Ah, October at last. As I described in my first collection of macabre short stories, “October Light”, this month has always been for me as much a place and state of mind as it is a time interval on the calendar. That place of mist and golden light, of burning color where the rules are different and magic is in the air. This story is a truncated version of the tale that will be included in my sequel to “October Light”, “October Twilight”. I hope it entertains- and disturbs you.
David was searching. And he was losing faith that he’d ever find it. Religion, that is.
He was raised Catholic, but renounced the Church at an early age. Then there was Buddhism, Hinduism and even Scientology. None of them filled the void in his soul.
He was a junior in college, and on this bright October day he sat on a bench during break, watching the trees dance in the Autumn wind- the Devil Winds of October.
A young man who appeared from the shadows sat next to him. “Hey, mind if I join you?”
The young man had long hair, as did David, only his was dark as opposed to David’s blond. There was a pleasantness about him; an open and honest fraternal quality to his demeanor. He extended his hand. “My name’s Jason”. “Hey Jason, I’m David.” They shook hands. David immediately liked Jason. Ordinarily, he was a loner who valued his solitude, but something about Jason gave him a sense of camaraderie.
“You’re looking at the wind- the wind and the trees. It’s really special this time of year. Autumn is special, October in particular.”
David looked at Jason. Those eyes, almost black. How could he know what he felt about the wind? “Have we met before, Jason? You seem so- familiar”. “We haven’t met formally, but you and I were in last semester’s comparative religion class. I remember the questions you asked were the were the ones I would have asked- but you beat me to the punch.”
Jason stared at the wind buffeted trees, then looked at David.”Do you ever feel like everything is in decline? Look at the climate- things are changing for the worse- Humanity has been led astray”. David nodded in agreement as Jason continued. “Most people have been brainwashed by lying politicians and preachers. Take Sean Carlson for example.” Tell me,” replied David. “That bastard sickens me with his Bible laced bigotry and stupidity. How did he get elected to Congress? I try not to hate anyone, but…” Jason interrupted. “Why do you try not to hate anyone? Some people deserve to be hated. If hatred inspires action, it can be positive.” Jason whispered in David’s ear. “Long ago, before the true gods were exiled, Carlson would be dealt with- without guilt.” “What- what are you saying, Jason?” “Remember in class”, replied Jason, “When we discussed pantheism and animism? Once there were people who saw the higher power in nature- the people of the olden ways.” Jason smiled broadly. “These were the Pagans, David, and they’re still here. You deal with them often, but you don’t know it. They’ve gone underground.”
David stared into Jason’s eyes. He must have seen him before- before comparative religion class. They met, he felt, long, long ago.
Jason continued. “Long before the single God, there were many gods. Moments ago they spoke to us through the wind. We just have to learn to listen- to reconnect with our roots.”
Jason grasped David’s arm and drew him close. “David- the moon will be full and red tonight- blood red,” he whispered with excitement. “I know these people, David. The first full moon in October is a special night to Pagans. There will be a secret ceremony in a hidden place. I’m going- and I want you to come with me. You’ll never regret it.”
David’s foreboding struggled with his curiosity. “Well, alright, Jason.” Jason was ecstatic. “Great! meet me at the old clock tower on 3rd Street. The hidden place is not far from there.”
David stood beneath the clock tower. The moon burned in the sky, swelling with each moment.
Jason arrived. “Let’s go man!” He led David to a thick grove of oaks on the outskirts of town. In the center of the grove was an amphitheater.
There was a large assemblage- men and women wearing black robes. There was excitement and a joyous anticipation in the air.
There was an altar in front of the amphitheater, illuminated by large candles and a torch in the center. Excited murmurings filled the air. David felt surrounded by primal energy. Then, a tall bearded man clad in crimson robes appeared behind the altar. Jason nudged David. “Be very still- this is the high priest.”
“We are assembled here on this sacred night, the hallowed ground beneath us and the blood moon above. We rejoice! We live! They have tried to destroy us- we have been burned at the stake, hung from the gallows, drowned and pressed to death with immense stones. But we will not be vanquished- we will not allow our gods to be annihilated- to be replaced by their one god- the false god. Tonight, we present an offering to the true gods!”
From behind the stage a struggling figure wearing a hood was dragged before the assemblage. David was frightened and confused. What was happening? Was this a hoax- some type of insane performance art? Jason grasped David’s arm. “Just relax, David. The offering is the best part. I know you better than you know yourself- you’re going to love this!”
The hood was wrenched away from the struggling man. David gasped. It was Sean Carlson! He was gagged and his arms were bound behind his back.
Jason looked at David, amused at his new friends bulging eyes. “Suspend everything they ever told you. You’ve been brainwashed, like all of us, and it’s time to break free. This is justice- pure and direct, the way it’s supposed to be.”
Two men, also clad in red robes, forced Carlson to his knees, and placed his neck on a thick, oaken block. The high priest held a scythe and raised it over his shoulder.
David’s eyes were wide with shock. “What is this Jason- some kind of sick joke?” David tried to bolt, but his legs felt heavy and leaden. Jason was ecstatic. “You’ll see David- you’re just like me!”
The scythe came down. The assemblage screamed with joy. The high priest raised the severed head then chanted- “Hail to thee, oh Mother of Night; hail to thee, Father, lord of the hunt- king of vengeance!” The assembled stood with arms over head and chanted. “Hail to our queen- hail to our lord!”
David’s shock abated. He was transfixed. It was as if a hood had been wrenched from his own head.
He felt power and bliss as he inhaled the scent of fresh drawn blood beneath the glow of the hunter’s moon. He began to chant, at one with the others- with Jason. Then, as the blood moon devoured the night, he howled.
Finally, he had found religion.