Connor walked alone. It was dark, cold, and deserted. The only sounds disturbing the crisp silence were his feet shuffling on the gravel and the occasional chattering of his teeth. He wasn’t ready to go back, though. Going back would mean defeat. It would mean he was wrong, and if there was one thing Connor hated, it was being wrong. So, he went on.
The road stretched as far as the moonlight allowed his eyes to see. He had no idea whether he was close to his destination. And there was no one around to ask.
The promise of what lied ahead—a weekend of loud music and free alcohol—was what kept his motivation intact. Canyon Moon Festival. The first of what he was sure would become a world-famous event. In a few years’ time, telling tales of Canyon Moon would be the equivalent of having attended Woodstock in 1969. So what if his parents didn’t understand? So what if his friends laughed at him? It didn’t matter. Connor was decided and determined, and he would get there.
He screamed. Just to be sure he was still there. The landscape was so flat and barren that it seemed Connor wasn’t moving. His broken clock didn’t help matters. So, he screamed. You know, just to be sure.
He felt it before he could see it—the ground vibrating, the small rocks rolling, the air moving. Before he could turn around, thumb in hitchhiking position, the car had already stopped beside him. He observed the darkened windows and headlights off with suspicion until something moved inside.
“Hey,” a female voice called. “Need a ride?”
Connor squinted, trying to see who was there. Yes, he needed a ride, badly, if he didn’t want to die on the side of that road. Yet, he wasn’t sure he’d be safer inside that car.
“Where are you going?” he asked, trying to buy time.
“Canyon Moon Festival,” the voice answered.
“Really?” Connor frowned. What could be the odds?
“Hop on,” the voice said.
Connor hesitated for a second, considering his options. Then, he opened the door and threw himself inside. The cold followed with him.
“Hi,” he said, looking at the stranger. “I’m Connor.”
“Call me Dee.”
Dee was wearing a black hoodie with the sleeves pushed over her hands. Still, Connor could make out blond locks of hair spilling out, painted nails and eyes that looked almost white under the precarious light.
“Where are you coming from?” she asked as soon as Connor thought of asking the same question.
“Down South,” he answered vaguely. She nodded.
Connor nodded. He wondered where exactly, since he’d never seen her around before. He wasn’t about to ask, though, as he wasn’t about to answer her questions. He might be stubborn and reckless, yet he was still aware of the perils of confiding in a stranger. Even though he’d just entered her car.
He blinked hard under the sudden brightness. Raising a hand to protect his eyes, he tried to situate himself.
“We’re here,” Dee said.
Connor adjusted on his seat. He couldn’t remember falling asleep. He must have been more tired than he thought.
They got out of the car, in what seemed to be a parking lot. A huge parking lot. At the entrance of a huge, open space. Canyon Moon was peppered with tall, white tents that sold all sorts of crazy stuff, and countless stages at the far edges. People milled about, talking, laughing, dancing. The music got louder as they ambled deeper into the human maze.
In an unspoken agreement, Connor and Dee stuck together. They roamed around, accepting strange drinks, laughing with strange people. And, then, dancing under rapidly flashing lights—yellows, purples, and reds burned his retina.
Things moved in slow motion—grinning faces so close he could smell their breaths. Eyes so sparkling he couldn’t make out their colors. Hands and arms running up and down, and over. Under clothes. Pulling closer. Sweat. And teeth. White. Sharp.
Things moved in accelerated motion—wet skin glowed in the dark. Glasses, once full of colorful liquids, now empty. Broken. Shards littered the floor. It glimmered on its own. Like the night sky. Small dots of light, ever shimmering. Blues and whites. Like her eyes. So pale, so close. So cold.
She was there, and then she wasn’t. Moving or standing like a statue in the middle of the chaos. Her hair always in place, her hoodie always pulled on. She was everyone. And no one. Her touch was at once familiar and frightening. But always, always cold.
“We’ll have to make a quick stop,” Dee said.
“What?” Connor mumbled.
“A stop,” she repeated. “We’ll have to make a quick stop.”
He nodded. They were back in the car. Or, maybe, they had never left? His memories were a blur of sound and movement. The Festival. He’d been to the Festival. He’d dreamed of the Festival. Connor couldn’t tell the difference.
It was still dark outside. He felt cold again. He fished for his jacket in his backpack, but didn’t find it. He couldn’t remember whether he packed one. He couldn’t remember leaving his house. How long ago had it been? How many days?
They approached a rest stop. A convenience store sat alone in the middle of nowhere. Dee stopped and Connor jumped out. He entered the store, suddenly starving. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten, as well.
He wandered around, collecting an arms-full of snacks, not sure whether he would have money to pay for them. He dropped his items at the cashier, but the guy behind it was too busy watching the TV.
“Excuse me?” Connor called.
The guy turned around. His eyes widened as he took Connor’s figure in.
“Bro…” he breathed. “What happened?”
Connor followed the guy’s gaze down his clothes. He was covered in what looked like dry clay. From the road. Or the Festival.
“Canyon Moon Festival,” he answered.
“The… the…” the guy stuttered, taking two steps back. “Canyon Moon?”
“Yeah,” Connor frowned. “Why?”
The guy slowly turned his head back to the TV in the corner.
It was muted. A helicopter was flying above rubble and distorted steel sitting over a large area of the region’s auburn, cracked soil.
The camera started to zoom in. People wearing protective equipment that looked like astronauts’ suits paced around slowly, trying to step over the destruction. The debris. And the bodies.
There were bodies everywhere. On piles. Torn open. Dismembered. Leaking. The red tint wasn’t from the dirt, it was blood. There was blood everywhere.
The lights flashed rapidly, blues and whites. Indiscernible faces, so close he could taste them. Skin. Sharp glass and sharp teeth. Dampness seeping through his clothes. Dripping to his feet. Red. Bodies and blood.
A lone reporter talked to the camera while at the bottom of the screen the ticker read ‘Tragedy at Canyon Moon Festival’.
Connor looked down at his own clothes again. The mud that covered him didn’t look much like mud anymore.
The store’s doorbell rang, announcing the arrival of someone. Both men turned their heads to the entrance. Dee stood there, her pale eyes fixated on Connor’s face. He remembered her. Dancing, not dancing. There and not all the same. Her long hair, black hoodie and tall frame, not entirely human. More like… like…
“Ready to go?” she asked.
He wasn’t. Yet, he knew he didn’t have a choice. In that moment, Connor realized he was never coming home.
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