Well I stayed up too late but when it grips ye it grips ye and ye just gotta ride it out. Here's my chapter in the Hallowroots saga.
The smoke from the fires had turned the sky the color of bloody egg yolk, muddy orange-red and yellowish white, a hazy screen through which a faraway sun shone faintly, apocalyptically. The columns of smoke twined together, gathering in the sky over the house, slipping up through the fanned branches of evergreens.
The boy stood looking out the window. Twelve. There were twelve fires, in a circle around the cabin, and they had burned all night, gasping into ash and coals several hours previous. Now the sun was threatening to set again, to give up to darkness, and the boy knew it was time to relight the fires. He turned from the window of the little house’s kitchen to where a big brown mutt sat on his haunches, and he watched silently, ears flat against his skull, as the boy made ready for his patrol.
He sat on one of the three chairs at the table, tying the dusty laces of his boots. The dog stood up with a soft clicking of claws and the scratchy padding of big paws and sauntered over to where the boy sat. He stuck his cool nose up against the boy’s cheek, then gave him a gentle lick with his sandpaper-taffy tongue. The boy laughed quietly and sat up straight, saying “Good boy” and gave the animal a scratch under the chin before standing up. The dog whined.
The boy looked across the kitchen to the small window, out at the hastening dark, and shivered. Perhaps he’d waited too long this time, came the evil thought, unbidden and cruel in its plausibility. Perhaps the fires won’t be enough, came the next.
He picked up the shotgun from where it rested on the table, and cocked the slide back. Eight rounds in the tube, one in the chamber, just like dad said. The weapon felt heavy and real in his hands, and he realized for one horrifying second how small those hands were, how weak and pale compared to the gray and black metal of the gun. He waved the thoughts away and slung the weapon over one shoulder, then retrieved the key to the fuel shed where the propane burner sat.
The front door had many locks. The boy undid each of them while the dog waited patiently to be let out, and when the boy pulled the door open the animal sprinted past his legs and off the porch, clearing the two rickety steps to the yard in one ecstatic leap. The boy laughed again, louder this time, at the dog’s antics, but it was tempered by guilt. He couldn’t take the poor creature out like he used to. For one thing, the dog was old, and the boy found he had only noticed this fact in the last few months. His black nose was gaining a fringe of white hairs that were spreading down along his jaw, frosting his lips and outlining the grayish pink of his gums, and he was slower than he used to be, taking extra effort to get up and lie down. Even now, as the boy was closing the door behind him, the dog clearly seemed to be regretting the jump from the porch to the ground; he eased painfully onto his haunches as he waited for the boy to finish with the door.
“Careful,” the boy said. “I can’t fix a broken leg.”
The dog cocked his head to the side, his slack mouth closing in confusion. “Nevermind,” the boy said. “Come on.”
The two of them walked to the shed, where the boy retrieved the propane weed-burner from under a tattered green tarp. The metal striker banged hollowly against the tank as he walked toward the first of the fires.
When they stopped the boy dropped the tank to the ground and opened the valve. The gas rushed into the hose with a hiss and he rebuilt the pile from the stacks of nearby brush.
The dog sat watching, ears cocked, brown eyes angled toward the deep woods, where a thin curtain of yellowish smoke settled between the trees. It looked like the abode of ghosts.
The boy concentrated on the fire, opening the valve on the hose and striking a spark where the gas spilled out of the tip in a foul-smelling vaporous haze, and the gas ignited with a quiet roar. He placed the hose at the base of the pile, letting the flames spread up through the dry sticks and branches.
Then he heard them. Long, mournful howls echoing through the pines. The dog, to his credit, did not bark, but stood, hackles straight up along his nape, yellowed teeth bared against the invisible menace shrieking towards them through the trees.
They were waking up, and it was time to move. The boy pulled the hose from the pile, twisting the valve shut, and sprinted to the next fire, hurriedly rebuilding and reigniting it, the dog at his heels.
Between the fifth and sixth fires, the boy slowed and stopped to look at where two low mounds of dried earth lay, side by side. His eyes wandered over the stones that he had placed over them in the shape of the Old Cross—a narrow, gangly X with a circle between the top arms, to represent the Sanctity of Man. Hurry up, he told himself. You’re done crying. There’s work needs done. At his heel the dog whined, licked the boy’s hand.
“Okay,” he said, the urgency of the task at hand returning. “Okay. We’re moving. Come on, boy!” He jogged from fire to fire, the dog panting at his heels, propane tank banging against his thigh. It had gotten lighter in the months since he’d inherited the lighting of the fires. He didn’t dare think what would happen once the two giant tanks behind the cabin ran out. Just keep them burning, boy. That’s the most important thing.
All the while, the sun crept lower, and the howls in the trees grew shriller.
God lives in Hallowroots, the words flashed into his mind as his eyes tracked the descent of the blood sun, and he is thy neighbor. Keep thy neighbor as thy neighbor keeps you.
He was finishing with the tenth fire as the last light of the sun disappeared behind the pines. “Oh no,” he whispered. He could hear their cries echoing through the trees, the predatory sounds of night beasts rising to the hunt. “Oh no,” he repeated. “Run, boy! Back to the house! Now!”
He turned and sprinted back toward the cabin, discarding the propane tank and readying the shotgun as he did so. Losing the tank was bad, but if they got him, it wouldn’t matter whether he had it or not. He heard them tearing between the trees near the unlit fires, breaching the circle; his only hope now was to make it to the porch, where the Old Crosses burned onto the surface would keep them out.
I knew it, he thought, I knew I waited too long, oh merciful god help me. He could hear them behind him, the alien scratching of their limbs along the ground, the groan and creak of their breaths between hideous calls raising the short hairs along his neck.
It was almost full dark now, and he was feet from the porch when he realized the dog was no longer at his side. “Baron!” the boy yelled. “Baron, where are you?” As he leapt up the steps, he heard his answer. They had dragged him into the forest beyond the flames. The boy turned, listening to the savage sounds of Baron’s last stand, heard the defiant growls and anguished bellows as he fought the things in the woods for his life.
There’s nothing to be done. The words stilled the boy as he moved to run to his friend’s rescue. It was the voice of his father. He’s fighting, but he knows his time is up. Let him go, son.
The boy stood on the porch, listening as Baron’s battle cries quieted, and for just a moment, after the shrieks had faded, the silence came rushing in like water through cracked glass. All he could hear was the minute snapping and popping of the ten eager blazes around the cabin. He turned and opened the door, stepped inside, locked the many locks. After he had drawn the Old Cross in charcoal on the back of the door and by every window, he stoked the fire in the woodstove, and pulled a chair in front of it. He would be safe for tonight, but— tomorrow was another matter.
He looked to where he had left the shotgun, leaning against the doorframe, and was suddenly furious. They hadn’t even let him fight, dammit! They’d just taken Baron, and left him alone. It seemed the old maxim still rang true: Hallowroots scars us all.
“God is my neighbor in Hallowroots,” the boy muttered, “and I shall keep him as he keeps me.”
Outside, the ten fires continued to burn, and the smoke that hid the stars was like a fog that no sun’s heat could burn away.