I was hungry so I headed towards Barry’s Diner.
The streets were lifeless. Almost nobody goes out at night anymore. People know that some kind of evil roams this town, but nobody listens to them. They are all primitive peasants, after all. I thought of them that way as well, but in this case, they seem to be right.
People of this town never liked me. My parents moved here when I was still a boy, but to them I remained a foreigner. A boy from the big city who doesn’t understand their ways. I’m not sure if I was naturally a loner or if they turned me into one, but I’ve never made real friends. I rarely left my home. I grew my own vegetables and earned some money on translations, something I could do from home. I don’t know why I returned here after college. My father was sick so I came to help my mother, but after that, I could’ve left. I didn’t, and apparently now I was trapped here. There was something about this place that made me feel at home, even though I hated the people that lived here. Now, however, I had to feel sorry for them.
I followed the pale streetlights to the only place that was still open. Old Barry didn’t want to change his ways and he kept his diner working as before. People stared at me as I entered. They didn’t expect me there. Ken the Hermit – that was who I was to them. But this night, they had a more important thing on their minds.
There were only men in the diner; men with no families, who always ate out, men who didn’t really spend time with their families, and several drunkards. As always, Bill Brightley was the loudest one.
“What do you want?” asked Sarah, old Barry’s daughter.
She was never nice to the customers and she never smiled, but everybody still liked her. She surely was the nicest face there, to be honest.
I ordered the first meal I thought of. She nodded and left without saying anything.
“I say it’s a vampire or a werewolf!” proclaimed Bill Brightley.
“You can’t really mean that, Bill”, said someone quietly.
“Well, it’s some kind of a creature that eats people. You saw the bodies, the flesh ripped from the bones!”
“It’s some lunatic”, said the third voice.
“Well, who could it be? I’d say the only suspicious one is the Hermit!” said Bill Brigthely jokingly, making sure I could hear him.
I said nothing, pretending not to hear him.
“Anyway, we have to do something. I say we go out and watch. We might spot something.”
“To Hell, Bill! You can’t be serious!”
“We are the men of this town! We are the ones to protect it!”
The men of the town fell silent. Sarah came with my order.
“Sarah, sweety, don’t you think that we should do something about those murders?” Bill yelled after her.
“What would you do?” responded Sarah in monotone.
“Hunt it down, whatever it is!”
“How would you hunt it down if you don’t know what it is?” Sarah crossed her arms.
“We all know what it is! It’s a monster! Our grandmothers always told stories and you all know them. It happened in the past and it’s happening again!”
“Those are just old stories”, said someone.
“Maybe not”, I said.
When I turned to face them, everybody was looking at me in surprise. They didn’t expect me to take part in their conversation.
“So, what do you think?” asked Bill.
“I’ve also heard those stories you speak of. There was this old lady who told them to me. She thought I had to know them if I wanted to be part of this town. She said there were creatures here, not the vampires and werewolves of the horror stories, but real monsters who hunted and ate people and could turn their victims into one of their own. Even now, some of them hide in the woods, she said, and they can hide for centuries if they wish to. They are not mortal. And when they gather their strength, they will come again.”
Everybody was silent for a moment. They seemed to recollect the similar stories they’ve heard when they were children.
“My grandfather told me his little brother was taken from his bed one night”, said one of the men. “Grandfather saw the creature that took him. It was a young, pretty girl, but she was terrifying in an indescribable way. He was so scared he couldn’t move. The little brother was never found again.”
“In my family, there’s this weird story about my great-grandmother”, said another man. “She had a lover. Every night she would go out into the woods to meet him. My great-grandfather found out and, one night, he followed her. The next morning, he returned, his hair completely white. He never spoke a word again.”
“Yes, I also heard…”
“Stop it!” screamed Bill. “We all know that there are many, many stories about those monsters, but this doesn’t help. If we want to fight this time, we need to know where they are and how to defeat them.”
“Crosses!” said one man.
“Cut its head off!” said another.
Bill didn’t seem satisfied with the answers.
“I think I know where to find them”, I said.
“You do?” Bill’s eyes sparkled with interest.
“The old lady said they hide in the ruins, where the old castle used to be. It’s in the woods, but still not that far from the town. And it has many hidden hallways where they can hide. I don’t know if this it true, however. That’s just what I’ve heard.”
“We should burn it down!” yelled one of the men.
“Well, it’s the only clue we’ve got”; said Bill. “We could go there just before dawn, and try to burn it. The stone is moist and doesn’t burn, but we have enough time to plan how to do it.”
“Maybe it’s completely crazy”, I said. “But least we would be doing something.”
“Why are you helping us?” asked Bill.
“Like it or not, I live here. Of course I want the murders to stop”, I said. I got up from the chair, leaving my food untouched.
Bill looked at me with approval and for the first time I felt like a part of the town. I was a comforting feeling.
It was still night when we approached the ruins. The stone walls were covered in ivy. Everybody just stood there, uncertain if this was a good idea after all. A little bit of light found its ways through the branches above us, which meant that the dawn is approaching. We had our flashlights pointed to the ground so as not to wake anything that might be hiding nearby.
“We have to burn it from within, there is no other way. The floors have turned to grass I presume, so it shouldn’t be hard. We just have to check it”, said Bill.
Nobody said anything but we still followed him towards the entrance. There was no door there, only ivy and shrubbery. Bill cut through the bushes, trying to make as less sound as possible. And then, we were inside.
The room was pitch-black so we had to use our flashlights. All we could see were the stone walls which surrounded us mercilessly. Everybody stayed silent. Grown men afraid of the dark. Grown men trembling like prey animals.
Bill then motioned towards a single hallway. We knew we had to go that way, wherever it may lead us. We’ve come this far and we couldn’t give up. It must be dawning outside – there was some solace in that.
We walked, wary of everything around us, listening for every sound. We came to a place where hallway led into another room. We looked inside. It seemed empty, but we couldn’t be sure.
“Two of you must stay there to keep watch. We can’t allow them to attack us from the back or, even worse, to surround us”, whispered Bill.
The two men who stayed behind looked almost relieved. The room seemed empty and safe enough. The rest of us proceeded farther into the darkness until the hallway split in two directions.
One way seemed to lead into a room, but it was hard to tell. The other led only into vast darkness.
“We should first go there”, a man showed in the direction which seemed to have an end.
“I think we should go deeper”, Bill responded. “And this time, I don’t think we should split.”
“We should definitely check this way”, insisted the man in a louder voice that would be advised.
“Fine, you cowards. You stay and someone will go on with me. Once you check the room, come after us. If something attacks us you’ll hear the screams”, said Bill sarcastically. “So, who’s going with me?”
Nobody wanted to.
“I’ll go”, I said finally.
Bill looked at me a bit confused, but he wasn’t able to choose.
“Fine”, he said, and everybody did as we’d agreed.
Two flashlights were not enough. Everything was so silent that I could hear Bill’s heartbeat as he walked in front of me. I could hear my stomach grumbling and was certain he could hear it, too. Only then did I realize how alone we were. “This was a very bad plan, Bill”, I thought.
The hallway led us straight into another room. The space distribution was a bit confusing. I don’t think anybody knew where we actually were.
“We passed no windows this entire time. Why are there no windows?” asked Bill.
It was the obvious question to ask but nobody thought about it, blinded by fear.
“You were lured”, I said.
“Wha…?” Bill turned.
I growled and leapt, sinking my teeth at his throat.
I wasn’t hungry anymore.