A Death God Casts
A Dozen Broken Shadows
Across Unseen, Forsaken Floors
11:43 PM, October 30st
It was a stupid, reckless idea.
Hiking in the cold, in the dead of night, wasn’t my idea of a good way to spend the night. No one knows we’re out here. Civilization feels like it’s a hundred miles away. The forest was dense, and a dark canopy of leaves blocked out the sky. It was the fog, however, that gave our surroundings this eerie, unwelcoming feel.
I couldn’t shake it off as I ducked under a barely-seen, low-hanging branch. The light from Mortimer’s lantern helped starve the darkness, pushed it back just enough that it didn’t feel like an oppressive entity trying to crawl down my throat.
There were five of us, total.
Carson and Angie led our group, Blake and I were in the middle, and Mortimer was at the back. The uphill terrain was smoothing out, the burning ache in my thighs and calves easing as the ground leveled out. Adjusting my backpack, I heaved a relieved sigh as a clearing opened up before us.
“Whose idea was it to camp out in a graveyard in the middle of a forest?” Blake demanded, his face flushed as he dropped his backpack on the ground by his feet. Angie glanced over at him, her eyebrows arching as he dropped down next to his bag.
I stepped over his legs as he sprawled out on the ground, his voice rough as he said, “We’ve been hiking for three days. My feet hurt. I smell. I want coffee, pizza, and streamable music.”
“Stop bitching,” Carson grunted from where he sat, his arms draped over his knees. His head was tipped back, sweat-slicked hair brushed out of his face. “The cemetery shouldn’t be too far off, by this point.”
“You said that yesterday.”
“Will you two knock it off?” Angie snarled as she gathered her dreads up onto the top of her head, her once-loose shirt clinging to her torso. I leaned against a tree, my gaze shifting to Mortimer— his expression blank as ever —before saying, “Let’s take a break, eat an energy bar, and then finish the hike. If the map’s right, the graveyard isn’t far.”
“How far is ‘not far?’” Blake rolled his head to the side, the underside of his eyes black from smudged eyeliner. He made a vague gesture as he said, “What’s left? A mountain?”
“A river,” Mortimer deadpanned as he sat his lantern down, the shadows under his eyes all the darker from the darkness surrounding us. He pulled out the energy bars and passed them out as he said, “It’s not far off. I can hear it from here. We’ll have to cross that, and then we’ll be crossing the property line to the graveyard.”
“Graveyards have property lines?” Carson shook his head. “Weird.”
1:07 AM, October 31st
“I so did not agree to this,” Blake waded through the water ahead of me, his bag hefted high over his head. The water was creeping up his thighs to his hips, the pink boxers dark from water saturation. I was behind him, my jeans and shirt stashed in a water-proof bag inside my pack. Blake stumbled, then said, “Wading through a stream is fine. Crossing a river with two-faced rocks in the middle of the night is suicidal. Why are we doing this?”
“We already went over this, Blake,” Angie called back from her place at the front of the group, her backpack held up in the same manner as mine. Carson had thrown his bag across the river, and it landed safety in shallow water on the bank.
It mocked us from afar, and Mortimer simply waded through the currents like it wasn’t an issue. Ahead of us, Angie continued, “The only way to reach the cemetery is by crossing the river. The bridge collapsed a few years back, so we have to cross pioneer style; now get your big-girl panties in order, and stop complaining!”
“Or maybe you could be a little less a bitch,” Blake shot back, his voice rising as he shouted, “It’s not like your balls are getting frozen in the river!”
“For the love of— can you two knock it off?” Mortimer cut in as he passed me, easily grabbed Blake’s bag as he went. Mortimer’s voice carried as he said, “We’re all tired and hungry. Once we’re out of the river, Carson can make the fire and I’ll prep the food.”
“And we’ll leave the ladies to sit by the fire and look pretty,” Carson called out, laughing as Blake protested. I rolled my eyes at the comment, internally relieved when we managed to get out of the river.
It didn’t take long to set up, the fire warming us as we dried off and redressed. After a quick snack and a drink, we made our way over the hill to the graveyard beyond. The graveyard was shrouded in fog, the thick clouds rolling and churning over the ground.
We weaved our way between the tombstones until we came across a small clearing in the middle of the graveyard where a lone tree, bare of leaves, rested. It was there that we settled, Angie unloading her bag while the rest of us pulled out blankets to lay on the ground. Once situated, we all sat down.
After a moment, Angie finally began speaking. “Graveyards are places where secrets of life follow us into death, but it is also the best place to release the things we regret.”
I leaned in, elbows on knees, as she continued, “There’s a story about this place, that we can call on the spirit inhabiting this land, but to make it out of the forest means releasing control of the things that hold us back.”
“Okay, so what do we do?” Blake asked.
It was Mortimer who answered, “We confess our greatest sin, the thing we regret the most. What weighs on us, holds us back.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Angie lit a candle she had set aside. She cradled it in her hands, gaze distant as she said, “I call upon the Shadow of Death to bear witness. I confess my regret.”
Angie drew in a breath before whispering, “Last year, I was pregnant. I regret that I let my parents talk me into getting rid of it.”
A stillness settled over the group, Carson’s eyes were wide as he stared at her. Then he leaned back, void hard as he whispered, “You were pregnant? And you didn’t tell me?”
“I was scared!” Angie dropped her face in her hands, hiding her face as a harsh wind swept over the area. My breath misted in the air, webs of silver ice spreading along the ground as Angie said, “I told my mother when I found out, and she lost it. Told me she’d kick me out of the house if I didn’t.”
"You could have come and stayed with me!”
There was another sound shifting in the air, a low-key whisper that was like a thousand voices. I shifted, gaze sweeping over the area as Mortimer said, “Well, surely there’s something you regret, Carson.”
Carson whirled on Mortimer, voice cracking as he said, “We all have regrets, Mo. I regret that I wasn’t with my sister when she got into that accident two years ago. I regret now seeing how my father was struggling, that I didn’t see that my mom was driving herself into a corner.”
There was another sound — nail on stone, on chalkboard, that echoed. Barely there, a low hissing groan that swept through the fog. Nausea churned deep within my gut as cold, long fingers were suddenly creeping over my throat. A silken voice brushed my ears, whispered words drifting as the creature whispered, “Keep fighting, little bird. I want to hear you scream, to see you bleed.”
I saw Blake’s eyes widen, the color draining from his face just as Mortimer recoil in shock. I didn’t dare move, not when the tips of too-sharp nails cut into the tender flesh of my throat. Behind me, a man said, “So we’re playing a Game of Regrets, are we? Those have always been my favorite. Tell me, Blake, what is it that you regret?”
I drew in a sharp breath through my nose, forced myself into stillness as my head was tilted back. A cold, claw-like nail slid up my next as the creature cooed, “What is it that you regret most? The house burning down while you watched? The knife in your brother’s chest? The dead boy’s lifeless eyes staring at you even in your dreams?”
I tried not to think about any of those things as Blake shook his head, his entire complexion devoid of color. I tried to drown out the screams bubbling in the back of my mind, trembled as I smelt burning wood in the air and wet, hot blood on my hands. A whimper escaped, a hiss of air between clenched jaws, as that cold hand curled around my jaw.
A clicking noise— the creature’s version of soft, gentle laughter; mocking in its tenderness, a small part of my brain supplied —grazed the shell of my ear. Then I heard Carson’s weak groan, his hand knocking into my ankle.
“What about you, little bird?”
Something cool and wet pressed against the corner of my chin, texture rough as it dragged along the side of my face. Its tongue, I realized. My stomach heaved, but I couldn’t move. Bile in my throat, in my mouth, but I was immobile.
The forest in the background started to churn and waver like a mirage, there than not, as the creature’s voice echoed around us. “If it is a Game of Regrets you seek, then I assure you, you will regret everything that ever brought you here. Run, if you dare. I am eager for this hunt, eager to watch you run.”