Halloween in Napper’s Holler
was just like any other day, thanks to Father Joe Murphy. The Holler’s children
did not dress up or play pranks. Even though few of them were Catholic, they
went about their chores and minded their manners out of respect for the priest.
Ella June Ames, the good
father’s twenty-eight-year-old housekeeper, had been the first child baptized
in the tiny parish. Pappy Ames, who preferred his likker hard and his sermons
soft, had appreciated what none of the itinerant preachers seemed able to
deliver. He’d not wanted to hear about hellfire and brimstone, but paradise and
real-life parables. Having the child he’d found abandoned in Piney Woods
baptized, he’d figured, guaranteed him a front row seat for sermons, if not an in
with St. Peter himself.
St. Elmo’s was a clapboard
chapel supported by its proximity to the sturdy brick cottage serving as Father
Joe’s residence. For fifteen years, Ella June had kept both scrubbed and
orderly. Always a cautious child, she’d dedicated herself to the Lord’s
service. She’d made this vow at thirteen—the year Pappy Amos Ames (God rest his
soul)—left the gangly youngster alone in their drafty cabin next to the
cottage. Many miles from any nunnery, she’d done the best she could, given the
Ella June sat bolt upright, her
bedsprings squeaking, sure she’d imagined the raps on her cabin door. A
greenish radiance, unlike familiar lantern light, crept around the door’s
“Who is it?” Ella June asked,
her quavery voice startling her in the pre-midnight stillness. Fumbling for her
lantern, she lit it, pulled on her threadbare robe, and padded barefoot to the
door. Slowly, she put her ear to the wood, but quickly pulled it away from the
“Open up…or else!” The gargled
warning made her skin crawl. Vapor formed as she breathed.
Ella June gasped and crossed
herself. Her hands trembled as she draped her rosary beads around her neck and
grabbed the Lives of the Saints
Father Joe had given her after her Confirmation. For insurance, she found and
lit her white baptismal candle, dripped a pool of wax near her closed door, and
stuck the candle where it could safely burn down.
Then Ella June sighed in
resignation, thinking, It must be a prank.
Well, I’ll just show those little scamps
a thing or two. Running lightly to her bed on her long legs, she stripped
the top sheet off and tucked it around her, then pushed up the window beside
her bed and climbed out, dropping to the mud below. I’m going to scare the stuffing
out of ‘em.
Suddenly, the sacred candle
light poofed out, and Ella June heard, Slide…plop.
Tempted to peep over the
windowsill, she obeyed her instincts not to do so. The moonlit clearing showed
an area around her cabin full of gray corpses—skunks, possums, deer, boar, and
even a bear cub.
“Sweet Savior! This ain’t no
youngun’s prank,” said Ella June before she could stop herself, her big, bony
feet slipping in the mud and tripping over the pitiful, bloodless bodies of
Having left her window ajar in
her haste, she now regretted the oversight. A glowing, pulsating, amorphous
mass dripped over the sill, its slimy, sea-stinking tendrils seeking the
Like a white ghost, the
terrified housekeeper fled in her flapping sheet to holy ground: St. Elmo’s
chapel. She dared not scream again, lest her pursuer hear. With no
trick-or-treaters or their folks about, and Father Joe away seeing a sick
granny deeper in the woods, Ella June knew she was on her own.
Praying silently, the woman
pulled her mop from the back corner of the dim chapel, where only the red eye
of the sanctuary candle burned in its glass holder. Moonlight filtered through
one stained-glass window. She stomped on the mop to clean her muddy feet, not
sure the creature could detect her tracks, but not about to chance it. The
aroma of incense and beeswax soothed her heart enough to slow it. She mounted
the pulpit. Once there, she rested her hands on the old, worn Bible.
Tick…tick…tick. Father Joe’s clock at the back of the
counted off the seconds as Ella June listened for, and finally heard, Slide…plop.
A shimmering green film
enveloped the windows, and the roof creaked under an unnatural weight, as if
the chapel were underwater. The housekeeper groaned a prayer of thanksgiving
for the sturdy old beams and secure door. Her ears rang, however, and an uneasy
weariness settled upon her.
“You just git!” What Ella June
meant to holler bravely came out a harsh whisper. She gripped the Bible harder.
“I’ve come to save you from Devouring Darkness.” The
watery-voiced thing had heard her!
“I’m already saved, thank you,”
Ella June snapped in a clear voice, adding, “and I don’t trust no ‘missionary’
what goes about killing helpless critters.”
“Your kind kills them for meat.
I needed their primitive essence to form my own here, so I could bring you an
important message...and request a special favor of you.”
“Pappy always said, ‘If it
ain’t good news, it ain’t worth hearin’.’”
“I’ve traversed vast Deeps, at
great risk to my own salvation, with this news: You and your adopted world have
been judged and found wanting…unless a representative is willing to bear the
Truth. I’ve come to tell you, daughter—you’ve
“You ain’t my kin,” objected Ella June. “If you
was, you’d know Napper’s
Holler ain’t like the rest of the world. We already have and follow the Truth,
born of the Virgin ages ago. It teaches us not to judge folk the way everyone
else does. Those who do can just go right back to where they came from.”
“This is the very reason I’ve
come to you. Napper’s Holler being a
reality apart means you can all belong to a future reality where you could
evolve to a state of perfection like mine.”
Before Ella June could say how
not evolving was fine with her, the clock struck twelve. Bowed beneath the
overwhelming weight of Otherness, she stepped from the pulpit and sank to her
knees before the altar, the Bible cradled in her arms. For the first time since
encountering the Alien, she felt warm, even hot, as brilliant green light
bloomed from her to fill the chapel. Not fear, but inspiration, now gripped
her. Using a bloody finger, Ella June began to write of her encounter...
The next morning, on the Feast
of All Saints, Father Joe found his housekeeper’s gray husk, wrapped in the
sheet, at the foot of the altar. Her essence having hastened the unearthly
missionary’s exodus, her glorified soul had departed the Holler…beyond the
reach of Devouring Darkness.
Of the Alien there remained not a trace,
save for Ella June’s simple sketch and vivid testimony in flowing green script
on the brittle, gray flyleaf of the old Bible.