Ashley had no idea where they were going. Even if Becky had told her, which she probably had a thousand times, Ashley was too hammered to remember. Or care.
She noticed the moon appearing from behind the clouds and it was full. She howled appropriately.
“What are you doing?” Becky glanced at her, disapproving.
“I’m calling the werewolves,” Ashley said. She howled again, this time sounding more like a drunk teenager than a wolf. But to be fair it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference.
“I don’t think you should be doing that,” Becky said. “Not on a night like this.”
Ashley laughed. Her friend was really into it, the whole Halloween atmosphere. She even wore those black tights and a top that resembled a coat - just like some witch. And the way she spooked at every sound the night made around them revealed just how invested she was. Ashley, on the other hand, just wanted to get wasted. God knows it had been too long since anyone threw a proper party.
“Becky, this is the perfect night for howling. It’s Halloween! Who knows, maybe a handsome hairy guy will come stumbling out of the woods with his shirt off…”
She couldn’t see it in the dark, but she guessed that Becky rolled her eyes. Becky didn’t like to admit it, but she was in love with all those romance novels about innocent girls and big bad werewolves screwing each other.
The moon appeared in full, eliminating the need to use their phones to light the way. The trees around looked very ominous, perfect for a jump-scare movie. Ancient-looking tarmac all cracked and weathered crunched now and then under their feet, moss, and vines spreading over, reclaiming the road for nature.
“Where are we going, Becky?” Ashley asked, deciding that she would pay attention to the answer this time.
Becky sighed. “I told you a thousand times. Geez, how many did you have?”
Ashley stumbled over flat ground. “All of it.” It was Halloween. Sanitation masks off, spooky masks on, and a bottle of Jagermeister. It was a night to blow off some steam.
“My… friends are throwing a party in the old cabin. You were desperate for a party. Now I’m taking you to one. Remember?”
“Yeah, will there be any guys there? Your book club buddies sound like they’re all romance nerds like you.”
Ashley sighed. “Bummer. I wouldn’t mind a shirtless werewolf dude. It would be romantic to suck one under the full moon, don’t you think?”
Becky didn’t answer and Ashley laughed. “Oh, c’mon! You’re so tight up! I think you need this party more than I do.”
“You have no idea…”
They came around a bend, stepping over a fallen tree and spooking a pair of deer on a night stroll. Though, in all honesty, the deer spooked Becky more. For such a squeamish one, Becky sure had some major balls, deciding to take them to the old cabin. That place was creepy by day.
“Ah, look,” Becky said, a smile of relief creeping up on her nervous face. “They’re already here.”
Ashley noticed warm yellow light coming from the cabin’s insides. The place had been abandoned for years, crumbling and decaying, as the forest encroached from all sides. It was a miracle it still stood upright.
Well, it was a miracle Ashley still stood upright.
“So I’m not just imagining the light?” she asked.
“No,” Becky said. “Come one.”
They headed to the cabin, the moon’s glow coloring the world in silver, with the cabin light shining like squares of gold through the windows.
“So fucking romantic,” Ashley said. “I sure hope we won’t be reading, Becky. Can your book friends party?”
They came to the front porch and Ashley bumped on every one of the steps, leading to the door - or what remained of it, anyway. If Ashley didn’t have had a bottle of Jagermeister for dinner she would perhaps question the structural integrity of the place.
Becky led them in. There was a moldy smell in the air, of moss and decaying wood. But also some incense and… something punchy. Something that might just make the trip worthwhile. They came to the room where the light was coming from. Ashley’s mouth dropped. She was drunk, she admitted that, but she wasn’t that drunk.
“Greetings, witches,” Becky said and performed some kind of bow and a hand wave.
The three women, standing around a black cauldron, did the same.
“Greetings, Rebeca,” one of them said with a raspy voice. “You came just in time. And I see you brought a friend.”
“This is Ashley,” Becky said, pointing at her. “She wanted to join our party.”
“Welcome, Ashley,” the three women said in perfect synchronicity.
Ashley kept staring. Her sluggish mind was stunned as it tried to comprehend the sight before her. Three women, whom she could only describe as old hags, stood around a fire burning on the floor of the cabin. On the friggin floor! Surely that’s not what floors were for, especially not old and crumbling ones. Above the fire, they had a cauldron with something bubbling in it.
Ashley could not get her eyes off of the women’s faces. They were just… hideous.
“Um,” she managed. “Hi.”
“Come, join at our fire,” said the one with the raspy voice. “My name is Cantrice, this is Priscila and that is Scinthia. We are the Covenant of the Silent Wind.” The women all exchanged deep looks as if considering what Cantrice just said. It seemed terribly awkward.
“Are they for real?” Ashley hushed to Becky. “Like, they’re wearing costumes and masks, right? No one is naturally that ugly!”
“They’re for real,” Becky hushed. “Don’t worry. They’re friendly.”
Ashley was shocked. That’s not something you tell someone about some strangers you’ve just met. Don’t worry. They’re friendly. Sure. Cool.
“The night is maturing and the brew is ready,” Cantrice said. “The Little Ones can’t wait to be devoured on this sacred night.”
Ashley blinked, wondering whether the woman was speaking some other language. There was a weird feeling of motherliness around these women, like… like the women in the cafeteria who flop piles of crappy food on your plate. Only these had molds and yellow nails on a whole new level of gross.
“So,” Ashley said as she and Becky joined the circle around the cauldron. “You guys are Becky’s book club?”
The women exchanged looks. “Yes,” they said, all at once. Their synchronicity was disturbingly perfect.
“Cool.” She shot a glance at Becky, saying, What the hell have you gotten me into? Becky shrugged her shoulders and stared at the cauldron.
“We, um,” Ashley mumbled, “we’re not going to read any novels tonight, are we?”
“No,” another woman, Scinthia, said. “Not novels.”
“Not even ancient lore,” the third one, Priscila, said. “Tonight is not the night for reading. Tonight is the night for rituals.”
Great, Ashley thought. It’s a cult. Tonight's the night you should learn not to let yourself be dragged into a cult.
“Um, I think I’m gonna just, you know, go.” She looked at Becky again whose eyes went wide.
“You only just came,” Cantrice said, sounding indifferent. “Your friend said you wanted to join our party. Don’t you want to party?”
Party was loud music, dancing people - preferably around your age, not old hags - and alcohol. There was none of that here. Only about a dozen or so red flags to get the heck out!
“I have school tomorrow.”
“It’s Saturday,” Priscila said.
“Yeah, well, I’m a devout student.” She looked at Becky. “Come on. Let’s go.”
She turned to leave but a hand caught her arm. Ashley yelped and turned, expecting to see one of the witches grabbing her, but it was Becky.
“Please,” her friend said. “Let’s stay just for a little while. It would mean a lot to me.”
Ashley glanced at the women who mostly stared at the bubbling cauldron.
“You’ve got some weird-as-fuck friends, Becky,” she hissed, quietly so only she could hear. “You really hang out with them?”
“I… yes. They’re not bad, just… different. Please, Ashley. I went to all the parties you wanted to go to, could you do this one for me?”
Great, Ashley thought. The sympathy note. She sighed. “You promised me a party, Becky. This smells like a cult. When I said I wanted to get wasted I meant drunk, not dead.”
Becky smiled. “Don’t worry. They’re friendly.”
“A dog is friendly, Becky. When you describe a person you don’t use the word ‘friendly’.”
“They have alcohol. A whole cauldron of it, made from all sorts of herbs. Think Jagermeister, but on speed.”
Ashley paused. She sniffed and there was something alluring in the air. That punchy aroma, it was coming from the cauldron. It made her nostrils tingle in a good way, the way you could already imagine the heavenly liquid flowing down your throat and burning everything nasty inside of you, everything you wanted to get rid of. And Ashley had a lot of that inside her, a lot of shit piled up, waiting to get cleansed.
Tonight I decided to get wasted, she reminded herself. And that’s what I’m going to do.
“Fine,” she said. “You know what? I don’t care. If they’re a cult, then we’ll both end up in that cauldron. But if they’re not, you’re carrying me home, okay?”
Becky’s eyes lit up. “Okay.”
I’m going to regret this, Ashley though. But not until tomorrow.
“Alright, ladies,” she turned to the women. “Becky says you’ve got something yummy brewing up in this here cauldron.”
Cantrice raised an eyebrow. “Do you want to try it?”
“Smells good,” Ashley said. “And I want to party. It’s been an hour since my last drink!”
The women exchanged another set of their weird looks and then one produced a plastic cup. Ashley’s body suddenly relaxed. A plastic cup was almost like a trademark for a party and seeing it made her feel silly for worrying. If Becky hung out with these people and she was still normal, then what could be there to worry about?
It’s like Becky said, they’re just different. Who was she to judge?
Scintia dunked the cup in the cauldron and filled it with the bubbling liquid. She offered it to Ashley.
“Whoa, isn’t it hot? It’s boiling!”
“It is cold as moonlight and boils as passion. You can drink it safely.”
Ashley pulled the sleeves of her hoodie over her hands and carefully took the cup. Surprisingly, it was cool. The brown whiskey-ish liquid inside seemed like it was boiling though, with tiny bubbles coming to the surface.
“Whoa, what is this? Some kind of gassy bourbon?”
The women didn’t seem amused. “It is the essence of the forest, young lady. Spirit of the trees, the herbs, the plants, rocks and soil, water and sunlight, moon and star glow. It is not bourbon.”
Ashley sniffed the cup. “Nope, sure ain’t. Smells nice, though. Spirit of things.” She took a slow sip. It tasted like nothing she had ever tasted before; a mixture of so many flavors that it was impossible to describe or pinpoint a single one.
“Whoa!” she exclaimed, prompting the women to lean closer. “This shit is awesome! You make it yourselves?”
Ashley drank the whole cup. Like a boss. It filled her up with an explosion of sensations, like a curious hand that wants to discover what lies hidden beneath the fabric of clothes. It was riveting, enlivening, and soothing.
They all watched her, Becky especially, with anticipation.
“Do you sell this stuff? ‘Cuz… it’s that good!”
“How are you feeling, young lady?” Cantrice asked.
“Like I want more of this!” Ashley laughed. This was more like it, a proper drink and everything seemed better. If only they had some music.
“Here, have another-” Cantrice wanted to offer Ashley another cup, but Ashley beat the woman to it. She leaned over the cauldron and helped herself, refiling the plastic cup. She raised it above her head, feeling her cheeks flush.
“Here’s to hairy werewolf guys!”
Then she drank it dry. Inside, the warmth invaded every part of her body, giving her tingles. She laughed, feeling her head spin, and had to sit down on a pile of firewood. The room began to turn on its own, taking her head with it for the ride.
“Good,” Ashley heard someone say. “You did good, Rebeca. Your friend has devoured the Little Ones and now they shall grow inside her body. As they mature, their larva will begin oozing out of her skin like rashes, popping and leaving behind empty skin sacks as they hatch. The larva will shed off in her sleep, so she will wake up covered in them. It will not be pleasant. Your task, Rebeca, is to collect the larva. Do not let her panic and kill them. The Little Ones must be brought back here once they are done with their host. Do this and your acceptance to our Covenant will be completed.”
Ashley’s mind was swimming, her body felt like it was floating somewhere out in space and the last thing she heard, before entering a kind of drunk sleep, was a million tiny voices crawling in her ears, calling to her.