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The Witch’s Moon by Dori

Word Count 1,521

“That there’s what they call a Witch’s Moon.”  The voice was full of smug bluster, but at the same time, tinged with an overtone of uneasiness.

“Do they?” came the reply―calm, relaxed and somewhat amused.

“Come on, Scott!  Surely you’ve heard of such things…even living back east like you have.”

“Well, to tell the truth, I never paid that much attention to old wive’s tales or ghost stories.”

Jelly added a few more branches to the fire and poked at it viciously with his stick.  “Hah,” he snorted, “just cause you ain’t heard tell, don’t mean it ain’t true.  Why I could tell you about…”

“I’m sure you could, but aren’t we meant to be getting some sleep?  That wire isn’t going to string itself tomorrow morning.”

“Yeah, that’s another thing!  I was planning on having a roof over my head tonight, not flopping on a bedroll here in the open.”

That was a good point, Scott had to admit.  He’d been a little disappointed himself when they’d arrived at the line shack only to find that a skunk (or family of skunks) had been making themselves at home.  Their only option had been to drag all the mattresses and pillows outside and drape the blankets over tree branches to let them air out.  The inside of the cabin stank to high heaven.

“Now how about counting your blessings for a change, Jelly?” Maybe cool reason and little cajolery would work.  Otherwise he’d be spending all night listening to carping and whining.  “We had a good meal and it’s a fine, clear night without a hint of breeze.”

“Hmmmph, there’s worse things than a little wind and rain, ain’t I been telling you?”

Resigned to the inevitable, Scott decided a few ghost stories were preferable to hearing Jelly drone on about the lumpy ground and their lack of pillows.  It turned out to be more entertaining than he’d expected.

Ghouls…haunts…ghosts…witches!  The old man seemed to have an endless supply of lore.  Each tale was embellished with enough gruesome detail to send shivers down your spine.  Scott even got into the spirit of the thing and contributed a few stories about the banshee of Gaelic mythology. 

As they talked, Jelly kept adding fuel to the campfire causing the flames to burn brighter and casting more light into the clearing.  Scott caught his arm to stop him from tossing on another stout chunk of wood.

“Why not let it start to die down?”  Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.  We should get some rest.”

Huffing and grumbling, Jelly lay atop his canvas bedroll and propped his worn cap over his eyes.  He grunted a few times as he tried to wrap the meager blanket around his girth.  Scott had no such problem and was asleep within minutes.

For some time the only sound was the crackling of the fire.  Occasionally a log would burn through and settle, sending a shower of sparks upward.  The stillness was hushed and peaceful as a shroud.

Then all hell broke loose!

Jelly sat straight up, his head turning as if on a swivel.  “What in the name of my Aunt Sadie’s satin underwear was that?”

But there was no easy answer to that question.  Something between a shriek and a moan?  The noise still reverberated in the air. 

“Some poor, dumb animal caught in a trap, maybe?”

Even to Scott, it sounded like a lame explanation, but he forced himself to lay back down and try to relax.

The mournful, pulsating cry echoed through the clearing a second time and a third.

“That’s no critter on four legs…or two legs neither, for that matter!”

“Whatever this leg-less creature may be, we’re in no danger.  I doubt it’s a match for our guns and the fire is likely to keep it at bay.  We can stay alert for a while longer, but don’t let this thing tie you in knots.”

It seemed that Scott was right, because the wailing faded away and didn’t start up again.  “See…?  Now try to get back to sleep.”

They may have heard the last of the loud caterwauling, but here came another more subtle disturbance.  All around their campsite, the blankets they’d hung on the trees began flapping.  First one, then another…then two at a time.  It was no noisier than the flutter of a bird’s wing, but happening without rhyme or reason.

“Tarnation, Scott!  You gonna try to explain that away?”

“Just the wind, Jelly.”

“You already done told me that there ain’t been a breeze to be had all night.”

“And now I’m saying maybe the wind is starting to pick up.  All it takes is a few odd puffs.”  He could hear his own sharp, impatient tone and took a deep breath before he went on.  “We’re both jumpy, but just take my word for it.  There’s nothing to worry about.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when the blankets stopped moving.

Neither of the men spoke.  In silent accord, they lay once more beneath the star-drenched sky and the luminous full moon.  If sleep didn’t come, there was nothing to blame.  No other sound…not the slightest movement…


This time the screeching was louder, more agitated, and the blankets moved with violent jerks rather than swaying gently.

Jelly was on his feet with amazing speed.  He pulled his cap onto his head, gathered his bedroll and trotted toward the shack with his blanket trailing behind him. 

“Hey, Jelly, wait!” 

He didn’t even break stride.

“Jelly, you can’t sleep in there.  Remember the skunks?”

The door to the cabin slammed shut hard enough to rattle the hinges.

Once again the clearing was still and silent.  “Are you quite done with your fun and games?”

A low chuckle came from the bushes behind him.  “Don’t think I’ve ever seen him move that fast before.”

“Please tell me you didn’t follow us all the way out here just to pull that little practical joke.”

Johnny appeared at his side.  “Nah, I finish up at Rock Creek early and figured you two were gonna need some help with a job this big.  Took a sniff of those bed clothes airing out here and I knew why you were sleeping under the stars instead of in the cabin.”

He felt the coffee pot perched near the banked fire to be sure it was still hot and poured a cup before sitting down next to his brother.

“The idea came to me when I heard the two of you out here trying to scare each others socks off.  It was your stories about them banshees that really got me going.  Gotta say I think that’s exactly what one of them critters would have sounded like.”

Giving up on sleep for the time being, Scott reached for the coffee pot himself.  “I have to ask how you did that thing with the blankets.”

The firelight reflected the gleam of white teeth.  “Cut me some stretches of barbed wire. Snuck up and tied them off to the corners.  Then I could just stand back in the bushes and make them dance.”

Johnny glanced over at the line shack where the doors and window were now shut tight and the lantern glowed bright.  “Now I got a question.  When were you on to me?”

“Well, your little ‘banshee’ imitation was pretty convincing, even though I knew such a thing didn’t exist.  And when those blankets started getting in on the act, I knew it had to be someone with a real talent for making trouble.  You were the prime candidate.”

Trying to sound modest, Johnny shrugged.  “He really did most of the work for me.  Old fool already had himself scared half silly before I ever did a thing.”

“I just have one suggestion for you, little brother.”  Scott straightened his bedroll and prepared to sleep after what he hoped was the last interruption.  “When we’re working on that fence tomorrow, it’s going to be best to keep upwind from Jelly!”

And the wind―which had finally arisen on its own―blew the sound of their laughter away into the night.

Meanwhile the full moon cast an eerie glow, too faint and pallid to chase evil from the corners where it hid.

The End


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