by Billy Kravitz
Who am I? I'm just an old 'Piney' and we hear a lot a strange tales in the Pines . . .
The 'Pines' were always there. They weren't planted, but just grew, cool and dark and still. Small bands of people have lived there ever since the coming of the moon. Indians rest there, white folks, escaped slaves, most everybody. The Pines are good for hiding. Trouble is not everything hiding that which is human, or even close to human. The Pines keep secrets forever.
Luna had a husband. He brought her here from somewhere outside. I don't know. Could of been New York. Could of been Philadelphia. Got a job overseeing a cranberry farm. Wet work. Cold work. Out in the bogs.
Rented an old, beat up, 'shotgun shack'. In case you don't know, that means all the rooms are in a row. Don't have to build no hall way. Saves money. Saves time. If you stand in the sitting room and fire a gun, the bullet's gonna bust straight through the back door.
At first Luna worked in the canteen. She made coffee, tuna fish sandwiches and stuff like that. Some guys gave her tips. Some guys got fresh. Her husband don't like that, so he make her stop.
She says - "What am I gonna do for money? What am I gonna do to get out of the house?"
Husband says - "You don't need no money. I got money. And if you wanna get out of the house, you can just sit yourself down on the porch, or walk around in them woods . . ."
The woods were all around. A narrow dirt road led out to a wider dirt road. This place was the real heart of the Pines.
Autumn was cold that year, not wintertime cold, not bitter, just bone chilling. Days were gray. Air damp and misty. Husband not home much. Gotta make them berries into cranberry sauce. So he's always working late at the little factory they got out there. Luna gets bored and wants to go walking.
She had a couple of thick, warm shawls. Her grandmother (her abuela) made them for her when she left Mexico. One had a hood. That's the one she put on. The wool was soft. It smelled from home. So she turned off the television. I think she was watching 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?' Locked the door and went out.
Now it is very shady around her place. The trees come in real close. Pine cones are everywhere. They make it smell nice, at first. But then you smell the dirt and the mud and all the dead stuff. First day there she found a squirrel skull. She didn't know what it was. Husband told her. He washed it off and saved it. Put it up on a little shelf in the kitchen.
"Squirrels work hard and don't never go hungry" - he said. So the squirrel skull became a good luck charm.
Little bit later she find something else, a bone. Husband says - "It looks like a human bone, like a leg bone." He thinks maybe a thigh bone. One end is broken off and sharp. You could cut yourself on it real bad. They don't put that on no shelf. But he does save it out in the shed.
Luna makes her way through the trees, following a little deer path. It goes every which way, but she don't mind. Wind picks up. Trees make that noise they do, when it gets real breezy. Luna likes that. This time, she even hears some geese honking. Autumn days can be special, even if they're dim, damp and cold.
Ain't nobody around. The nearest settlement, just a collection of 3, or 4 old houses really, is a couple miles away. Some folks would be scared living all alone like that, but Luna don't care. Her momma's people come from the desert. They know what it's like to see the stars twinkle brightly just for them. They know every song the coyote sings. She's got that in her blood. She likes living that way. That's why it startled her so much.
She stopped. She looked. She froze. Up ahead, maybe 35 feet or so, was a rock . . . a big, old, gray, cold rock. And sitting on top of it was some kind of person. She did not know who it could be, because she only saw the back. Looked like it was all hunched over. Sounded like it was humming something. Had an old baseball cap pulled down on its head. White hair sticking out all over. And embroidered across the back it said - Tasty Kake Baking Co.
Must of been an old jacket, like they used to give truck drivers back in the day . . . Luna was interested, but she wasn't that interested. Pines can be scary. Unless you know who you are talking to, it's best to keep to yourself. But before she can turn around and sneak out of there, the old thing on the rock says something.
It says - "I know about the bone . . ."
Luna just stands there. She don't know what to do. Her heart pounds. She wants to turn. She wants to leave, but she can't. A little mousy thing scurries across her foot, but even that don't make her move.
The thing on the rock stands up. Takes a while. I guess it is arthritic. Then it turns toward her. Got a face like a walnut, all wrinkly and worn. She can hardly see the eyes. Don't ask me if it is an old man or an old woman, because I couldn't tell you and neither could she. But it smiles, just like them crazy bastards smile when they break out of the nut house.
Then it hobbles over. Luna's afraid it's gonna touch her. But that doesn't happen. It stops, maybe 3 feet away and pulls the brim on the old baseball cap, as if to say - 'howdy'. Luna nods back. A fox yelps somewhere. The old thing smiles. Luna's so scared she don't even hear it . . .
Old thing say - "That bone ain't human . . "
Luna clears her dried up throat and whispers - "Then what is it?"
Old thing say - "You know what kind it is, Mexico girl . . ."
Luna says - "How you know I'm Mexican?"
Old thing say - "Please, I know all kinds a things . . ."
Then, in an angry-hoarse growl, the old thing says - "Give it back!"
Luna gasps. She looks away for a heartbeat, because she can't bear the sight of those hard, little eyes peeking out from under the thick, sagging skin. But when she looks back, the strange being is gone.
The sky is dark and moonbeams gild the ground. What seemed like minutes was hours, so she turns and races back to her little shack.
Husband out on the porch. He's angry. He's gnawing on some little, puny, fried chicken leg from a take-out joint on the highway.
He says - "Where you been?"
She can't tell him what happened. Then he gonna think she nasty and crazy. So she says she got lost, fell down and hurt her leg. Took a while before she could walk. Took a while for the pain to go away . . . But it's dark and he can't see if it swelled up or not. Husband shoot her a dirty look, turns around and goes inside.
She waits out on a rickety chair for a while. Then she goes in too. Acts like her leg still sprained or something. Husband give her some chicken. He even gives her a biscuit. But she don't get no mash potato, because he ate them all hisself . . .
Still, she knows why he went to that chicken joint. There's a woman there. She's pretty in a careless, sloppy kind a way. Her name is Judy. She gives him extra gravy and everything. God knows what he gives her . . .
Luna wants to get outta there real bad. After a little TV, they go to bed. She double checks all the windows and triple checks the doors, especially the one in the back. Then she makes sure all the shades are pulled all the way down, climbs in and covers herself up real good. The light is already out by then. He don't wait for her. So she just lay there in the dark . . . thinking.
About 35 heartbeats after 2:00 a.m., something rattles the back door. Luna hears it.
She prays - "Please let it just be the wind. Please let it just be the wind . . ."
And then it stops. Luna drifts off. But then a little bit later, the floor creaks. She opens one eye and peeks out from under the covers. Little, skinny rays of moonlight, from up above the window shade, fall into the room.
Everything seems all right. But then it moves. She sees it. The strange thing from the woods has paid a nocturnal visit to say 'hello'. It even pulls on the brim of the baseball cap . . . Luna don't say nothing. She don't even move.
Strange thing whisper - "Where my bone?"
Luna don't know husband got it out in the shed, so she say - "I don't know . . ."
Crazy-Pines-Thing go - "Where my bone?"
Luna go - "I don't know . . ."
And she can tell it's getting mad, because she can feel it, like little hands running all over her body, trying to find the truth . . .
Luna says - "Please, please, I just don't know . . ."
Crazy thing say in a real quiet voice - "Then give me what you got." Luna says - "Be careful that you do not wake my husband . . ."
But the crazy thing just grins, revealing tiny, pointed, sharp, white teeth . . . Luna is hypnotized by the sight and falls into unconsciousness.
Hours later she wakes with a start. The room is filled with large, black flies. They settle on the quilt, her one good heirloom. But now it's ruined and covered in blood.
She shrieks, jumps out and sees. Her husband is dead. His mouth hangs open, home to countless flies. And the skin on his face is gray and bloodless.
Luna quickly mouths a prayer and throws back the covers. The flies rise up like a cloud, settling on the walls like so many wandering raisins. And then she sees. She sees it.
Her husband's left leg is bitten off just a few inches down from the hip bone. His femur is gone. The lower leg, neatly severed at the knee, still rests there, snug upon the bed. And six quarts of blood lie everywhere. She collapses on the floor, and that's where they found her.
Men from the cranberry bog came to look for him. Her husband was the overseer after all. They broke a window. Rain poured in. They went inside, and the cops came soon after.
Murders were rare in this area . . . at least deaths defined as murders. She had an ax. She had a saw. A big saw. A powerful chain saw. He used it for firewood. Perhaps Luna was confused? Perhaps she couldn't operate the thing at first? So she started with the ax, until she figured it all out . . .
That's what they said. That's what they believed. Who knows? Maybe they didn't believe it? But at least this way the crime was solved. The fiend was caught. The township was safe.
Not everyone lived in the Pines. There were towns in other areas and those people mattered.
So they locked her up. And six years later (things move fast in these parts) they strapped Luna down and injected her with poison. They claim it's painless . . . but it's not. The victim fights to breathe, but the lungs are paralyzed, and the searing heat of oxygen deprivation creeps through a helpless body. Sometimes the eyelids flutter. That's all you see. That's all there is . . .
A subtle wave, as one innocent, tortured soul departs from the living to take its place among the dead.
And now Santa Muerte has another leg bone for her collection. She followed Luna all the way from Mexico. Nobody gets away from her. The die was cast long ago. And that, which is written, must take place.
Who is she? Well, Santa Claus has a wife, doesn't he? And the Grim Reaper has one two.
I guess she has a thing for making soup . . . Wonder what she has in store for you?
Oh, and that shotgun shack in the Pines? It's still there, all worn and old and dry. Got two ghosts now, but they don't interact with mortals much.
Kids hike in to look at it. That's where all the graffiti comes from. I bet some of them are doing that right now.
Happy Halloween. Feliz Dia de Los Muertes.
And I hope you've always been nice to crazy old witches in baseball caps, because look, who knows? Candy skeleton anyone?
An “All Hallow's Eve Tale” by Billy Kravitz, creator of Vampire Wonderland! He writes screenplays and is currently looking for an agent. Find him on Twitter at @wilkravitz
Enjoy the season!