About This Tale
A horrifying tale of monsters and moonlight, and the girl within their midst.
This is a horror story, presented in two parts, but very much intended as one entity. Please do read it in one sitting, should your situation allow….
Eloise climbs out of a taxi and begins the long walk up a deserted country lane. Completely alone, in the black of night. The wind blows and the clouds shift, allowing the pale moonlight to guide her way.
She’s no more than twenty years of age, and classically beautiful; even dressed in her cheap summer skirt and inadvisably flimsy shirt. She shivers as she walks and immediately regrets the fact that she doesn’t own a coat.
Half a mile up the road she passes a gate, and finally arrives at a luxurious old farm house. Built from old bricks, huge wooden door, slate roof with stone chimney. No smoke.
She knocks on the door and waits. Nothing.
After a few moments, she tries the handle and it creaks eerily open to reveal yet more darkness beyond. She peers inside. Creepy. Dark. Silent.
She pulls out her phone and hurriedly types out a text message – “Where are you?” Hits ‘Send’. Now she anxiously waits, her eyes darting from the dark indoors, to her phone screen, to the brightness of the moon in the dark sky. She hears the shriek of some hunting bird, and the rustle of the tress in the breeze. She nervously flashes back to her phone, unsure.
Finally, she looks back at the door. She tentatively steps inside and shouts “Anybody here?”
No answer. She creeps further in and before she knows it she is knocking over a lamp from a small table in the hallway. She fumbles it back into place and moves on to a large living room which is filled only with the light of the nearly full moon outside the gloriously large window.
Every step becomes as creepy and dark as the last, passing through two or three large rooms until, out of the blue, she jumps; her phone beeps. She nearly throws it across the room, receiving the fright of her life from the silence-piercing beep-beep-beep. She takes a deep breath and reads the text which has arrived – “We’re at the party. U?”
She sighs and continues walking through the house, tentatively opening another large door, only to be greeted with a CRASH! The sound of glass shattering on the floor should put her off, but she continues to push the door further open. Across the room is a boy in his twenties, wearing only a pair of ridiculous shorts. He is standing in a large modern kitchen, and has dropped a bottle of beer in surprise. The pair of them exchange a short shriek of shock at the sight of each other – then laugh.
“You’re late!” he shouts at her, and she suddenly realises there’s music pumping in from outside somewhere. She looks out of the double-glass doors at the other side of the room and sees the party in full flow.
“Yeah. Wasn’t sure how to get here”, she responds, but the boy has already pulled another beer from the sink, which is full to the brim with ice, and is on his way out of the doors into the garden.
Eloise takes a moment to compose herself, and briefly thinks about cleaning up the mess of glass and beer on the floor. She decides against it and wanders outside to join the party rabble in the back.
Her eye line flows around the group, taking in the other guests. There are maybe fifteen or twenty people gathered around, barely filling the spacious garden. It seems to be full of the typical American jock-types or, worse again, English kids trying to look like American jock-types. Arseholes, all.
The patio by the doors hosts a small barbeque grill, and a couple of people mill around it. She isn’t hungry for food, so saunters by. Further down there is a hot tub, and then the garden thins into a narrow line of grass with a stone pathway down the centre.
On one side of the path, taking up most of the grass is a small make-shift tent, covering a table full of beers and bottles of god-knows-what types of booze. The opposite side has a long white table, littered with empty beer pong cups, half eaten burger buns and an assortment of cans, bottles, and ketchups.
Most of the throng of people stand around, chatting and laughing. All drinking and all loving life. A smaller group of mostly girls are stood by the tent, warily eyeing the more raucous, all male, hot tub crowd.
The hot tubbers are playing a drinking game. They are loud and crude and not very discreet with their chatter. They stare and shout and discuss the girls as they drink and play and drink some more. The girls try to turn up the music, and shout small-talk to each other, but it’s not very successful in drowning out the obnoxious so-called ‘banter’ flowing from the boys’ mouths’.
One comment is made about how one of the girls doesn’t suit a bikini. Eloise follows the eye lines of the boys and lands on a girl who looks seriously uncomfortable. She’s an average girl – no more, no less. Not Hollywood perfect, but who is? Certainly not any girl that these boys could attain.
The girl can clearly hear every word as they mock her, and she slowly drops her plastic cup into a bin and wanders off behind the small crowd of girls. Out of sight, out of mind. Eloise’s eyes trace back to the boys and picks out the one making the jokes.
He’s scrawny, maybe twenty or twenty-one if he’s lucky. Let’s be polite and say he’s going to need I.D. for a while yet. He has a ridiculous red tartan deer-stalker on his head, and it looks like he’s already been for a dip in the hot tub with it on. The dangling ear-parts are spraying water off in all directions as he throws his head back; laughing at his own jokes. Classy guy.
His friends aren’t much better. She’s met them before, oh so thankfully briefly. Lucas, who she spooked with the beer in the kitchen, is generally an okay kid. The rest, she wondered about. She had heard plenty of tales, and knew to believe only half of what she had heard. But half was still plenty.
Eloise judges all of them on the spot, and wonders why she would come here. She certainly wasn’t one of these people. The things she would do for a boy… Any boy will do.
A noise erupts, and the banter dies out, as the kid in the deer-stalker loses at their overly complicated drinking game. It’s followed by a predictably raucous cheer and a chant. They all say it’s his turn… and he gamely accepts his defeat, pulls something from his pocket, and stalks off to the other end of the garden.
Eloise follows his path towards the drinks table. She grabs a wine in a small red plastic cup, and turns to watch the hot tub idiots again. The game loser (aka Loser Boy) sidles up beside her and speaks; inane nonsense, for the most part. He is trying to be charming and funny, and thinks he’s quite witty. Eloise doesn’t agree but laughs along, playing the happy party girl.
Another cheer erupts from the hot tub gang, and she turns to watch. Loser Boy thinks he is being subtle when he uses this convenient distraction to drop something into her drink. He joins her in giving full attention to the rabble and laughs, beaming at the childish antics his friends are practising. She eyes him warily and laughs along. He gives her a look like the weakest lion in the pride who has finally stumbled onto an injured prey.
“What do you say we polish off these drinks and get the party started?” he says and she doesn’t feel she can say no. His confidence is renewed and he smiles then downs his beer. She hesitates until he nods at her drink.
“Drink up, sweetheart, and I’ll get you another.”
She reluctantly gulps it down, and his smile grows ever more irritatingly. “HOT TUB!” he shouts, and the boys all join in with his cheer. Eloise lets out a meek laugh, feeling very self-conscious for a moment. She turns to put her cup down on the table, and with her back turned Loser Boy signals to his boys – success.
She walks with him over to the hot tub, attracting some vicious looks from the other girls. The boys are getting into the tub, stripping to their shorts if they aren’t already in them, beers never leaving their hands. Lucas introduces her to them all, at least in a fashion.
“Matty, Joe, John. This is Eloise. She’s the girl I told you about. From the gig.” They eye her up some more, a piece of meat on display. They spout their hello’s and she doesn’t hear them, not really. She spins, or at least feels like she does, drinking it all in.
The boys sit in a circle round the edges of the tub, Loser Boy jumping in last. She never got his name. She can’t remember the other names either. She’s not entirely sure if it matters.
Before she knows it she has an icy cold beer in her hand. One of them asks a question – was it Matty? Maybe.
“Have you got a boyfriend then, Eloise?”
She shakes her head. “No, not at the moment. I came here by myself.”
“How come? You seem a lovely girl, you know?”
Shy now. “Thank you. I don’t know… I never seem to last long with boys. Or they don’t last with me”
They all bristle at that, and the expected torrent of stamina-related jokes flow over her. She puts on a smile, she hopes it’s enough.
They beckon her in.
“No,” she says “no I couldn’t possibly.” They urge her to down her drink and catch up with them; they’ve been here for hours. She’s only just getting warmed up. She flashes her smile again, reluctant and shy. But actually starting to enjoy herself.
The hunter and the prey. She downs the beer in one swift motion. She knows what comes next.
“I suppose I better get up to speed on all fronts now?”
She locks eyes with them each in turn, while slipping out of her skirt. She makes an effort to peel off her top slowly, knowing they will be watching. Her bikini underneath is a bright orange and she sees the look in all of the boys’ eyes.
“She came prepared – girl must be game”, they think and whisper, too loud. She hears. She knows.
She is tipsy, she knows that too. She better stumble as she climbs in. She pulls it off well, losing her footing just a little; enough to let one of the boys reach out a helping hand, which coincidentally brushes her thigh.
The boys don’t budge. No one is willing to give up their position around the edge of the tub. Eloise moves to the centre, standing as the sole focus of attention now. She is passed another beer.
They say down that too.
She straightens up. Makes eye contact.
“No”, she says. She’s done all the work here so far.
“Down yours”, she teases. They laugh. They cheer. They do as she says.
“Get another”, she commands. They follow.
“Now… I want your heads all under the water. Whoever comes up last has to down everyone else’s beer.”
They look at each other, unsure. She gives them her best farm-girl from Iowa smile.
“Unless you’re all pussies?”
They cheer (they love a cheer), then duck under.
Underneath the water is murkier than you’d expect. It bubbles and twists and becomes murkier still; green and ugly.
They emerge to the surface again, but the party is gone.
The hot tub is nowhere to be seen.
They are dripping wet, standing in a field. Five boys in their beach wear, in the dead of night.
They can see nothing around them, other than an over-grown bush which forms a wall, maybe twenty yards away from them. It looks like a maze, and indeed it is so. Eloise stands in the entrance.
“Boys. You know not what you have done. Look around. This is the only way.”
Complete blackness surrounds them, and they take it in again. The entrance to the maze is illuminated by some unseen light. Loser Boy is taking it badly, breathing heavy. His panic is made more obvious by the utter silence of the others. They are speechless, eyes wandering around, unable to lock onto anything as nothing surrounds them. They come back to the maze. To the girl.
Loser Boy looks to the sky.
“Where’s the moon? What the fuck is happening?”
“There are only two things which you need know,” Eloise calmly replies.
“If you find me at the end of the maze, you win. To lose is to die… and to die is to lose.”
The boys stare at each other, dumbfounded. Not a word is spoken. Eloise disappears into the gloomy opening of the maze, and her laugh breezes eerily back to the boys’ waiting ears. In a daze, they walk forwards and the maze looms. There is nothing else, they are compelled to approach.
Loser Boy brings up the rear. “What the fuck did you give us, Matty?” he asks. Matt makes no attempt to respond.
“I’m not sure if this is a trip, man…” Lucas says, reaching out to touch the thorny branches in front of him.
“No, of course not. This happens all the time…” Loser Boy protests. The other boys aren’t listening. They walk on, passing inside the archway which forms the entrance of the maze. Once they are all safely inside, it seems to shift and move and the boys feel that they can’t look directly at it anymore, as if the sheer impossibility of it will blind them if they watch the entrance close at their backs.
The path ahead of them immediately splits into two; Matt, Joe and Lucas all head aimlessly to the left without a word. Loser Boy bumps into the back of John, who has stopped dead in his tracks. “We can’t all guess right,” he says rather glumly. Loser Boy understands – the odds of them all going the same way and making it out are slim. Someone has to take the alternate choice.
“Right it is,” he says, and John gives him a haunting look that simultaneously says ‘We have fucked up big time’ and ‘Is this real? Can’t be, can it?’ They take the right path, with tentative steps.
Some way along the left path, the three intrepid souls are at odds. Joe insists they have doubled back on themselves. Lucas isn’t convinced. They stop, once again, to discuss the matter. Matt wanders off ahead, frustrated with the pair of them. He watches as they frantically gesture to different paths, and try to convince one another that they remember where they have been. It all looks the same, he thinks. You could get stuck in here for years.
“I suggest we make a run for it,” he ventures.
The pair look at him as if he is their child, and they have pulled over to consult a map at some dusty roadside diner.
“If we run we waste less time traipsing back along a path when we hit a dead end. We double the amount of distance we can cover.”
“Oh fuck off, Mr Athlete,” Joe angrily responds. Lucas sighs and stands back, expecting a full blown rant. It doesn’t come. Joe just stares at Matt, and Matt at Joe.
“Fuck this,” Matt finally says, and off he goes. Sprinting into the darkness ahead, he leaves his friends behind, assuming he will reach the end and lord it over them all later. Free from their shackles he is out of sight within seconds.
Joe turns back to his friend. “I’m happy to sit this one out now. Let him find the end, he can come back for us,” he says. He slumps to the ground in the middle of the path. Lucas urges him back to his feet. “We’ve barely been in the maze thirty minutes,” he tells him. “Get off the floor and help me find a way out of this shit”.
Joe reluctantly offers his hand up to Lucas, and he helps pull him back to his feet. “Where are we man….?” Joe offers. Lucas cannot answer. He nods to the path in front. “Let’s just find the way,” he smiles and moves along.
They turn several corners in quick succession, with only dense, dark-green bush and thorns in front of their faces. They walk for five minutes, maybe ten. After another thirty minutes they are no further forward. They hit dead end after dead end and double-back more and more often, frustration taking hold.
“What was that?” asks Lucas. Joe shrugs. He didn’t hear a thing.
There it was again. Lucas keeps quiet this time, wondering if he was slipping even more into some kind of coma or maybe his hallucination was just getting the better of him? Maybe that’s the knock of some perturbed doctor, trying to get through to him back in the real world. He rolls with the thought and thinks about how he might actually be in a warm hospital bed or, more likely, slumped in a corner somewhere, overdosing on whatever godforsaken junk Matt had brought to the party earlier. Coma or overdose. These were the happy alternatives to his current situation.
This time it snaps him out of his daydream. That was real. That was here. It was undeniable. But where was it?
“Joe, wait a minute. There’s something…”
Joe is already off and around the next turn. Lucas reaches the same turn and looks left but Joe has disappeared into the darkness. Knock knock. He looks to the right and sees a light, dully penetrating the foggy path through the maze.
“Joe…” he half shouts, half whispers back in the other direction. There is no response. He decides to go for it. Curiosity and excitement race through his veins and he almost freezes on the spot. The light calls to him.
He creeps steadily towards the glow, seeing the fog clear slowly as he approaches. He comes closer and closer until there, in front of his eyes, is a door.
Not just any old door, either. This looks like the door of his parent’s house. White and bright, with the number seventeen in the middle, and the letterbox down below. It is the door of his parent’s house. Bright white light spills out from the sides of the frame, as the fog ghosts over it. Lucas turns the doorknob and is bathed in light and warmth. He smiles and enters.
Matt is running. Sprinting, in fact. He’s never ran so fast, put so much effort into getting somewhere. He’s actually impressed with himself; after a couple of beers this is unexpected. His mind wanders, dreaming up some athletic stardom next year when he will be off to college. Any hint of fame or popularity meant one thing; girls.
He was cruising now, girls on the brain as his legs pounded endlessly on. Running and running.
Running and running.
And running. On and on. Doubt creeps in. Matt wonders for a split second where this new found aerobic ability has come from. Then he wonders, in a maze of unknown origin, which is clearly the construct of some kind of mind-bending hallucinogen or the psychotic plan of a maniac, how he hasn’t reached a dead end yet? Or the finish line? It can’t be this big, surely?
He wasn’t this good, or this lucky. The more he thought about it, the more impossible it seemed that he was picking every correct turn and every move was giving him clear running space up ahead. Shaken from his reverie, he notices the noises in the air. The barking of some rabid dog, the howls of some unforeseen terror in the dark. This place wasn’t his private running track. He should be more scared.
Why was he running and getting nowhere?
He turns a corner and looks at the couple of hundred yards of path in front of him. Without pausing for a second, he reaches to the hedge wall on his side and pulls loose a handful of branches, biting his lip as the thorns invade his palm. He drops the branches in the middle of the path and glances back at them, without slowing once.
Right turn. Clear path up ahead. Until, no, it can’t be? It was. There they are – the branches are sat in the middle of the path right in his way. He speeds up his run, veers left at the end of the path this time.
Two-hundred yards of freedom. Apart from those branches. There they are again, never moving. He was running the same track again. He tries a different path, a left, a right. He stops and runs back the way he had came, retracing his exact steps.
But it’s to no avail. The branches are always there, always smack bang in the middle of the path as he runs on by. He stops dead in his tracks, hands on hips, as his breathing tries to regulate. He thinks hard for a few moments and is struck by one very clear piece of information: nothing changes, but the branch he pulled loose did. He could affect the maze. Maybe he can change the maze.
He walks to the wall and places his hands on it. It was thorny in all parts, no easy pickings, but that was a small price to pay. He pulls at the branches and slowly but surely tears great holes in the wall. After five minutes his hands are thick with blood, but as he steps back to admire his handiwork, he realises he is no closer to a way out.
The branches seem to shift and bend in the gaps he creates. By the time he pulls at the next section, the holes he has created behind him are gone; eaten up by more vine-like branches. He looks up and considers his options. Stuck in a dead end that continuously repeats itself, he realises his best chance of escape; to climb.
He scrambles up the side of the wall despite the thorns digging and clawing at his arms and legs. His wet shorts are now ripped and hanging loose, blood dripping from cuts and scrapes all over his skin. He finds it easy to gain a foothold at least, the branches are firm and hold his weight until, finally, he reaches the top.
All around is green. Rows of the maze stretch off in all directions, as far as he can see. Somewhere in the distance he thinks he can see a light; a fire maybe? Something burning and flickering. His senses are distracted as something crawls across his foot.
Looking down, he sees more insects and disgusting creepy crawlies than he has ever seen in his life. Bugs of all manner, green and brown creatures with four legs or twelve. Slithering and writhing in a mass slimy orgy. The entire top of the hedge wall is crawling and he is stood right in the middle of it now. No escape.
Reaching down, he tries to brush them away from his feet, but they pour out of every gap in the branches. He lifts his foot and kicks at them, sending them scurrying off in all directions, but watches as they just head back towards him. A squadron of ants are making their way up his inside leg, and he swats at them. A big one, the ring leader, digs in and he feels it bite or claw at his skin.
He slaps it hard, and it falls at his feet. In anger he stomps on its prone body, hard and fast. But he forgets he isn’t on solid ground. His foot follows right through and into the thick bush below. He stumbles on one foot, reaches down to free himself from the brambles.
A hand darts out from below and grabs his ankle tightly. He screams. The hand is old, purple and veiny. It has a firm grip but he punches and grabs at it, hoping to prise himself free. It has him held securely.
The only way out, he thinks, is to stop whoever is holding him here. He can’t overpower the arm itself, but surely he has the higher ground on this person? He crouches down and sweeps his hands across the surface, clearing the area of the hundreds of bugs still scurrying at his feet.
He peers down into the bush, following the arms length. There he finds an even more terrifying sight – eyes. Not just one set. Four, five, maybe six. Six sets of eyes. And not just eyes. The decaying faces to match, the fragile bony chests and spindly arms. The entire floor beneath appears as a writhing mass of decrepit, ancient bodies.
He pulls away in disgust, screaming yet again. He stands bolt upright, straining to get away, yanking his leg hard, reaching high up above his head hoping to stretch himself free.
It is no use. The arms all grab for him now. Each one takes tighter hold, pulling him, inching him closer and closer. His skin fails, blood seeps down the stretched out arms below, and Matt’s legs disappear under the canopy, followed by his wriggling torso, and his screaming face.
His arms writhe one last time as they are the last to go, disappearing into the abyss, devoured by the maze, waving goodbye to the world outside.