was fast and gave an excited push when he caught up to me. Stubbing my toe into one of the black rocks, I tripped and suddenly was sprawled on the wrong side of the Line. Manny stood there laughing as I screamed and scrambled to my feet, rushing back over in pure terror.
“Manny!” Alice yelled as she punched him, I could feel tears pricking my eyes.
“Oh come on!” Manny breathed as his laughter faded, “It’s not like you actually believe those stories.”
None of us would admit anything. We grew up hearing about how people who crossed the line came back in an assortment of ways. None returned alive. “Those stories are just lies our parents tell so we don’t run off,” Manny explained. It would’ve made sense had anyone seen another person on the other side of the line before.
“How do you know?” Henry finally asked, “Who says there is nothing over there?”
I nodded, “Stories come from somewhere.”
Manny gave a deep sigh, as though he was talking to idiots, “They are created by lazy parents.” His eyes narrowed on me and Henry, “You two aren’t scared are you?”
“I’m not scared!” We both yelled at the same time then blushed. Alice rolled her eyes at the two of us.
“Prove it.” Manny’s voice was demanding, he was always like that. Trying to prove he was better than others.
“How do we know you’re not scared?” Alice teased but those words struck defiance in Manny’s heart.
“Fine, we will all prove our manhood,” he glanced and Alice and me, “and womanhood.” He paused for dramatic effect while relishing in the fact our attention was on him, “We will all spend the night on the other side.”
“That’s against the rules!”
“Nobodies allowed out after dark!”
“I’ll do it.” Henry’s voice was clear and strong. Alice swallowed hard before saying she too would prove her worth.
I shook my head, “I don’t know.”
Manny crossed his arms, he was bulky and his beady eyes bore into mine, “You won’t be able to play with us if you don’t show up tonight.” He spoke the truth and I knew it. I nodded in understanding but never said yes or no, not that it mattered. The other three started to plan out how we would not get caught while I only half listened. My eyes stared out over the line. Nothing was there but dirt and an occasional tree, nothing to be afraid of.
It was midnight before my parent’s snores to whisper through the wall and I got up the courage to leave home. It was cold out, feeling like a blanket of thick air covering me, trying to slow me down. I plowed through it till I reached the meeting place we had agreed on. Manny and Alice were already there, their hands under their armpits trying to get warm. Alice bounced on the balls of her feet, blond hair tied up.
“I didn’t think you’d show,” Manny’s voice was harsh and I flinched knowing I shouldn’t have come.
“I bit my lip, “There’s nothing over there,” I said hesitantly, “no harm, right?”
Before anyone could reply we heard footsteps approaching. It was Henry. He gave a nod to Manny who cleared his throat, “Good, everyone’s here. The rules are simple: we must spend now until sunrise on the other side. If you leave early you will forever more be named a coward. If you stay the entire night,” he paused, “you have become a man or woman.” We all nodded, accepting the terms. Spreading out we stood on the correct side of the Line. “On three we will walk over and the trial begins.” Manny’s voice was loud in the silent night. Clouds that had been covering the sky, drifted off, leaving a full moon to light our way. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered my mom calling midnight the witching hour, when evil spirits were at their strongest. She said to never go out during that time.
I shouldn’t be here.
I could die.
I will not be a coward.
With the others I took my first step over the Line. I sucked in my breath and shivered, I swear it’s colder on this side. Manny headed off in one direction, Alice in another. Henry and I were the only ones still a single step away from safety. Our eyes met and without saying a word he offered his hand. A small smile crept along my lips and I took it. The hand was warm and made me feel safe.
Slowly we began walking. The farther we walked the more of nothing we saw. The land was barren; it was as if nothing ever could live on this side of the Line. Before long the village was swallowed in darkness. We were alone. Just the two of us and a dead tree glowing pale in the moonlight.
“I’m going to climb the tree and look to see if I can find anything,” I whispered. It was so quiet it felt wrong to talk normally.
“Good idea, I’ll wait down here,” Henry never was good with heights.
The dead tree was pretty easy to climb once I got used to the bark breaking off and being smoother than normal. The view from the top was beautiful in a deadly kind of way. The village was about a mile away with no lights on, just jagged black shapes rising from the ground. I couldn’t see Manny or Alice but every couple hundred yards a dead tree could be found. Even with the illuminating moonlight, the sky was so full of stars that in my head I began to find new constellations. I glanced down at Henry to tell him what he was missing out on then froze. My gaze shot to the bottom of the tree. A faint shadow flowed from its base, the moon high in the sky. Henry didn’t have a shadow. I raised my hand above the pale white branch I was sitting on. I didn’t either. I scampered down the tree so fast one could call it falling.
“Henry,” I gasped, out of breath. “Shadow. Our shadows are gone!” I pointed desperately at the ground.
“The moon isn’t bright en-” he stopped when his eyes found the tree’s attempt of a shadow. We should have shadows. “Let’s head back.”
I shook my head, “I’m no coward.” Although I said that, I really wanted to be back in bed.
“We will wait by the line, just not this far out,” He kept his voice calm and steady and I nodded in agreement finally. We were halfway back when a girl’s high pitch scream pierced the night.
“Alice!” I yelled out, heading in the direction of the scream.
Henry grabbed my arm, his eyes wide, “We have to get out of here. It’s dangerous!”
“But Alice is in trouble!” I protested, trying to yank my arm out of his grip.
“Alice wouldn’t want you in the same trouble!” I could tell that Henry didn’t want to be here. I also knew that he was right. I hesitated a moment and another scream ripped through the air. Manny. My hands were shaking. His wails were loud and continuous where Alice’s had been one short final breath. Manny’s were also closer. Henry and I couldn’t move as we listened to him beg for his mom, for help, and, finally, for death. The wails faded away and now it was just the two of us.
“Run.” We both said at the same time before taking off in the direction of the Line. It was at this point that I felt death’s hand on my shoulder, announcing his presence. I could barely take in air; my side was on fire, my life flashing through my mind. I glanced behind me at Henry; he was in the same state I was, our feet leaving bloody footprints in our wake. A scream escaped my mouth as I saw the two dark shapes hot on our trail. Henry whipped his head around and sprinted faster, grabbing my hand again. Our missing shadows had found us.
Running hand in hand, I wondered what our life could’ve been like. It was a fleeting thought. I believe it to be my minds final act to keep me from crawling in a ball and crying for my mom. “We’re going to make it!” Henry exclaimed, pointing to the village. I should’ve known better than give my hopes up.
An icy touch on my ankle and a sense of flying came over me as my feet left the ground. In slow motion, I watched the ground became increasingly closer to my face.
Warm blood gushed from a cut above my eye and a bleeding lip. I cried out in pain. A hot searing burn covered my face from sliding on the gravelly ground to stop. Hearing cursing and yells of pain from beside me, I realized I had pulled Henry down with me.
“Run away,” I croaked, feeling my shadow grab my legs and slowly dragging me away from the Line. The Line that was right there, just fifteen feet! Fifteen feet and we would be safe!
Henry was able to get to his knees before his shadows swiped its jet black arm at his head. Foolishly, I thought it had missed at first. But as I blinked, I watched Henry’s head tumble to the ground no longer attached to a body. His open eyes full of terror stared into my soul.
I was alone.
Henry’s shadow rippled before dissolving into the air. My shadow, however, was stubborn. It had no eyes or mouth, merely a pitch black outline that drew in all the light around it. Even though it had no face, I felt as if it was smiling. I kicked at it trying to get it to let go of my legs. My foot passed easily through its body. I was sweating profusely, my mind finding it useless to keep breathing. My face burning; legs covered in frost where the shadow held on.
I am going to die.
“HELP!” I shrieked as loud as I could over and over again. I don’t want to die. I want to live. Sobs broke my pleading screams, tears streaming down my face cooling off my torn skin. I couldn’t see out of my left eye anymore from the flowing blood.
“Please?” I begged in one last final attempt. The shadow raised his arm above my heart. My eyes met Henry’s, and I knew this was the end. Faintly, I heard another voice. Not just one, but quite a few. They were yelling at me to do something, but were just out of earshot.  New shadows danced across the Line from their torches. The shadow above me waited patiently until I looked back up. Its arm came slamming down with finality.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Zabrina N. said...
Aug. 16, 2012 at 11:43 am
That's a really intresting concept, and it gave me shivers when Henry died at the end. Powerful storyline and expresssive writing :D
Buttons said...
Aug. 16, 2012 at 8:42 am
I thought this was a great story and the concept intrigued me. I thought that the main character or Henry was somehow going to be saved, so I was gutted when they weren't! Awful but a good read all the same.:)
Tyler W. said...
Jun. 16, 2012 at 4:06 pm
This is really, really good! Amazing.
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