Starlight Spectre • Part 15: He Didn't Stay


This is Part 15 of a serial horror novella. Learn more about it here.

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Part 15: He Didn't Stay

In the next couple of hours, there were a lot of voices. There were people in the woods, occasionally shouting. He thought he heard his name. There was a background babble of conversation from the invisible passengers. Timekeeper murmured to herself, all levity gone, her pace quickened.

All through it, he felt the shadow keeping time with them, just out of sight. Barton watched the angle of the sun as it passed through real clouds, knowing that they’d soon have to spend a good long time in the dark.

Around 5PM, he was considering suggesting a good long break to eat and stretch before they tackled the evening, when Gabby’s phone blatted in his pocket. As if on cue, she stopped walking.

Gabby hadn’t disabled the location notification. They were exactly halfway.

“This is where we burned,” she said, turning in a slow circle. The temperature began to fall, as if to salve the crimes of the past. He could smell it too. Sickly sweet. Chemical. Controlled.

There was a panic building. The trees shook with it. Behind them, though the way was clear, he felt the shadow draw closer. Felt its resolve, its homicidal pride.

“Keep going,” he said.

“They say the trees never burned. That’s not true. I watched them burn with us.”

“Timekeeper, we have to stay on schedule.”

“The trees did burn," she said. "I kept us as cold as I could but we all still burned.” Tears ran down her face now, and the temperature kept falling. The panic in the air around him started to thin out, diluting as she cried, becoming something caught between sorrow and anxiety.

His breath came out in a cloud and his sweat felt like an ice bath. “You did everything you could back then, Timekeeper. Today, let’s go home. Let’s take them all home.”

A final tear slipped out of Gabby’s eye, and when she blinked again, that resolve was back. The chill broke so fast that they both gasped.

“He never burned," she said. "He ran. He ran and hid and then the wolves ate him.”

“Screw him, he can stay here.”

“He can stay here,” she repeated, looking over her shoulder at the tracks behind them. They marched on.


But he didn’t stay.

The sun made its way down. As the darkness grew, Barton could now hear the second set of footsteps behind them. She acted like she didn’t, but there was a wild, twitchy look to her that he did not like. The passengers had grown silent, leaving nothing but a tinge of anticipation.

The forest never woke up either. The cicadas and katydids seemingly had the night off. Or rather: they were in another place. He figured if he stepped off the tracks, he would find that place. Not that that was an option.

The cloying scent of chemicals had dissipated after they passed the halfway point, but now it was back. That, and a sooty smell. The stench of the one that followed.

When the last sliver of sun slipped behind the trees in the distance, the shadow spoke for the first time, in a voice delicate and devious.


She sucked in her breath and started to pace faster, but he caught up to her and grabbed her hand, easing them back to their measured speed. “I’m here,” he said.

When the oranges and reds gave way to purples and deep blues overhead, their follower said: “Look.”

“Eyes forward,” Barton said, squeezing her hand. They needed to stop soon and rest, and he was worried about her ability to do so.

Timekeeper kept looking ahead. But Barton looked back. He couldn’t help it.

The tracks were still alight, defying the dusk and bright as ever. The rest of the woods were consumed by gloom. Dead centre, maybe a hundred paces back, walked the shadow. Its shoulders hung limp, loose arms catching an awkward bounce from time to time. But its stride was sure and its gaze was forward, even though there was no face to be seen. Smoky curls puffed all around it, floating in stagnant clouds before being lost to the fading forest behind.

Barton looked forward, skin crawling.

“He’s there?” she asked.

“He’s always been there. Just looks uglier now.”

She inhaled audibly through her nose twice, and he wasn’t sure if she was laughing or panicking. But they kept walking.


Continued in Part 16: The Gleaming Tracks – May 9

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