Author's note: This is my entry for Cornconic's Halloween 2021 story contest.
A psychological occurrence wherein the repeated use of a word or phrase within a short period of time causes it to lose any semblance of meaning for the listener, as they begin to perceive this speech as nothing but nonsensical sounds; becoming lost in the mind as purposeless nothingness.
This phenomenon plagues us all to a lesser or greater degree, because speech and written language are all based upon the axiom that words have contextual nuance for each and every human being, where it unquestionably means more to us than it should. Every person attaches their own perceptions, memories, and personal thoughts to their language, with the possibilities nigh on infinity.
The conflict of semantic satiation hits us hard, because we realize that without the human touch that we give everything in life; that attachment of value and substance, all words become meaningless, simply just sounds produced by the simultaneous movements that your vocal chords and tongue make. It dulls the senses to the world of linguistics, creating a less than compelling existence.
And at the moment, this occurrence is happening to one such word in particular.
All Hallows' Eve has lost a lot of the previous nuance and ideology attached to it over the years. The original concept was forged by the highly admirable ancient Celts. It was a solemn tradition, often-times the part of the year that it was celebrated was linked to death, with the harsh winters unforgiving and cruel to crops and humans alike. It was thought that the boundary between the dead and the living slackened on and around October the thirty-first, and that the specters of past lives roamed the earth once more as the evening set in.
The Celts would sacrifice offerings of animals to their gods, a bleak compromise to keep themselves safe, with effigies and costumes made from the deceased fauna that had been given as appeasement. The entire event was about protection, an unsung vow to keep one's family safe from the forces of evil during the winter months.
Those Celts had it right, and I believe this with more certainty as I grow into my mid-twenties. What began as a fun piece of offhand information became something more as I really researched their ways. I became passionate about their rituals; inspired by their tales and folklore. That's why I devote so much of my time to them. I make sure the gods know I'm a believer, that I know of the old ways. I wear a Celtic band ring that warms my finger, a subtle sign of loyalty.
I must've thumbed through the same mythology books at least a thousand times. I give thanks to the only true connection I've ever felt in this sickly place when I can, because I feel the bond. I've been called a lot of things by my peers, but I know the truth. It's the enduring, ever-present sense of solidarity that I get whenever I think of those now seldom seen traditions; a feeling that none of my school friends, family or romantic partners ever gave me. The key is here, the solution deep within the Celtic mythos.
And of course, I figured it out.
The unfortunate reality is that, through the adoption of modernity, semantic satiation has taken over. Because as I walk through the township environment that I live in, I find my skin crawling, my very soul wrenching and writhing as I walk past the fifteenth novelty Halloween store.
The plastic pumpkins, the cheap costumes; the utterly offensive occult mass-produced garbage that litters every single one of them repulses me.
Of course there are still believers, but they are still so very tame, and so small in population that they barely make a difference. The scourge of Christ's doctrine has seen to that. And so a complete overhaul is needed, a harrying; a purge.
My black lace-up boots trudge with anguish on the sidewalk, staring daggers at a motion-activated skeleton with some pre-recorded scream playing as I walk by.
I despise what Halloween has become. A mockery, a shadow of its' former self. I refuse to engage. Every year I put up the 'no trick or treating' sign in the hopes that my vitriol won't spill over due to a few brats dressed like a bastardized rendition of Frankenstein. I envision them coming to the door, disgusting faces grinning with glee as they thrust out their little bags, waiting for candy, a bludgeon hitting them over and over until they can no longer stand...
The parody it has become is insulting to the gods, to people like me.
I am above that, above the filth that people call a celebration.
Well no more, no longer. No more insolent vulgarities that tarnish the deities' visions.
I'm going to bring Samhain back to its' former glory.
My plan has been brewing for a few weeks now, and today is the day I finally execute it. I'm going to be infamous, notorious, a legend among men. The idea makes me feel exceptionally good, people finally recognizing who I am. Ever since I was young, I knew I could do great things; I knew I had the potential for something more than my peers. The idea of a career just never appealed, the calling for something else gripping me tighter. And now I know what that is.
All Hallows' eve will mark my deserved place in the world; the man who restores what was lost, purging the disease of modern slobbery. I will become more than a man, in fact. The advantage is that, ironically, the deviation from the old ways of spending the last day of October means that the gods are largely unhindered; all they need now is a vessel.
I need one more thing before I can fully begin, which, regrettably, is why I'm strolling around these insufferable places.
One of these places catches my eye, not for its' intrigue, quite the opposite.
It's the most generic of them all.
I like that, because it'll make me and my actions all the more enthralling. When all is said and done, when my plan invariably succeeds, there will be books and movies based on me. And knowing this, knowing I have the power to shape the narrative, to control fate, is utterly phenomenal. I have control over the tiniest details, down to which of these miserable venues I visit, which of the alternatively dressed cashiers get to be graced with my presence in their establishment.
I do my best to hide my smirk as I enter.
It's a tacky little place called The Mystifying Emporium, and about the only thing that connects with its' namesake at all is that I find it mystifying that this place is still in business. I peruse the wares, finding little interest in the Halloween knick-knacks and healing crystals. Not a single thought provoking item anywhere.
My attention turns to the girl at the cash register, my dark green eyes meeting her baby blues for an unnatural period of time. She looks away, trying to ignore me.
Oh no you don't.
"Excuse me, could you tell me where I might find some incense?"
I resist the urge to break into a smirk once again; I can feel the energy of the room changing dramatically, the squirming, twisting, wonderful awkwardness she's now dealing with. Now she has to talk to me.
"uh, yeah, they're like, over in the back, I'll go get them for you." The nervous lilt is unmistakable.
She turns on her elevated platform heel, black tresses following her as she goes to the storeroom.
I'm now alone, and I chuckle. That was the worst lie I've ever heard; the incense can easily be spotted behind the register.
I pass the time thinking about what it would be like to have her. I believe in endeavors of that kind, but only a select few pass. And I decide that she doesn't. Too self-obsessed, consumed by the trends she follows, utterly vapid. I doubt she knows a single skill beyond applying the vampire-like cosmetics she likely does every day. The only reason I'd keep her would be as a concubine; she'd be luckier than some.
She comes back with a few boxes, placing them on the counter.
I approach them, all the while making sure my gaze strays a little too close to her assets, relishing in the clear discomfort she's displaying, shifting her feet; looking anywhere but at my face.
I want her to remember me.
There are several different types presented in front of me. Candles, sticks, and powders most notably. I choose the frankincense, benzoin, and lavender mix, of the stick variety. Earthly scents to invoke exactly what I need.
I finish paying, my wallet now several dollars lighter. My boots stamp towards the door, and just before I leave, I flash her a devious smile.
My fruitful trip out has finished, and I'm sat at home once again. My apartment is small, utterly oppressive and dingy. But it beats being on the street with the homeless, that would truly be an pathetic existence. But of course, the gods would never allow that to happen.
My location has many blights, not just homelessness. Poverty, drunkenness, drug dealers and gangsters are but the surface of the refuse that infects the whole town. And those in control do nothing. Wretched souls are allowed to fester; legacies scarring their surroundings long after death. There is no longer any solidarity, no cohesion in repelling the forces of evil that rot at the very core of our society. But that's going to be a thing of the past.
I have everything I need on the coffee table.
The aforementioned incense, a red fuel container housing gasoline; a set of zip-ties; a lighter, a loaded pistol, and finally, my journal.
The journal is one of the most important pieces in this grand plan. It contains the knowledge I've painstakingly compiled, the analysis needed to restore the world afterwards. It is a thesis to unlock the mind, and it will provide the gateway for the greater good. All I must do now is wait.
I check my watch. It's half an hour till eight.
Time to move.
It's dark, and the trick or treaters in my neighborhood mostly know to keep away from my door by now, so I won't be disturbed; at least for the time being. I place everything in the trunk save for the pistol, secured and ready.
The drive to my first destination is thankfully uneventful, as I pull up to the church, parking behind the building at the edge of the small patch of woods. The rural areas of town are the perfect cover for what I must do.
I pull the seats forward in anticipation of what is to come, my five-seater acting as a makeshift bed.
I am getting more giddy by the second, my purpose unfolding here, tonight, right in front of my eyes. The old ways live through me, and I am more than happy to appease the past.
The gun is concealed in my brown jacket's inside pocket as I walk inside the holy place, eyes predatory, scanning for what I need.
There he is.
He's currently looking over the pews, likely inspecting for anything awry after the service today.
I approach him, and he hears me coming. "Hello, what can I do for you?" He asks in a friendly tone.
For a few seconds, I inspect the man before me. I've seen him so many times before, preaching his impotent words in that fatherly voice; graying hair betraying the frailty he turns to his god to hide from.
As he opens his mouth to speak again, his warm and welcoming demeanor becomes wide-eyed panic as I silently raise the gun to aim at his head; beckoning for him to come closer.
Getting the man in the back of the car is not an easy task, and I have to hit him a few times with the butt of the pistol before he succumbs to unconsciousness. His attempts to struggle and escape were very superficial; my youth giving me a sizable advantage over him.
His body lies still, though still breathing, sprawled across the back seats. I am relieved that no one has seen me; my decision to park around the back where I'm shielded by the overhanging trees and their shrouding shade made a big difference. The zip-ties are open on the floor of my car, having been used to fasten his hands.
My destination awaits, and I make haste to reach it.
The stretch of fields that populate the outermost stretch of town are where my purpose will come to consummation. I have been here before, and found it suitable for my needs.
We come to a barren patch; only brown, organic dirt stands here.
The man in the back of my car begins to stir.
My mind is flying to dizzying heights as I take him, struggling, and pleading, out of the trunk, ignoring his frantic cries. I really should have used some tape.
"Please, whatever you're doing, stop. You need help, I can help you."
He says through tears, likely from the pain of his binds, too.
I set him on the ground firmly, and clear my throat.
"You have condemned the practice of All Hallows' Eve, the very nature of your work has shunned the tradition. You are agents of deception, turning sinless into sinful, good into evil, to further your aims."
I watch him flinch at my words, my gaze boring into him as I continue.
"Your atonement will mark the restoration, the false propaganda will finally cease, and the veil will be torn."
The holy man stutters out a response, utterly perplexed, it seems.
"Wh-what are you talking about, atonement? I've never sinned, I swear it, on the lord's name!"
I smile, moving a lock of long brown hair away from my eyes.
"Your lord ordered this modern depravity, he is of no advantage to you, nor to me."
He senses it's no use, scrabbling to his feet, a wild attempt to make off and escape, barely keeping his balance.
I check my watch and sigh.
Quarter to ten.
My boots follow him leisurely, the stumbling man making very little progress; his bound hands making him lose his balance constantly.
I enjoy the chase, as short-lived as it is; the futile struggle of a pathetic man followed by me, an apex, more than he could ever hope to achieve. He's not even worth taunting; his frail body trips and falls again and again, the fragility so embarrassingly obvious that I needn't bother.
He stops, breathless, falling to his knees.
A vicious strike causes him to keel over onto his side. I strike him a second time; the whimpers coming from him sound like a cornered animal. Yes, that's what he is, a lowly beast, less than human.
I haul him back the way we came, dragging him by the hair violently, his cries of pain irritating me. He'd decided to make things more difficult for himself by turning and running, not me.
He looks like a mange-ridden dog, spattered with mud and covered in bruises. I can't risk him escaping again; I'm already behind schedule. He's too fatigued to try anything regardless, and so I don't bother hitting him again.
Instead, I take out my things from the trunk, and begin.
The man finds new-found energy as I dump the contents of the container over his putrid body, as it dawns on him what I'm doing. He scrambles up again, panicked; hands aloft, burning terror in his eyes as he starts to plead again.
"Oh please, no, please! My family…"
Are the last words he's able to utter before I ignite the flammable liquid on and around him.
I take a step back, the blinding light of the flame illuminating the whole area. The brilliant orange dance takes him immediately, his agony vocalized in shrill bursts, developing into prolonged wails as he flails around. A deadly dance with no choreography; the only music to accompany it being his screams.
I can't imagine the pain he's feeling, and even if I could, the display in front of me is too gorgeous to think about such trivial things.
The beauty is immeasurable, and I feel my mind warmed by the heat. I feel so good, so complete and content. I close my eyes, savoring the moment, blocking out his final cries with a blissful sense of tranquility on my face as the runt of a man before me collapses to the floor in the throes of death, flesh still burning; peeling away his sin as he expires.
I begin to light the sticks of incense, placing them around the still-feeding flames.
I watch as the incense mixes with the plume of smoke as burning flesh, lavender, and benzoin coalesce, homogenizing into one united gaseous form; the resultant smell intoxicating to my nostrils, a heavenly concoction, one of a kind in every way, assaulting my every sense receptor in a pervasive onslaught.
I feel a little weak, the sensations reducing even me to sublime serenity. I must stay focused; my purpose is not complete.
The fusion begins to spiral out of control, rising higher and higher, transforming rapidly. The smoke twists and contorts in on itself erratically, forming into what looks to be a colossal face, gazing down upon me, silent and watchful.
The face begins to move towards me, towers of smoke billowing behind it, forming a mane of black around the being; trailing in its' wake like the heads of a hydra . This is the beginning, a new dawn, and the creator has made itself visible to me. My elation is incomprehensible; the ethereal being exerting pressure all around, causing immense tremors in the ground, almost throwing me off balance as it lets out what sounds like a low, inhuman yell of anguish.
The sky begins to swirl, the night-time clouds converging into an immense typhoon, churning and circling above the vaporous creature.
The smoke face grows in size, becoming even more imposing than before, staring me down with those empty, smoke-formed sockets, leaving me frozen to the spot. The experience is glorious, but I'm taken aback by this power, the sheer rage emanating from this gargantuan entity.
It picks up speed, and the sensations begin to rise in intensity; I can barely comprehend, barely fathom the tremendous vigor that this mighty life-form is displaying in front of my mortal eyes.
I can barely stay conscious, eyes watering, body shaking; the smoke forms a huge mouth; a gaping maw ready to swallow me whole, hurtling towards me at breakneck speed…
….My mind swims into a pool of silence, nothing but a soft red light to illuminate it.
I see the light all around me, diffusing into my mind, assimilating, merging, the brightness intensifying as bolts of crimson encircle me; I feel every fiber of my body churning from the inside out. A soft sensation begins to envelope me, calming the thoughts in my head, siphoning out panic, replacing it with calm, collected control. My very quiddities are metamorphosing into an entirely new amalgamation.
The light fades, and it's over, the brightness dimming, then submitting to blackness once again.
I begin to drift towards consciousness, vaguely aware that something is different.
I awake at home, my journal clutched in my hand.
I don't remember how I got there, but I know what I must do now, a new-found instinctual compulsion guiding me. The innate knowledge is there, as if learned from birth. There is a new power coursing within me; something sinister. I get up, my disheveled clothes and complexion not a bother.
My boots once again trudge outside, and I make my way to the police station. Smiling with satisfaction, my eyes gleaming, I walk to the front desk, and recount everything.
And so where I am now, is in the interview room while the police are assessing the crime scene, awaiting an audience.
After what seems like hours, an officer finally walks in.
He sits down with a sigh, and I study his weathered face, filled with experience and age.
The faint sound of drums echoes in my mind, and I realize I can sense my own heartbeat.
This heightened awareness of myself is new, even for me. The officer rubs his bushy moustache, and gets up to turn the video camera on.
Good. Soon they'll all be watching.
He sits back down, and looks at me with what I know all well to be a state of reluctance. I smile very slightly, which elicits a sigh from the middle-aged man sat across from me.
"State your name for the record on video, please."
I go to answer, but I find myself lost.
Despite all my awareness, I cannot remember my name.
Then, cogs begin to turn in my mind, slowly but surely morphing, clicking into place as something finishes processing in my mind, changing it forever; the previous pith of the man before a part of my cognition no longer.
A flood of memories lost to the centuries cascade into my mind, rejuvenated by a physical form. Flashes of ancient woes; of the underworld I ruled and resided in with my dear wife for so long; slumbering until the time came to wield my divine hand of power, to be recognized as a formidable force of shrewd judgment once again.
I smile as I look directly at the man across from me, eyes focused with intent; a glint of red passing over them briefly as I begin to ponder over the world; of the people, the things that will transpire, and the depuration that awaits.
My new identity flourishes in full, coming to the forefront of my mind. A name to fear, to worship; a name encompassing death itself.
"Of course. My name is Arawn."
Written by ZugZuwang