Third Place


by Joshua D Taylor


Liam looked into the bathroom mirror and a skull looked back at him.  He did everything he could to make it identical to his makeup from last year.  He looked at the picture he took of himself and Dylan last Halloween before they went out.  He didn’t think he looked anything like the person in the picture anymore.  So much had changed since last Halloween.  Since last Samhain.

A year later most people had stopped asking him what was wrong and just accepted how he had changed.  His family had worried.  Doctors had prescribed him medication.  He had changed from an adventurous outgoing youth, full of life and vigor, to a sullen and withdrawn young man.  No one knew why.  There’s no way they could.

His lust for life and adventure is what had gotten him into this situation.  It had gotten Dylan into it too.  He was going to fix all of that tonight.  He was going to do whatever it took.  Or die trying.

Last Halloween Liam and Dylan had left his house for a Halloween party on the far side of the neighborhood.  The setting sun painted the horizon a deep orange-red.  Dylan had been working on his Cowboy costume for months.  He had always been more interested in minute details.  While Liam had bought some black and white face paint at the grocery store that morning.  Dylan hadn’t complained though, he never did.  Not even when Liam insisted that they take a shortcut through the forest instead of driving to a party.

Liam had been looking forward to this night for months as well, but not for the party.  When he was a small child his great-grandmother told him stories about a fairy mound in the forest where the veil between worlds was thin.  The otherworld full of spirits, monsters, and Fair Folk that great-grandmother called the Aos Si.  He would learn that fairness was in the eye of the beholder.  During the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain, the veil between worlds became even thinner in these places and allowed things to cross between worlds.  There were other more famous places across the Irish countryside, like the Cave of Cats and Hill of Wards.

He hadn’t really believed it, of course.  No more than he believed in his great grandmother’s stories about her grandmother being a fairy princess stolen from the otherworld by her grandfather.  Liam had just wanted to check out it on the way to the party.  Maybe have a good scare before they spent the rest of the night at a bonfire getting drunk.  Liam had humored him, as his best friend always did.  He thought that it would probably be better to walk than to drive anyway.  Since they would be drunk later.

So they had set off through the woods with flashlights in hand.  As they walked the sun had set and it was dark as pitch beneath bare branches.  The trail became impossible to see.  But that no longer mattered.  An eerie blue glow led them through the forest.  As it grew brighter the sounds of whooping and hollering began to accompany the swaying shadows from the clearing ahead.  They stepped into the clearing to find all manner of spirits and monsters dancing around the fairy mound in the middle of the clearing.  The blue glow sat atop the low mound of dirt.  It gave off a strange shrill music that Aos Si danced to.

It was so enchanting that they were both overcome.  They danced and leaped about alongside the spirits and monsters.  They cried out with exhilaration.  Hours passed like minutes.  By the time the music subsided, they were sweaty and exhausted.  Costumes ruined.  The glow on the hill grew brighter as all the spirits and monsters turned to watch.  A Fair Folk stepped through the glow onto the mound.  Its beauty and grace were terrible to behold.  Liam found himself crying uncontrollably, unable to withstand the sight, but unable to look away.

The spirits and monsters parted as it approached them.  It towered over them, moving with an elegance that not even the spirits could match and the wind envied.  They stared in awe as it looked down at them serenely.  It looked from Liam to Dylan then back again.  It seemed to be waiting for something.  Then Liam remembered his grandmother’s stories.  Offerings were supposed to be made to the Fair Folk to appease them.  He panicked, rummaging through his pockets.  Looking for anything to sacrifice.  But they had nothing.  He feared what trick they were about to receive for their lack of treats.

A look crossed its porcelain face that Liam thought must be sadness but it was impossible to tell. Then it reached forward and grabbed Dylan with one delicate hand.  It lifted him off the ground, turned, and carried him off into the otherworld.  Too startled to scream, Liam was left standing in the forest, staring at the mound.  Once the Fair Folk was gone the glow dissolved into darkness.   The remaining Aos Si dispersed into the night till next Samhain.  Leaving Liam truly alone.

Not only did the Fair Folk take Dylan, but Liam soon discovered that it took every trace that he had ever existed.  He was erased from the world.  No one remembered him.  There was no record that he had ever existed outside of Liam’s mind.  The shock of it all had nearly broken him.  At times he wondered if the whole thing had been his head.  If Dylan had been a figment of his imagination.  With no one to talk to, no one who would understand, he was forced to bear the guilt alone.  After all, it had been his idea.

Now, one year later he was ready to go back to the mound and face the Fair Folk and barter for his friend.  He loaded up his backpack with everything he could think of.  He brought tropical fruits, jewels, and his father’s antique baseball cards.  In goes of offering a proper sacrifice in exchange for Dylan.  If that wasn’t enough he would offer himself in Dylan’s place.  An eternity in the otherworld would be better than a lifetime of guilt and sorrow in this world.  If that didn’t, he had a glass bottle filled with gasoline and a rag stuffed in the top.  He would destroy the Fair Folk and go get his friend back himself if he had to.

Finished with his makeup, so the Fair Folk would recognize him, he shouldered his backpack and slipped out into the night.  It took him a long time to find his way.  This time there seemed to be no otherworldly glow to guide him.  He stumbled and fell and lost his way several times.  He persisted and eventually made his way to the clearing.  An alarm went off the remind him to take his pills, he ignored it and stepped into the clearing.

It was empty.  Filled only with the darkness of a crisp October night.  He shined his flashlight on the earthen mound.  It was covered in moss and damp leaves, nothing more.  There were no monsters or spirits.  No eerie glow or strange music.  Certainly no sign of the Fair Folk or Dylan.

He looked at the picture from last Halloween again.  It only showed himself, wearing a hoodie and skull makeup.  Confused, he scratched his head then turned to go back home.  His family was probably looking for him.



Joshua is an amateur writer in his thirties. He works as a lab tech in southeastern Pennsylvania where he lives with his wife and a one eared cat.  He loves the madcap and unexpected.  He is looking to create stories that captivate and stretch the imagination.