's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Desert Moonlight

Submitted by Nelson DeStefano

You are a fool if you think the desert is lifeless, I tell you. The desert is teeming with as much life as any forest or ocean. You only think this because you see the desert at day. If you saw the desert on a moonlit night, you would be saying very different things, I know this certain. The moon is the sun’s sister, and she provides light without harm to all creatures big and small. All the animals roam and play under her, and the plants take the breaths they held in all day to show their appreciation. It is a wonderful sight, and if you are ever to be proven wrong, pray it is about something like that.

However, if you ever find yourself in the desert in full moon’s light, be it by camping, living, or just bad luck, take warning. Under the full moon, the desert becomes a far different place. Without the light pollution of the modern world to upstage her, the moon uses her light to turn the landscape into a mirror of the day. One could see as clearly at midnight as they could at midday. You could make out fine details and see for miles, feats unimaginable on any other night. But this reflection of day is also when they come to play. If you hear a cacophony of crackles and hollering, make yourself scarce.

No human is making those noises

It belongs to an unnatural parade of horrors that are simply known as desert ghouls. They are spirits of the desert itself, and if you were to get a look and live, you would notice they resemble a mockery of humans and the animals and plants that call the arid wilds home. But these are not simple animals. Some say they are wayward souls, engaging in festivities to make up for their sorrowful pasts. Others say they are the spirits of creatures dealt horrible ends by the cruel hands of fate.

Despite their muddled origins, how to survive an encounter with this procession of the night is much more concrete. The cavalcade is led in the back by the desert earth, rigid and shapeable, and in the front by the desert wind, fluid and unbreakable. The mishmash between man, beast, and plant all make merry in between these two. The leaders will take no notice of you, unless you personally cross them, then you will be the host of a fate both gruesome and indescribable. When it comes to the ghouls themselves, here is what you must do.

1. Make sure you have lots of water, while the desert does need water, just as any living land does, it has evolved to survive on small amounts, and since the ghouls are of the desert itself, overloading them with liquid will weaken them and ward them off.

2. Pray that you’ve woken up in the later hours of the night. The sun, while not lethal, is disliked by the ghouls. They revel in Luna’s light, but Sol’s is their anthesis. It is a signal to end the merriment and sleep till the next full moon. They will disperse and return to their cracks, crevices, and hide-holes and you will be safe. The desert wind and desert earth will return to their realms as well. Sol has no substitute, and any use of one against them will simply bring anger.

3. If you must look at them, do so from far away. While the ritual goers resemble people, they have the keen eyes of beasts, and any attempt to witness them up close will most certainly alert their attention.  And if one thought their fate at the hands of the earth and wind was great and terrible, then the monster’s hands will bring you even more misfortune. If you’re exceptionally unlucky, you may even become another one of the lost souls that dance at midnight, forever wandering. It is better to be safe than sorry.

But it is best to simply go back to sleep as soon as possible and wait for daybreak. You may want to check the area the ghouls’ bash happened, as some have found gifts, inadvertently left behind. But once you’re certain the sun’s wee hours will protect you, set off and make it somewhere safe. These night creatures have never made it past the desert, and I only shake in horror at who or what their celebration would attract if it did.