The worst thing about the monster is that He never stopped chasing, and thus, we never got a rest. He was a being of endless stamina and dedication and determination. There was no getting away. You were hunted until you were caught and then. . . you were no more.
It began as it has for them all. His victims all began to run in the circle. It was a heated day, as it always was in the harsh summers of Hollowville. But it was a record-breaking cool night, chilled enough for me to shrug off my tank top and pull on a sweater as soon as an algid breeze pranced in through my open window. My friends around me snuggled closer, our circle becoming tighter, more intimate. Blankets were thrown over shoulders and feet were brought in closer to bodies and we all sat tangled around lit candles. We were warm. We were well. It wouldn’t last long.
Our first mistake was calling on Him. Our naïve minds had made it up that there was no way a man—thing of such horror could possibly be real. So we decided to play the game, to test the myth, and began the foot race. The tale of the Restless was said to be an old one, passed on by the town elders, who had learned it from their elders, whose elders had encountered the entity soon after settling into the area. We all knew it by heart, as it had become a tale of great importance in our lives. It was a cautionary story, a whispered conversation, something that came to mind during the final hours of night that clutched to our quiet town, when we were snug in bed but unable to sleep. As restless as the daemon Himself.
He used to be one of us, a man of great power and stature with the settlers. It was never thought that someone of our kind, a friend, a fellow man, would become what He did. Would do what He did. It was never thought that they would meet a monster in the making.
He would come to the town council meetings, always bringing with Him an air of authority, and they would sit there and wait for His arrival because He always seemed as if He was meant to have control, to be their god. Like a good flock, they accepted and they followed the Shepherd, lapping up His every word like He was a stream. And they were thirsty. He was in power and they had accepted it without even a lick of doubt. Not until 20 years later, when little boy Paul Beaumont became a man, became Mr. Beaumont, and became sick of His iron rule on little Hollowville. Beaumont stood up once, during the town meeting, and questioned His word, His judgement. And for the first time, the town’s people blinked awake and wiped away the drool that dripped from their mouth at His every word. They nodded in agreement at Beaumont’s questioning and before things could be settled, He was booed out of the meeting and Beaumont stood at the front of the room. With a flourish of His coattail and a hard jaw, He walked away with fire in His heart, vengeance on His brain, hatred in His spine, a body of dangerous thoughts.
Beaumont’s dame went missing soon after that, and the evidence of a chase was followed for two miles out the town borders. Beaumont went into a fit of unrest, and with a brain clouded with hard liquor and sorrow, he visited Him. His shop was known around as the place to go for any and everything, and He was known as a person to go to for answers to any and everything. Beaumont kneeled before Him and begged, pleaded for any information on the whereabouts of his beloved. And He, a smile hiding true intentions, true loathing, true evil, He nodded and He helped Beaumont to his feet. With a velvet voice covering the thorns entwined around His words, He sparked a deal, a contract bursting from the candle flames. One sent from Tartarus. They would play a game, and if Beaumont won, he would be returned his lover. Beaumont agreed in desperation, and He told him the rules.
You must avoid capture till the first sign of dawn came.
You must never cry for help.
You must never leave the wood.
Beaumont stood in the center of wood and faced Him, a determined smile on his face. And He smiled back, a look of knowing and rotted intention. Beaumont never left the wood that night. He was never seen again. Fortunately, someone had watched Beaumont and Him enter the wood that night and He was brought forward as the only suspect of the disappearances of Beaumont and his beloved. Unfortunately, the next night was the last time someone was able to tell of seeing Him.
We were told to never communicate with him, never to make a deal with Him, that He was the devil incarnate. Never invoke the chase. We didn’t listen.
Heavy breathing increased the heat between us, and we joined hands till we were further tangled as a circle. Our hearts drummed softly against our chest, a steady beat, a calm pitter-patter that seemed to sweetly echo through the room. It gave us confidence. And thus we began.
My friend across from me was the first to begin the chant; an old and dark one, one we had heard whispered at night over our heads by cautious parents who warned of the story of Paul Beaumont and His mysterious chase.
We call upon the game of He who hunts
And ask to become the chase
His best friend, was quick to join in, their voices blending as the second line was sung.
We seek have no intentions, we come affront
And beg to join the race
More and more of us, voices heavy with anticipation with excitement and thrill, added on to the chorus.
Within our minds we hold no fear
We can hold a steady pace
Our heartbeat was strong and one, a steady drum beating to the tempo of the chant and we felt the power in the words as we spoke them. It filled the room and swirled around us, a python ready to squeeze. We were invoking something dangerous, but rather than us fearing it, we welcomed it. We were lost in the summoning.
You must worry not of blackmarket deals
What You see is what You face
Your gate is swift, of that we heard
But we refuse to let You be
Come along, we sing Your song
In a welcome. . . chase me.
Candles blew out in wisps, slight puffs of wind actual breaths from the entity we had invited. He stood around us, a shade of His former self from years earlier, but the political power He lost He gained in another setting. His smile was malicious and whispered of the pleasure He would receive from the chase. It was at that moment my friends and I felt true fear; we never thought Him real, but now seeing His eyes, red, a silhouette, a shadow, a presence so intensely terrifying, we sat in our circle, paralyzed.
Within a blink, the circle was reformed in the sharp cuts and corners of the wood that surrounded our small town, a circle of dying bark and creeping beasts, a prison of supernatural proportions. He stood over us again, in the center of the circle, causing us to scramble back, clouds of fallen leaf, branch, sticks, and stones, all flying into the air as we desperately tried to escape. We protested. He couldn’t hold our vow against us. Oh, but He could, And He did.
The hunt began with the blood curdling shriek from His monstrous smile, a scream that we knew was an alarm. A warning. A demand. Run. Without any more instruction we escaped the clearing, shooting through the closely grown forest trees, trying to get away before He could catch us. We would never make it.
Sweat dripped down our backs and drenched our clothing until we were soaking, perspiring from fear and exhaustion. For hours, but what felt like days, we ran from Him. We ran from our graves. And yet it was like sprinting on a treadmill; no distance through the forest could keep away the feeling of eyes on us through the brush, quiet the echoing footfalls of the predator, repel the closing fingers of the shade as they closed in on us. We were plucked from the ground, thrown aside into a close shadow, pitched into another world. We were scavenged. Our soul was the bounty. Winner takes the spoils.
I was the last one left, I believe. I heard no more footfalls. I saw no more fallen branches and disturbed critters. But I heard a breathing that came from no living thing. I was alone. In the forest. With Him. And so I made a decision. I escaped.
Like a galloping horse, I raced through the wood, leaping and swirling over obstacles as if the fiery hounds of hell were on my tail, ready to drag me tooth and nail back to their pit. I soon found myself on the outskirts of the forest, and it was then that my thoughts came back to me. My decision would have consequences. The hesitation was swept off the rails of my train of thought as I felt His hazy claws graze me and sear away my very essence. And so I did the unthinkable. I cheated.
With the leap of faith came many things. Wind swirled around me, a great gust that threatened to toss me over the rainbow into another land. The trees voiced their protest next, branches quaking and crackling, missiles of pine pommeling me into submission. Mother Nature herself attacked me, bombarded me in her vivid anger.
But none brittled my bones more than the shriek of outrage from Him. Red eyes of loathing intensity leered at me from the clutch of the wood. I stood victorious, a remainder of the chase. But I had sacrificed something when I broke the rules. My sanity? My freedom? My life.
You see, I’m still running from Him. Every night, the mare gallops around my head and curses me, words of horror licking across my scalp and searing into my flesh. I may have left the hunting grounds, but I will never leave the chase. I am no survivor, no victor. I am just another victim with a different circumstance. And you ask me, do I regret calling Him forth that fated night. Yes, of course I do. But most of all, I regret not giving myself over to Him as soon as my feet set onto the fallen leaves on that forest floor.
The torment never ends. And I know that as soon as my heart stops beating, I will be plucked from paradise and set back into His palm, a pawn. I am His now.
They say He was never given a name after birth. That His mother couldn’t find it upon herself to give such a creature anything but an assigned gender. But I think there’s something else to it. I believe that His name is hallowed. He is as cursed as I. It is a name we all know well but we refuse to say it, to think it, because doing so evokes Him.
Yes, you see Him now, in your mind’s eye. He sees you too. Do you feel Him? His presence? Because He feels you. He wants you. He’s going to catch you one day. There is nowhere you can escape. He’s coming now, at a pace of leisure. There is no escape. It is as sure as death. Run.