The Nightmarchers Before Halloween

“‘Kay, Esteban, you on break.”

As Esteban stepped away from his position, he lifted his chin in acknowledgment. With a barely suppressed sigh, he pulled off the latex monster hands he had been waving at patrons of the haunted house. Once past the curtains, he mingled with the exiting patrons.

Esteban walked past the other closed doors of the cafeteria turned haunted house, off the sidewalk and onto the grass, headed toward the small rise before the ground sloped toward the basketball courts. Now behind the building, he reached for his Zippo and the crumpled pack of smokes in his back pocket. With a cigarette hanging off his lip, he was about to flick open his lighter when he saw a brightening light out of the corner of his eye. He froze. One security guard? Mebbe he knew ‘em? Crap, mebbe was Mrs. Pascua?

As he turned his head to look, the cigarette fell from his slack lips. Slowly marching between the back of the building and the rise was a man holding aloft a torch in both hands. He wore a gourd helmet that obscured his face. His arms, shoulders, and chest were bare. He wore a malo. His bare feet seemed to hover above the grass. Behind him, the torch lit up other men in helmets. But for the crackle of fire and the rustle of cloth, there was no other sound.

Pounding footsteps approaching from his side drew his attention.

“Get down!” His friend Haku barreled into him, bowling him over.

With the air knocked out of him, Esteban could only cough and sputter.

Haku slapped his hand over Esteban’s mouth. “Get on your stomach. Keep your head down.” Haku let go, turned onto his belly, and dropped his face into the grass, not bothering to look to see if Esteban followed his directions.

Esteban was still dazed and his side was beginning to hurt, but he did as he was told. This was not the time for questions.

Even with his head down and his eyes closed, Esteban could sense the Nightmarchers drawing closer. Behind his eyelids, he could see the flickering light. He heard the rustling cloth. He sniffed, the smell of sun-dried grass gave way to an odd musk. And then there was a sense of stillness and then a foreboding pressure. He could feel a ball of cold fear in his belly grow and then unravel, spreading through his chest..

“Na‘u!” The shout cut through the quiet. In the fading echo of that word, the pressure dissipated.

“What you guys doing?” A girl’s voice asked.

Esteban raised his head, then pushed himself up to sitting. Katie, his childhood friend, looked down at them puzzled.

“Nightmarchers.” Haku slowly stood up.

Esteban looked around. Besides the musk growing faint with the evening breeze, there were no nightmarchers, no torches.

“Uh-huh. Anyways, Mrs. Pascua was wondering where you guys was. Break time over.” She turned. “And no forget your lighter.” She added as she walked away.

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