's 2018 Horror Write-off:

The Moon is Drooling

Submitted by Robin Cristiano

The forest was getting denser, and though the season was summer, the air remained frigid. My body was numb with what I suspected were the beginning signs of hypothermia. I was navigating by the light of the crescent moon, until I remembered the lunar calendar marked today as a new moon. What I saw in the sky was merely the glint of light reflecting off a row of teeth in the shape of a toothy grin. It was in that moment of recognition the smile vanished, and I was blanketed in darkness except for the pinpoints of stars. But even they, as time went on, were snuffed out like candles by an unseen hand. Perhaps I should’ve stayed ignorant.

I felt around for a rock to sit on, and attempted to ignite the flame in my lantern. But every flame I managed to spark was immediately vanquished by the cold wind. It was in that moment the smile reappeared. I could see it clearly by a patch in the canopy as it shone onto me a beam of sickly light. I tried to ignore it, but I could not resist, for the crooked smile began to drool. A viscous strand of saliva squeezed itself between the rows of teeth, and slowly the spittle spiraled downwards unto me. As more saliva slid out of the mouth, the smile itself became smaller, and the fluid became more discrete in its coloration. It was reddish brown and grew legs like some kind of fox and had glowing yellow eyes.

Its body was tremendously long, like a weasel. Once it had finished drawing itself out, the false moon disappeared. The weasel coiled tightly around the bough of a tree and groaned.

“How was that?” It said in a deep, silky voice. “There aren’t enough village idiots for me to practice my craft on so it’s always a treat.” It slid its chest across the dirt towards me like a snake and snapped its claws. All the moss on the trees and rocks in the forest became luminescent. “How’s that for lighting? I saw you stumbling out there like a blind man. It was quite the laugh, I was grinning ear to ear.”

I ignored the creature and continued to sit on the rock trying to light my lantern, but the wind would not relent. The creature took my reticence as an excuse to keep speaking. I think it liked to hear itself talk.

“I’m not getting through to you, am I?” the creature said sullenly as it frowned. “The witch’s house is ahead, and you will not be able to escape from this forest now that you have entered her territory.” The creature coiled tighter around the tree causing it to uproot. The sound of fur rasping against wood and the ancient bough creaking was the only sound in the forest. “Are you not afraid to die?”

I finally gave in to the creature’s inquiries. “That’s kind of why I’m here,” I said.

The weasel disappeared from around the trees and was now behind me. I turned around to see it, and was surprised to see it changed shape yet again. It stood on two talons with incredibly long legs. It had a squat, moon colored torso, a head that looked like it was crushed in an industrial accident and then put back together. It bent down on its slender legs so its head was level with mine. A tongue slid out its mouth and into my ear, and exited out the other side.

The creature groaned again and I felt my skull vibrate. I wanted to scream, though it actually felt quite good.

The creature spoke, winding the tongue back into its mouth. “I have your memories now, and a good grasp of who you are as a person. How would you like if you die like you want, but I continue your legacy. I will take your form and no one will know you are dead, and no one will cry, which I know you don’t want.”

“I… I don’t care. Do whatever you want.”

“Splendid,” replied the creature. It was again in front of me in the shape of a long winding weasel. Then I saw it stretch its spine to its limit and melt into the ground. It formed a cobblestone path for me to walk on.

“Go on then” a mouth said from between my feet. “I’m sure the witch is eager to meet you.”

While I was walking on the path, I thought about the dreams I’ve been having. The past several months I had dreamt I was flying. I would fly high towards the sun because there was something haunting me on the ground, and I needed to get as far away from it as possible. As I got higher up in the sky, the sun grew dimmer, and I saw ghastly apparitions in the form of my father and sister take the place of the clouds. Unable to stare at them, I looked at the ground. My vision zeroed in on the witch’s house, which by some unseen force of energy snagged at me like the tongue of a frog. I woke up enveloped in a thin veil of sweat. I could still hear voices chattering inside of my head. They were the voices of people I once loved.

I shook my head of the memories. There was no point getting distracted by them now. I found that the house in the distance was getting closer, even when I stood still to rest. The pathway was moving me forward like a massive conveyer belt. The witch lived in a squalid little hut. Nothing like the magnificent palaces that the old folks fantasized about back in the village. It was just a ramshackle wooden house occupying a clearing in the forest. There was no doorknocker or doorknob anywhere to be seen. The creature, apparently impatient with my hesitance, grew an arm near where the path terminated at the door and knocked furiously three times. The door swung open, and the path lifted up like a blanket and flung me head first into the witch’s lair.

Inside the lair was beautiful. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, ornate chinaware adorned the walls, and a posh paisley rug was at the center of the hut in front of a ornate fireplace inlaid with jewels of jade.

Standing on the rug in front of the fireplace was a lone woman. She looked ordinary, as if she could’ve been someone’s daughter from back in the village. She even dressed like a villager, wearing a dull red dress. Dust piled around her boots. I have no idea how long she had been standing there, but it must have been a while.

The witch’s mouth, which was already agape, twitched as if to speak, but all that came out was a slow steady hiss like a kettle letting out steam. Then a voice echoed inside my head. It sounded like a pair of supple lips was speaking directly into my ear.

“What do you want, boy? I’ve been hard at work can’t you see? Well not presently. I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to cajole a spider into building a nest inside my open mouth.” The voice echoed five or six times in my head before disappearing completely. I waited for the final echo before I spoke.

“I have a favor to ask of you,” I said.

The witch’s brow furrowed. She slipped a knife out from underneath her dress and I prepared to defend myself. But instead she used to the knife to slice apart her face. From scalp to chin she made several incisions, as if cutting up an apple.

“Well screw me I guess. Forget all my goddamn plans involving spiders. I guess that was twenty years wasted.”

“Um” I muttered, like a buffoon. I heard the witch was odd and prone to anger, but I was ill prepared for the real thing.

“I mean fuck, am I right? Fuck everything I try to do.” After finishing the last incision, she threw the knife onto the ground with a clang and dug her fingernails deep into her wounds. She discarded chunks of her skull into a pile in front of her as easily as one might discard a slice of overripe orange.

I choked down some bile and blustered forward with the speech I came prepared with: “I just want to bring the people I love back into the realm of the living. Even if for just one night. I know you have power over life and death.”

The witch, finished with her head that lay in a fetid mass on the carpet, now began peeling away the layers of her neck like a banana peel. What lay at the center was not a trachea, but some sort of obsidian beak. She bent over so I could see it clearly. She spoke again, but this time the voice was coming from the chattering keratin of a beak.

“Oh, I have power alright,” she growled.

She bent down on all fours and made slow deliberate steps in my direction with the beak still clattering. I thought about my brief life, and how grief probably did not lead to me making the best of decisions. But this was an outcome I knew from the onset. Either way, I was again to see the ones I have once loved.

Outside the window, I saw a crescent moon smile eagerly shifting its amorphous body. As the witch inched closer I closed my eyes because I thought it would lessen the pain. My final thoughts were about how I was wrong.