It’s Halloween Week! I’ve written a story to celebrate this glorious holiday, and I wanted to share it with you great people!
This story fulfills two of my writing goals for 2019: put up a free story for Halloween and write a story featuring a certain kind of beastie… I’d like you to meet the Harwood Twins and witness their cold quest. I hope you enjoy this story. I know I enjoyed writing it.
The Glowing Dark
The Harwood twins chartered a ship from the village. It had taken a considerable effort and a lot of money, but they’d made it happen. The only person willing to take them to the north shore of Ballaghbrack Island was a drunk captain that piloted a rusted lobster boat.
Cassandra leaned on the rusted railing of the boat and fished out a cigarette. The ocean churned and thrashed before her, the overcast sky turning the sea dark. The ship moved with it, dipping low and heaving with every crashing wave. The rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance, but rain only threatened. The remnants of the day’s sunshine were being smothered by the storm.
Cassandra snapped her fingers at the end of her cigarette and a green spark appeared. She lit it and then shook her hand to extinguish the tiny flame. Her brother Cash, seated on a derelict bench behind her, was looking over their supplies one last time.
The brother and sister team did not travel light. It was a reality of their profession. They were monster hunters, called upon to dispatch any denizens of the night that over-stepped the natural order. Cassandra and Cash both carried a set of pistols on every job. While bullets were useless against some creatures of the night, they worked beautifully for others. They also carried a myriad of other weaponry, each customized to deal with different situations. Shrapnel bombs filled with broken cross wood. Knives and stakes. Some modified heavy artillery (always Cash’s favorite). Their father, Lord Harwood, had taught them that the right weapons could always save the day. And in the five years that they’d been hunting together, that knowledge had served them well.
Cassandra puffed on her cigarette and looked back out toward the ocean. The island would be making its appearance soon enough. Like most of the islands on this part of the Irish coast, Ballaghbrack Island was just a rocky slab, devoid of vegetation and inhabitants. Though it was unattractive, fishermen did find reasons to visit its shores. But then fishermen started going missing. One such fisherman ran into the village screaming about ‘swollen monsters’. That lead to the village elder looking for help. That’s how he found the Harwood family.
Because the fisherman’s description had been vague, Cassandra made Cash bring all of his deadly toys. Cash handled the weaponry and loved doing it. Cassandra had her own methods of destruction. She—like many of the people in their family—had special abilities. Cassandra could conjure flames from her hands. While prolonged use of her ability was dangerous to her health, it gave her an edge in certain kinds of encounters. Cash had no such ability, but he was as well-trained as Cassandra in all manners of combat. They’d been raised to be true warriors.
The rain came. The wind whipped it hard enough to sting. Cash cursed and closed their bags, his eyes squinted to protect them from the deluge. Cassandra grunted and tossed her cigarette over the side. Through the wall of rain before them, she could just make out the hard shore of Ballaghbrack Island.
Cash joined his sister at the railing, holding out her bag. Cassandra took it and slung it over her shoulder.
“What do you think we’ll find here? What kind of creatures are we up against?”
“I’m not sure, Cash,” Cassandra said, shrugging.
“The elder said the island was once used for worship. He said we should head to the altar on the southern side.”
At the word ‘altar’, Cassandra looked at her brother. “Maybe it’s some kind of evil deity? Something we need to put down?”
Cash grinned. “We’ll find out soon enough, sister.”
The island came closer, and before too long they were right on top of the beach. The captain blew the ship’s horn and the siblings readied to disembark.
“It appears that the Captain has no wish to speak to us again before we head off to face the monsters of Ballaghbrack Island.” Cash said, hazarding a look back toward the ship’s cabin.
Cassandra scoffed. “He’s probably hoping we don’t come back.”
The boat bumped into the shore and the siblings hopped overboard. Their boots crunched rock. Cash gave the boat a shove and it went back out into the choppy water. Cassandra waited, her eyes on the darkening sky. The arrangement was that the captain was to set up anchor and wait for the siblings to complete their hunt. Neither twin had much faith in this captain.
The two of them set off across the island. The soil was hard, and what little grass persisted was brittle and long dead. Weak looking trees had somehow clawed their way through the harsh ground. Because they were both fit and accustomed to long walks, the two of them made good time.
After a while, the rain tapered down into a thick mist. As the two siblings walked, they kept their eyes peeled. The further inland they went, they began to notice more vegetation was finding its way through the stones. As they reached a particularly steep hill, Cash paused and knelt down. The ground was overgrown with patches of spongy growth.
“These rocks are covered in mold.”
“And?” Cassandra grunted.
“It’s late autumn in Ireland. There’s no humidity. Just rain and cold. Mold shouldn’t be growing here on the rocks.”
Cassandra looked to the slope. The mold patches grew more frequent as they went up, each thicker than the last. “That seems odd. But we’re hardly fungi experts. Maybe some kind of local strain?”
Cash stood up. “I suppose so. Let’s keep moving before the rain comes back,” He motioned toward the hill, “I feel like we’re close.”
The siblings crested the hill together, rocks tumbling away as their boots found purchase. At the top, they both stopped.
Cash chuckled. “I hate it when I’m right.”
The hill sloped down dramatically on the other side, leading straight into what they had come for. A circle of stone monoliths, each standing over ten feet tall. In the very center of the stones appeared to be a crude altar. All around it, on nearly every surface, was the same mold that the siblings had found before. It grew thick and violent, with troops of misshapen mushrooms popping up intermittently.
Cash squinted. “How is this possible? It’s everywhere!”
Cassandra drew one of her pistols. “It must be the monoliths. Something is exerting an influence here. And my guess is the influence will do anything to protect itself.”
“As much as I would like to avoid it, I think we should continue down to the altar.” Cash said, eyeing the ground. Even though they were both protected from disease by magical wards, the idea of taking the chance didn’t appeal. Cassandra nodded and began to walk down.
As the siblings neared the first monolith, they looked up at it. Though covered in mold, they could both make out some features. A beak-like countenance. Grand wings. Huddled figures, arms raised in veneration.
As they stepped into the stone circle, the ground trembled beneath their feet. Then, the mold began to glow green. It started light, and then grew glaring.
All around them, the ground began to break. As the rotten ground peeled up, figures pulled themselves from the dirt. They were vaguely humanoid, but all humanlike features had been consumed by the mold. Layers of heavy mushroom growth hung from their bodies, weighing them down. Their arms were swollen mounds of glowing green flesh, flowered and horrible. The Fungi Monsters numbered in the dozens. And they were advancing.
Cash drew both of his pistols. He spun and opened fire, the gunshots echoing out. Cassandra dodged a clumsy grab from the nearest monster and emptied her guns into it. The bullets tore into the meaty fungus, throwing chunks to the radiant ground. But the bullets did nothing to slow them down. All the while, more monsters were being born from the moldy ground, dragging their enormous bodies toward the siblings as they fought.
Both of Cash’s guns clicked empty and he threw them aside. “Forget about guns, Cassandra! They’re useless!”
Cassandra threw her own guns back into her holsters. “Use the incendiary bombs! Let’s see how these things like fire!”
Cassandra held out her hands. Emerald sparks flew from her fingertips and two balls of flame came to riotous life. With a growl, Cassandra thrust her arms forward. The twin fireballs struck the nearest Fungi Monster with a ripe whoosh. The creature let out an unearthly howl, its flesh sloughing off in burning chunks.
Cash cheered and lit a bomb. He spun and rolled one under the feet of the nearest monstrosity. Boom. The fungi creature was thrown into the air, blown nearly in half. The twins continued to fight. Cassandra threw fire. Cash threw bombs. Fire roared and devoured. The mold on the ground caught fire and spread, racing outward. The air stank of burning mold and flesh.
The fungal army was beginning to slow. Cassandra and Cash stepped closer to each other, their faces drenched in sweat. They’d found a bare patch of ground, free from mold and from flame.
“What’s the end game here, Cassandra? Burn the whole island down!?”
“These creatures are born of the mold! We burn the mold, no more problem!”
Lightning split the sky and a great grinding noise broke through the air. Cassandra and Cash spun, their faces alight from the flames around them.
The altar had broken in half, leaving a jagged whole in the center. Steam rolled from the shattered stone, glowing and billowing into the night mist. An enormous arm shot out of the fissure, a massive claw at the end of a long, ebony arm. The claw stabbed into the ground before the altar and began to pull.
The creature that emerged bore a resemblance to the visage on the monoliths. It was thin and bent, as large as an elephant. Its beak-like face opened and closed, revealing gnarled teeth and a glowing gullet. A set of crusty wings attempted to unfurl, but were impeded by the growth that had overtaken its ebony body. Monstrous clusters of fungal growth had encased its limbs and torso, grey and mottled with age. Two green eyes blinked and spin, its focus set on the siblings.
“I think we found the source of the mold.” Cash said.
“We need firepower. All of the firepower.” Cassandra whispered.
“Coming right up!”
As Cash turned away, the Fungal Bird suddenly raced forward. It opened its jagged beak and let out a fearsome screech.
Cassandra let out a scream of her own and threw up her arms. She let loose two streams of bright green fire, both of which struck the Fungal Bird square in its chest. The force of it staggered the beast for a moment. The flame glanced off its foul skin and ignited the masses of scattered fungi that hung from its body. But it wasn’t enough. The Fungal Bird’s head turned. It took one shaky step forward. Then another. Cassandra’s arms shook and her flame stream faltered. Soon, it would be upon them.
“I’ve been looking forward to using this.”
Cash stepped up and shouldered a grenade launcher.
“Bye bye birdie.” Cash said, grinning. He pulled the trigger.
The grenade launcher kicked up and the grenade struck the Fungal Bird in its wide chest. Cassandra dropped her arms, her power spent. For an agonizing moment, the fired grenade spun on the ground beneath the massive creature. The twins hit the dirt.
The grenade exploded.
The shrapnel tore up and through the Fungal Bird’s torso and legs. The creature screamed and pitched over, its broken body slamming into the smoldering ground. The Fungal Bird screeched weakly, blood running from its obliterated body. As the siblings watched, the creature slowly died.
Cash, grinning like a fool, looked around. What Fungal Monsters they hadn’t destroyed had crumbled into piles of flowered flesh. The battle was done.
Cassandra collapsed, her eyes fluttering.
Cash knelt beside her. “We’ve done it! I certainly wasn’t expecting a bird demon to come out of the altar, but I guess these kind of things happen.”
“I’m glad you brought that gun,” Cassandra said weakly, “I thought we were dead. Heavens. I’ve never thrown that much fire before. Ever.”
Cash considered that. “Father would be proud. He always knew you had potential.” Cash looked at all the smoldering corpses around them. “Let’s get out of here.”
Cassandra nodded. “Help me up.”
Together, Cassandra and Cash began the long walk back the way they had come. As the last of the Ballaghbrack Island fungi burned, the storm clouds broke. The moon shined through, bathing the island in natural light.