She was tired and out of breath, but she continued to repeat over and over as she ran, “Don’t fall, don’t fall, whatever you do, don’t fall… and for God’s sake, don’t look back!” From behind her, she heard the horrifying scraping as is came closer and closer. It was a sound she would never forget. She ran hard and fast past a sign that read: Dredsdon - Home of the Red Delicious Apple.
Dredsdon was an isolated little mining town. It was nestled deep in a valley surrounded by gnarled oak covered hills that converged into enormous mountains cutting the town off from the rest of the world. The mine had long since played out, so the residents subsisted on what little farming they could scratch out and a prosperous apple orchard that surrounded the valley. There wasn’t much to Dredsdon. It had a small downtown with a few shops, one market and the usual post office, police station and city hall that occupied the same building. Quaint little Victorian houses were scattered here and there throughout the valley and into the hills.
There was only one road leading out. The same road that led in.
At the very edge of town, a ways down the road, sat a small meeting hall. It consisted of one large room with drab white walls. The elders of the town got together each night to discuss matters of importance to the town. Matters that they thought were important.
No one ever left Dredsdon. People were born, lived out their simple lives and died there.
Molly Malone was no exception. Although she was eighteen, she had never crossed beyond the city limits. Her mother always said, “There isn’t anything out there. Everything you need is in Dredsdon.” She went on to give the old “Wizard of Oz” reasoning, “There’s no place like home.” Molly had heard it one too many times.
Molly was bright and inquisitive. She knew there was a world out there, but could only imagine it. She saw herself growing old in this drab little town and never realizing her dreams. She hadn’t figured out what those dreams were yet, but she knew that someday she would. The only thing to dream about now was her birthday party that night. She had invited everyone. Turning eighteen was quite a milestone.
Sandra was Molly’s best friend. They lived next door to each other and were only six months apart in age. Sandra was content to live in Dredsdon. She had her life all planned out. She would marry at twenty-two and move to the old Reardon House, then join the Wesley Society (an exclusive club for women, which consisted of six old ladies who sat around doing needlepoint and gossiping). She would have five children - three boys and two girls - and live happily ever after.
“And die of boredom,” Molly would add.
Since Molly was an only child, she considered Sandra her sister with all the benefits that go along with having a sibling - fights, jealousy, bickering and, of course, unconditional love and total loyalty. Sandra, on the other hand, had five brothers - all under the age of fifteen. The noise levels got intolerable at times.
Sandra was a very superstitious girl with a smattering of paranoia. She went out of her way to avoid the usual pitfalls in life - no ladders, black cats, extreme caution around mirrors. She kept up with all the latest urban legends which only reinforced her belief that it didn’t pay to walk out the front door.
Her latest obsession was with the Dredsdon Devil - a hideous beast known to carry off unsuspecting young girls.
“It has long fangs, huge claws and jet black fur,” she would say. The story grew with time until it also sported pointed ears, a pointed tail, glowing red eyes, spat fire from it’s mouth and could read your mind.
Molly responded with, “You mean the Jersey Devil?”
“No, the Dredsdon Devil. Right here in Dredsdon. It comes out of the old mine to carry young girls off and do only God knows what to them. All I know is - they never come back,” replied Sandra emphatically.
“Does he commute from Jersey?” said Molly, as a smirk crept into her lips.
“No, stupid! I’m serious,” replied Sandra in a tone of frustration.
“Well, the next time you see him, see if he has a Jersey accent - just to be sure. That‘s a dead give away,” Molly said in a glib tone.
“You’re going to be the dead one,” Sandra rattled back, then stormed off.
The town was full of old wives tales like that. One year it was the Woodland Wolf - not a very fear inspiring name - who would roam late a night to prey on young children who were out after dark, when they should have been safely tucked in bed. A favorite in babysitter circles. Then there was the Creature from the Main (main what - no one could explain). His claim to fame was snatching dogs out of yards - a cat lovers dream. And let’s not forget The Dredsdon Ghost, but all he did was jump out and say, “boo.”
Molly was too much of a realist to buy into any of this nonsense. There was no boogeyman - no ghosts - and definitely no Dredsdon Devil!
The birthday party loomed closer and a hubbub came from downstairs as several ladies from town helped Molly’s mother - Angela Malone - cook, clean and decorate the house. Angela was well respected in the community. She was a stunningly beautiful woman who was quite comfortable with her role as housewife and mother. She was known for her cooking and her ability to make anything grow. Her gardens were the toast of Dredsdon. The local garden club stopped giving garden awards years ago. No one could compete with Angela. She stood at the kitchen counter delicately arranging some begonias in a large vase, as the other ladies talked, giggled and tended to various party preparations.
“So, what plans does Molly have?” asked Beatrice Moore as she spread icing on some savory looking cookies.
Angela paused for a moment as she thought, then replied, “She won’t talk to me about it. I don’t know what she’s up to, but she’s always scurrying off to the mailbox behind my back. I think she has a secret friend.”
“An admirer?” Mrs. Brown asked, “Do you think?”
“Now, Angela, you know Molly is as plain as they come. It couldn’t possibly be an admirer,” said Beatrice as she licked icing off of her fingers.
Angela shot her an angry look.
The other ladies froze. They fully expected a confrontation and they didn’t want to miss any of the juicy details.
Beatrice continued, “No offense, but couldn’t you convince her to do something about her appearance. Wear a little makeup now and then? Maybe even a dress?”
“Maybe some reconstructive surgery?” said Angela sarcastically with a tinge of resentment. She turned and glared at the others.
The other ladies quickly resumed their tasks - busily chopping vegetables, arranging cookies, emptying dip into small bowls.
“Sorry, but you have to face facts,” continued Beatrice, undaunted. “You’ll have to take care of her the rest of your life.”
The oven dinged. Angela crossed to it to remove the cake. She was thankful for the distraction. She didn’t want to continue this particular conversation.
“She’s never had a boyfriend. What kind of life is she going to have?” pressed Beatrice.
“I was thinking about opening a shop for her to run. Maybe a bookstore,” said Angela. She tried to reassure the rest that Molly did have a future and just because she was plain, didn’t mean there was no hope for her.
“Work? That’s unheard of for a girl!” replied Beatrice.
“Don’t you think it’s time for that to change?” barked Angela. She was tired and now extremely frustrated. She angrily plunked the cake down on the counter. It teetered there almost ready to fall to the floor.
“Ladies, Ladies…” said Mr. Malone as he entered from the back of the house. “This is supposed to be a celebration.” He crossed to the counter, gave Angela a kiss on the cheek, grabbed a pretzel from a bowl and popped it in his mouth. “Am I going to have to call the authorities... I mean, authority to keep the peace?” He referred to the sheriff. The only watchman the town had.
The other ladies giggled, not so much from his comment, but because that was the usual reaction he got. Stewart Malone was a drop dead gorgeous man. He had a successful export business buying apples from the local growers and shipping them to all parts of the country. He had the uncanny ability to choose the ripest, most delicious apples and get the best price for them.
Stewart and Angela were the perfect couple with the perfect life, except for Molly. No one could believe that she was their child. Some figure that there had to be a mix up when she was born. Angela cherished Molly, none-the-less. Stewart had a cooler attitude. He was tired of the comments, especially the ones that said he must have done something wrong in his life to warrant such a daughter and no son to carry on his legacy. He considered her a mouth to feed and treated her as such.
“I’ve got to go. Ladies, can you try and keep the peace?” said Stewart as he headed for the front door. The ladies giggled as he walked out of the room.
Angela quickly followed him, “Can’t you miss the meeting, just this one night?”
“You don’t need me. You know I have to be there. We have important business to discuss,” he replied as he grabbed his jacket from the coat rack by the door.
“But it’s Molly’s birthday,” she placed her hand on his shoulder in a weak attempt to stop him from leaving.
He shot her a look, “Like I said, you don’t need me.” He opened the door to two young girls, who giggled as he passed them on his way out.
Molly was in her upstairs bedroom trying to decide what to wear to the party. Her mother wanted her to dress nice, having laid a new blue chintz frock on the bed. She leaned toward jeans and her favorite tee-shirt. She ultimately decided to compromise and put on a dress blouse, vest, and slacks.
As she finished buttoning up her blouse, she heard a strange noise out her window. She quickly dismissed it. With five rambunctious boys living next door, she was used to strange noises - all sorts of strange noises.
She had caught bits and snatches of the conversation coming from downstairs. She was hurt. Very hurt. She was tempted to call the party off, but there were too many guests who had arrived and her mother had gone to a lot of trouble.
She crossed to her vanity, sat down and stared into the mirror. She drew her fingers over her face and traced her features - her large awkward nose, thin lips, narrow eyes, misshapen eyebrows. To top it all off, she had a mop of mousy brown hair. Plain was the polite way of saying ugly. Ugly... she thought she had come to terms with it. Ugly she thought. The word swirled around in her head, until tears welled up in her eyes.
Another strange noise broke her from her despair.
“Very funny, kidlets,“ she wiped away her tears and shouted out the window. “I am not amused.“
It repeated. She got up in frustration to see who the ring leader was. The boys usually stuck together, when they pulled a prank. She suspected the oldest, Jared. This was his sort of thing. She crossed to window and heard it again. It sounded unearthly - macabre and frightening. They were good at that.
A large dark figure dashed by the window. Molly stumbled back. It was huge. She thought it had eyes that… no, it couldn‘t have... She suppressed a scream and felt herself flush. She recovered quickly. Those boys! When I get my hands on them…
Just then, she heard loud footsteps in the hall. Many loud footsteps. She turned to see Jared and his brothers fill the doorframe.
“Happy Birthday, Plain Jane, “ he snickered.
The others laughed. “Yeah, Happy Birthday, Plain Jane!” they chanted.
“Do you have to repeat everything I say,” he barked at the others, as he slapped his brother Joseph up the side of his head.
“Ow!” cried Joseph who quickly backed away from him. He fully expected another blow.
She looked at them, then looked out the window. A chill went up her spine.
“Last one to the cake is a punk,” cried Jared and they all made a mad dash back down the hall and down the stairs.
It was only her imagination she thought. Birthday party jitters. She had been spending way too much time with Sandra...
Sandra popped her head in, “Come on, slow poke, everybody’s waiting. It’s getting ugly down there. The little ones are chanting, ‘Me Want Cake!’ They’re getting ready to riot.”
Molly quickly abandoned her room, the window, the dark figure and followed Sandra down the stairs.
Later that night, after the food was all consumed and the presents were opened, Molly and a few of her friends were up in her bedroom. They talked about typical teenage-girl concerns: clothes, boyfriends, food. Molly had put the memory of the dark figure deep in the recesses of her mind. She wasn’t going to tell anyone, especially not Sandra. That girl was paranoid enough.
Two girls sat on the floor thumbing through a fashion magazine. Molly and Sandra peered over their shoulders trying to get a good look. “Black? No, black is so last year.” Amanda turned the page and pointed, “Now, I would make that look good.”
“But that’s a car, stupid” said Bertha, a rambunctious seventeen-year-old from across town.
“So?” retorted Amanda. She was one of the prettiest girls in Dredsdon - blond hair, big eyes, and an incredible lack of modesty. She was always surrounded by a group of drooling boys. They had even formed a fan club.
“Stay on task, Amanda. Keep turning,” urged Bert expectantly.
Amanda flipped the page to reveal a narrow, smartly wrapped present between a page about the do’s and don’ts of dating and a page filled with colorful shoes.
“What’s this!?” asked Bert in mock surprise.
“I know! Can you believe those pumps,” exclaimed Amanda.
“Let me have that,” and Molly grabbed the present.
“Don‘t get greedy,” said Amanda. She closed the magazine and tossed it across the room.
Molly carefully unwrapped the present to reveal a picture frame with the photo of the three of them glaring out at her making absurd looking faces. The frame had a glass front and a delicate silver frame. On the bottom was the inscription, ‘There’s no place like home.’
“You shouldn’t have,” Molly said in a mock tone of disgust.
“We got that for you so you would remember us when you’re off doing important things,” explained Sandra.
“Yeah, like making babies,” They all laughed.
“No, you really shouldn’t have,” Molly went on, “ In the unlikelihood of me actually having a baby, the thing will come out, take one look at this, turn around and plow it’s way back in,”
“Hey,” they each in turn pinched her, then started to tickle her down to the floor.
“No!” Molly yelped. She laughed uncontrollably. “Stop!”
From downstairs she heard her mother yell, “Molly, I’m going over to Mrs. Brown’s house. I won’t be back until late. Molly?”
“Yeah, Mom,” Molly shouted back.
“Will you be okay?” her mother continued.
“Yeah, Mom, as soon as I get rid of the vermin in my room,” said Molly, as the barrage of tickling resumed with vigor.
Meanwhile, six boys (Sandra’s five brothers and a friend) sat on the front porch of the house next door. They stuffed cake into their mouths and conspired about any number of things. The friend was a toe-headed boy - short and slight. He was the son of the town’s mechanic. Not very bright. The silent partner. Jared knew how to pick them. These six were responsible for pulling off the biggest pranks is the history of Dredsdon. Tonight they looked content to just sit and stuff cake into their mouths.
Back in Molly’s bedroom, things had quieted down a bit and took a serious turn.
“So, what are you going to do now? Get married or get married?”
Amanda snickered loudly. Molly shot her a unpleasant look.
“I thought I would move to New York,“ replied Molly. She carefully put the picture in her vest pocket and stuffed some candy into her mouth from a large gold candy tin. She said it more to shock her friends than anything. She couldn’t think of a more provocative place to name. She doubted she would make it as far as Ashland, but that didn’t have the same impact.
“New York!” exclaimed the others in shocked voices. Just the response Molly wanted to elicit.
“I’ve sent out a few inquiries. Job applications. School applications,” Molly responded. She stuffed another piece of chocolate in her mouth.
“You can’t be serious,” said Bert. She fully expected Molly to say she was only joking. She waited for that response.
“Of course, I’m serious,” Molly slumped onto her back. She couldn’t understand why no one thought she would make anything of her life. They fully expected her to join the ranks of all the other Dredsdon women: get married, have babies, and cook and scrub floors the rest of her life.
“You’ll never make it. No one ever leaves Dredsdon,” said Sandra, dryly.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Plenty of people leave Dredsdon,” Molly responded.
“Who?” asked Sandra defiantly.
“Mary Forsythe got that job in Seattle,” Molly wondered when Sandra would bring it up. She didn’t have to wait long.
“Nope, the Dredsdon Devil got her,” she said most emphatically.
“What! You can’t be serious,” Molly sat back up in disbelief.
“Of course I am,” Sandra replied.
Amanda hungrily pointed to the candy tin.
“What about Sue Ellen Emmeret? She got that college scholarship. She left Dredsdon,” said Molly who was fully prepared to give a whole list of escapees.
“Oh, no. The Dredsdon Devil took off with her, too,” Sandra responded matter-of-factly. She grabbed the candy tin and passed it to Amanda who greedily dug into the chocolates.
“That's absurd. How can you possibly say that?” asked Molly.
“Have you ever heard from them? Has anyone heard from them?” Sandra looked around at the other girls. They all sadly shook their heads.
“That doesn’t mean she was eaten by an imaginary devil,” Molly responded to the group. She couldn’t believe they all bought into Sandra’s story.
“I didn’t say they were eaten,” said Sandra.
“What does it do to them then? Take them to his house and bore them to death with bad home movies?” Molly asked laughingly. None of the other girls were amused.
“I said it carries them off,” said Sandra.
“Some say they become his minions,” said Bert in a terrified tone.
“Others say it carries them off straight to hell,” said Amanda, in between chews of a rather large piece of peanut laden chocolate.
Molly started laughing in earnest. “You all believe this nonsense? Don’t you realize it was made up by parents to keep teenagers and pre-teens under control. It’s better than a curfew. There’s not a bit of truth to it.”
“Fine. Someday, you’ll see,” barked Sandra.
“How? Are you going to summon the Dredsdon Devil and send it out to get me?” taunted Molly.
“I won’t, but someone might!” Sandra replied quietly. Her serious tone and expression of quiet desperation unnerved Molly.
She recovered quickly with, “You are so full of it. If there was a Dredsdon Devil and it did come out of the mines to stalk young girls, wouldn’t someone else have noticed. Wouldn’t the town be up in arms hunting this thing…” She stopped. No one was listening. Their expressions were replaced with bug-eyed fear and mouths gaped open as they stared beyond her at the window.
Molly turned to see the same figure she saw earlier, leering at them though the window. It was dark and huge. It’s eyes glowed a devilish red. It made a deep, horrible gurgling noise as it swayed from side to side.
Bert fearfully choked out, “The Devil, it’s the Devil!”
“Now do you believe me!” Sandra shouted to Molly.
Molly froze in fear. Bert and Amanda started to scream. The candy tin, formerly in Amanda’s hands, now flew through the air. Chocolates flew in every direction. Sandra just sat there in hysterics, “Now do you believe me? Now do you believe me? Now do you believe me?”
Molly shook off her fear. She got up and crossed to the window. She would do anything to prove Sandra wrong. Besides, her curiosity got the best of her.
“No, Molly, you’re too young to die,” screamed Bert.
Molly threw open the window. A horrible smell like death reached her nostrils, almost making her sick. She was tempted to slam the window shut and run.
“Molly, NO!” shouted Sandra.
She slowly, hesitantly reached out. She wondered, all the while, if that would be the last thing she ever did.
The things eyes looked right through her. As she reached closer, something red and wet fell by droplets onto her hand. She almost pulled back, but it was too late. She was committed. She had to see this through. She finally reached the retched body of the creature and grabbed hold - hard and fast. She pulled.
The creature plunged towards her. It’s great arms reached for her. The claws on it’s hands ready to tear her apart. It’s eyes flew out at her, then dropped to the ground far below.
“Ow!” She heard the plaintiff cry of a young boy. She looked down to see Sandra’s younger brothers - all five of them with a friend - holding a pole. A pole that held up the monster, which in fact was a makeshift puppet.
“You’re Dead!” she shouted. “We’re going to hang, drown, gut, then burn you. By the time we’re finished, there won’t be anything left to bury!” She reached down and picked up a piece of chocolate that only moments before flew through the air. With all her might she threw it at them. “I hope you rot in…”
The other girls gathered in front of the window to see the spectacle below. “You scared the pee out of me,“ shouted Bert.
They grabbed chocolates from the floor and launched them out the window hoping to bean one of the boys in the head. One hit home. It hit the youngest right between the eyes. “You’re gonna die!“ screamed Amanda, “Long horrible deaths!“
The boys dropped their homemade monster and dashed across the lawn amidst a bombardment of candy. Some hit their mark. Others flew past their heads and barely missed them. The specter dropped unceremoniously to the ground with a thud.
Molly turned to Sandra, “You set me up! All this talk about the Dredsdon Devil! It was all a joke!”
“No! I didn’t know they would do that. I swear. The Dredsdon Devil is real,” she pleaded, “IT IS REAL!”
“Of all the cruel…” Molly was angry and was not about to suppress that anger.
“I had nothing to do with it!” Sandra interrupted.
“Mean…” Molly let all her frustrations from over the years flood out like water from a broken dam.
The other girls moved back to the safety of the beds.
“Rotten thing to…” Molly continued - her fear replaced by adrenaline.
“You can’t blame me!” Sandra blurted out as she grabbed Molly by the arms in an attempt to calm her down.
Molly’s anger reached a peak.
She slapped Sandra hard across the face.
There was nothing but silence. No one moved. No one even dared breathe.
Sandra was shocked. Tears welled up in her eyes. She didn’t know what to do, then she ran out of the room and out of the house.
It was an awkward moment. Molly turned to her other two friends hoping to find understanding and support. All she saw were two unnerved faces who glared back at her.
“We’ve got to go,” said Bert uncomfortably. “Happy…um...”
“Yeah, Birthday,” said Amanda without looking up. The two quickly gathered their things and exited the room in haste.
Molly walked them to the front door and onto the porch in awkward silence. They didn’t even say goodbye. Bert just gave a weak wave and two of them headed down the steps and off into the night.
Molly sat down on the front steps, stunned by the night’s events. She sat there for what seemed like forever. If only she could go back in time and change things.
From the corner of her eye, she saw two young boys run across the lawn. They plucked candy from off the grass and stuffed it into their already overstuffed pockets. She didn’t have the energy to drive them off.
After a long while of star gazing and soul searching, she finally got up and went inside. As she closed the door shut, she reached into her vest pocket and pulled out the picture of her friends. She looked tenderly at it and ran her fingers across the faces of her friends knowing they would never think of her the same way again. How could she have acted so cruelly. She wondered if Sandra would ever speak to her again. She did know one thing; she had lost her best friend.
Molly crossed through the front hall and carelessly brushed up against the hall table. The picture slipped from her hand and fell into the trashcan that sat on the floor at the end. She cursed under her breath and reached down to retrieve it. The weight of the frame sent it to the very bottom.
As she dug her way down, she noticed two unopened letters. Her mother had been careless again, she thought. Molly pulled them out and was about to toss them onto a stack of mail on the table, when she noticed they were both addressed to her. One was from a college in Ashland and the other from a firm in Seattle. Excitement surged though her body. She impatiently ripped into the first. It was an acceptance letter from the college. Finally, she thought. She could escape from Dredsdon. She could have a real life. She could actually live her dreams.
Molly looked down at the letter again and noticed - the deadline for her to respond had long passed. She turned the envelope over - it was postmarked the month before. How long had they held onto it, she wondered. She was crushed. How many others had there been. All those months of filling out applications. All those months of waiting. All those months of wanting. She would have opened the second letter, but she was sure it was the same.
Molly was frustrated. More than that, she was angry. Why would her parents throw away such important letters? Why would they throw anything away, especially mail addressed to her? She felt violated. She wanted to confront them, but her mother was at her friend’s house and her father was away at his meeting.
She didn’t know what to do. She slumped down to the floor. Why were they so desperate to keep her there? She forced back tears as she opened the second letter. It was a job offer from a firm in Seattle, but the starting date was the very next day. She wasn’t ready. She had to arrange for transportation, for a place to stay and most importantly, she had to get there.
Molly picked the picture out of the trash, held it and looked down at the inscription, “There’s no place like home.” She could hear her mother’s voice saying it over and over and over again. She threw the picture across the room. It hit the wall, fell to the floor and shattered - pieces of glass flew in every direction.
Molly got up with a look of resolution. She quickly climbed the stairs to her room.
Once inside, she pulled a large brown suitcase out from under the bed. She haphazardly tossed clothes from her closet and from her dresser into the suitcase. She dumped the contents of her top desk drawer into the case, then picked up her purse and dumped everything in it on top of everything else. After she slammed the letters on top, she forced the suitcase shut and marched out of the room and down the stairs to her parents study.
At the back of her father’s desk drawer, she found a key. She looked at it reluctantly, but decided that if they were going to violate her trust, she shouldn’t have a problem violating theirs.
Molly took the key, her suitcase, and her tears back behind the house to the work truck that sat in a makeshift carport. She threw her suitcase in back, climbed into the cab and slammed the door shut. She started the truck and pulled out of the driveway onto the street. She didn’t even look back.
As the truck bumped down the street, she heard the typical night sounds: people laughing, televisions blaring, and crazy old Mrs. Templeton talking at the top of her lungs to no one. It was late and it was dark, but it was a beautiful night and every window in Dredsdon was open letting the sounds drift out into the night.
Molly turned the truck out of the neighborhood and down main street through downtown, where a single resident walked aimlessly down the street. It was Ian Mcguire, the town drunk. A nice enough fellow. Always ready to lend a hand in exchange for a drink. His famous saying was,”God invented whiskey, to keep the Irish from conquering the world.” He started out as a respectable businessman years ago. But when his daughter disappeared one night, he poured everything he had into finding her. He lost his business, his wife, his respect. Molly suspected he was the one responsible for spreading the rumor about the Dredsdon Devil.
She made it through downtown without incident and headed down the lonely road that led out of town and to freedom. She passed the meeting hall and heard a strange chanting coming from inside. She figured it was old man Hampton again. Her father often talked about his antics and the strange songs he entertained them with, if you could call it entertainment. She had no idea it was this bad.
She almost made it to the city limits. It was marked by a street lamp that shone it’s light on the large sign that was erected to designate entry into Dredsden. It read in large letters: Dredsdon - Home of the Red Delicious Apple - pop. 2,200 God Fearing Souls. To the right of the lettering was a large smiling apple. Underneath was the symbol for the Dredsdon Chamber of Commerce followed by the logo for the town’s Rotary Club.
Molly didn’t understand why they wasted their money on the sign, since the only people to visit Dredsdon was the occasional delivery man and a few lost vacationers, who didn’t even bother to stop for lunch. They immediately turned around and headed out of town. She couldn’t blame them. There wasn’t much there to see or do.
Just before she reached the sign, Molly heard a “Thump, thump, thump,” and felt the truck rock from side to side. She pulled it to the side of the road, turned the ignition off, popped open the glove box, grabbed a large flashlight and climbed out of the cab. She crossed to the passenger side and flipped on the flashlight to see - a flat tire.
“Just my luck,” she whispered. She was ill prepared to change a tire, if there was a spare to be had, which there wasn’t. She looked around to see if there was anyone who could help, but the place was deserted. There was no sound except for the awful chanting that came from the meeting hall in the distance.
Molly quickly abandoned the truck and started to walk toward the hall. She knew she would not be allowed inside, but would wait until the meeting was over… she stopped in her tracks. Realization hit her. Her father was at the meeting. His fury would be too much to face. Not only was she out after dark on the wrong side of town, she had stolen the truck. Visions of doom filled her mind.
Molly abandoned the idea of the meeting hall and quickly changed course to downtown Dredsdon. Surely someone would be there who could help. Even Ian would be a welcome sight. She’d be willing to buy him an entire case of whiskey, if he would help her out of this predicament.
As she crossed the road, she looked back and saw a dark figure that stood under the street lamp. It cast a large, strange shadow against the road. At first she thought it was Ian, but he couldn’t have come this far so fast.
Then it dawned on her that it was the boys, determined to continue on with their prank. They had gone to great lengths to build the costume and they didn’t want it to go to waste. She imagined that one of them must have donned the costume. From the height of the thing, it was probably Jared, possibly with one of the little ones perched on his shoulders. They laid in wait for the first passerby to jump out at and scare.
Molly didn’t think much of their location. No one hardly ever traveled this road, unless they were headed to the meeting hall. She figured they had a gathering place somewhere nearby, possibly behind the sign, where the others waited and watched. Little did they know their first victim would be Molly. Her anger towards them had abated, though. All her anger and frustrations were released, when she slapped Sandra. She would let them have their fun. Maybe she could ask them for help, she thought. Ha, not a chance.
She decided to turn the tables on them. Show them how ridiculous their little prank was. Molly feigned mock fear, as she cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, “Oh, No! Someone save me! Save me! Save me from the big, bad monster!” She started to laugh, “Please Mr. Boogeyman, don’t eat me!” She laughed again and continued, “I don‘t taste very good!” She fully expected them to say, “Boogey, Boogey, Boogey,” in some absurd voice and see the eyes shoot out again and roll down the road. She buckled over. She laughed so hard, she got a stitch in her side.
When she stopped laughing and looked up, the figure was gone. It had worked. It wasn’t the sort of reaction they had expected. They would have to abandon their prank or at least wait for another victim. The likelihood of that was slim to none. She shook off her laughter and continued her journey. When she turned…
There, no more than five yards in front of her, stood the dark figure. What?… How? She turned back to where it had stood under the street lamp. When she turned back, it had disappeared again. She frantically looked around confused. What happened? Where did they go? Fear filled her throat. “Don’t be afraid, stupid,” she mumbled under her breath, “It's just the night playing tricks, that’s all.” She felt ridiculous. She had let their prank get the best of her again. She couldn’t wait to get to the town, get help, and get out of Dredsdon once and for all.
She raised her flashlight and picked up her pace, when a putrid smell drifted through the air. She turned again and right behind her was the figure. Closer, larger. It was no more than two yards away. She shone the flashlight at it’s head, but the hood of the cloak masked it’s face. All she saw was a large black hole where a face should have been.
“Funny guys, very funny…” she said. She walked toward it as she said, “The smell is a nice touch, boys, or is that your natural odor, Jare…” She stopped in her tracks, frozen.
The thing she approached had extended it’s leg to reveal black leathery skin that tightly covered misshapen bones. It ended in a hideous gnarled hoof that scraped the ground. Molly could only imagine what the rest of it looked like. She did know one thing, it wasn’t Jared or any of his brothers. It wasn’t anyone she knew. It was inhuman.
She choked on the smell as it extended an arm. The hand had the same leathery skin that ended in long sharp claws stained with what looked like old, dried blood. Molly fought back the urge to faint. She wasted no time, she turned and ran. She headed toward the meeting hall and to safety.
The hall seemed forever away. The more she raced, the farther away it looked.
She ran hard and fast...
She did not break her stride. She knew if she could make it there, the thing would have to stop pursuing her.
With that many people there, she would be safe. They would protect her.
She was tired and out of breath, but she continued to repeat over and over, “Don’t fall, don’t fall, whatever you do, don’t fall… and for God’s sake, don’t look back!” From behind her, she heard the horrifying scraping coming closer and closer. It was a sound she would never forget…
She finally reached the hall, stumbled on the steps and scraped her knee as she fell forcefully down. The flashlight flew out of her hand and skirted off the steps and rolled under the building. The scraping noise stopped. She gathered all of her courage and turned to see the monster right behind her. It’s heavy acrid breath wafted across her face. She could see it's ancient eyes full of evil; full of hunger. She screamed...
She forced herself up and pulled the heavy doors open. Tears coursed down her cheeks. Her face was filled with terror. She gasped for breath and managed to choke out a weak, “Help.” No one in the hall turned. It was as if they were frozen in their seats, unwilling to turn, unable to respond. Old man Hampton stood at the podium. He read inaudibly from a large black book that sat next to a gavel. She limped frantically to the front of the hall, blood oozed from her knee. She managed a loud, agonized, “HELP!” The only response came from old man Hampton, as he looked up from his book. “Help me, please!” Molly pleaded.
“My, my, my, my, my… if it isn’t Miss Molly Malone… hmmm. Tell me dear, what brings you out on a night such as this,” he said with a strange smile on his lips.
“There’s a… a… thing… a mons… a man following me,” she managed to choke out.
“I’m sure you have many men following you, my dear. You, with such a lovely countenance, must have many admirers, hmmm,” he responded.
The sarcasm in his voice did not go unnoticed. She fully expected the rest of the attendees to laugh at her, but they just sat there, eyes glazed, fixed on the front of the hall. They stared at nothing - unmoved, frozen.
She turned to see her Dad in the middle of the fifth row. “Dad! Dad! Help me!” He sat unmoved. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with everyone?” she screamed. She turned to Mr. Hampton and yelled, “What did you do to them?”
“Do? Do? Hmmm… why nothing my dear,” he stated in a melodramatic voice. He picked up the gavel and twirled it carelessly between his hands.
“I’ll tell the authorities! You won’t get away with this!” she screamed.
“Go right ahead, my dear, he’s sitting right back there,” he pointed to the back.
She turned to see the town sheriff seated in the back row - the same as the others - transfixed on nothing.
“Now, my dear, if you will excuse us. We have important matters to discuss… hmmm. These gentlemen will escort you out,” he continued.
Two men from the front row stood and each took her by an arm.
“But there’s a monster out there!” she pleaded.
“A monster? Oh, no, my dear. There are no monsters in Dredsdon. No monsters at all, except for naughty little girls. Naughty little girls who hurt their friends. Naughty little girls who slap their friends across the face,” he stated.
How could he know that? How could he possibly know?
“Gentlemen,” he instructed.
The men turned Molly around and led her towards the door. “NO!” she screamed. “NO! You can’t! For God’s sake!” She broke loose and headed back again toward the front of the hall.
“Now, Miss Malone,” Mr. Hampton said, “You know this is a private meeting. Naughty little girls like you are not welcome here. I‘d even say, naughty little girls like you are not welcome in Dredsdon.”
The two men grabbed her roughly this time and dragged her back to the door, all the while she screamed, “NO! You can’t do this! Help! Someone help!”
The sheriff got up and headed towards her. He was coming to her rescue, she thought. “Sheriff Williams, thank God, thank God!“ She felt relief pour through her. When he got there, he reached for the heavy doors and opened them. Out in the dark, the demon watched… waited. “NO!“ she screamed. The men threw Molly forcefully through the doors and slammed them shut.
At the front of the hall, Mr. Hampton closed the large black book. Small blood red letters on the cover read: “Summoning The Devil.”
As Molly’s screams reverberated through the night and faded into the distance, Hampton slammed the gavel down...
“Next order of business!”