Mistica Chronicles

Welcome to Issue 73

Musical Winning Entry

The wind howled through the trees, prying dry and shriveled leaves from their branches and carrying them through Darkwood Forest. Fall had arrived in Mistica, and the inhabitants of a small village were apprehensive, flinching at every leaf rustle or crying Caaw. For an entire year now, Jack's pommekin lanterns had kept the phantoms away at night with their flickering yellow grins, but Lanturnacht was drawing near again, and no one was sure if the phantoms would try to come back and terrorize the village as they had done for so long before. What if their fear of the Jack-O-Lanterns abated?

A young Panju by the name of Brynn walked quickly down the main street, fluffing up her fur for warmth as her gaze darted around, taking in the modest shops and houses while searching for any kind of disturbance. Few other villagers were out of their homes, and the anxiety in the air was almost tangible. Brynn sensed it and sped up her stride, keeping the thought of her warm cottage at the forefront of her mind for comfort. The sun had almost completely set, and Brynn kicked herself mentally for not having the foresight to pick up some items from the store earlier.

Many Jack-O-Lanterns glimmered from doorsteps now, their candles shining brighter and brighter as the evening became darker. Although Brynn knew full well the beneficial power they held, she couldn't help but feel slightly unnerved as they leered at her from all directions. They really were quite spooky, with their jagged teeth and fiery eyes.

A scuffle on the cobblestone road made Brynn's ears prick up, and she froze for a moment, her heart pounding. She slowly turned her head to look behind her, fully expecting a phantom to be standing there with blood-red eyes and a menacing grin. As she struggled to focus her eyes on the source of the noise in the gloom, however, a slight flash of light caught her eye, and she relaxed a bit. It was the mask of a Jinx, and not just any Jinx--it was Jack. His shape became more defined as he drew closer to Brynn, frowning in concern. "Brynn? Is that you?" He asked, peering through the darkness at her. "You shouldn't be out so late. The Jack-O-Lanterns have worked so far, but with another Lanturnacht drawing near... It might be wise to exercise some caution at night."

Brynn nodded, still jumpy with fear. "Yes, I--I didn't mean to be out so late," she stammered breathlessly.

Jack smiled warmly and said soothingly, "Don't worry. I'll walk you home tonight. I was just patrolling the village to make sure those phantoms didn't have any new scheme in mind for this year."

Normally Brynn would have declined his offer, not wanting him to go out of his way, but tonight she made no protest. She felt incredibly unnerved, and having Jack with her was comforting.

The two walked in silence for a while, Jack occasionally snapping his head to one side or the other, investigating sounds coming from the darkness. As they left the center of the village, the night seemed to press in on them, and each sound seemed amplified so that every snapping twig sounded as if it was right behind them. Even Jack felt a certain amount of unrest, although he was careful not to show it for Brynn's sake. She didn't need to be any more scared than she already was.

Leaves rustled, louder than before, in a group of trees to the pair's left. Jack fixed his eyes upon the spot, muttering for Brynn's sake, "It can't be a phantom. They make no noise when they walk. It's probably just a wild Misticpal."

This was small comfort to Brynn, but she appreciated it all the same. She and Jack stood still for a moment, straining their eyes to see anything in the trees. Then they heard another noise--breathing. Low, harsh breathing, with the slight edge of a growl. Brynn's eyes widened, and she looked at Jack in terror, but he had no idea what to do. As he struggled to compose himself, the leaves rustled again, sounding as if they were being crunched beneath large paws. Suddenly, the noise stopped--and then a piercing howl rang out from the bushes, just feet from Jack and Brynn. "Run!" Jack yelled, pulling the small Panju onto his back as he wheeled around and sprinted back up the road in the direction they had just come from. Over the sound of Jack's harsh breathing and the thud of his paws on the ground, Brynn could just make out the sound of more footsteps pounding behind them. She turned her head to look behind Jack and saw a creature straight from her nightmares.

It had the body of a huge, black Ahbruis with orange stripes, but where its head should have been, there was a pommekin in its place. The mouth was carved into a jagged smile, just like the Lack-O-Lanterns that had kept their village safe for so long. The creature bounded forward, and as Jack and Brynn entered the most populated part of the village, Brynn expected it to flee at the sight of so many Jack-O-Lanterns, but it kept running, and unmistakably gaining on Jack. "It isn't scared of the pommekins!" She screamed to Jack. Then, the unimaginable happened.

Many other beasts poured into the heart of the village, all with pommekins instead of heads, and all growling, snarling, or screeching as they bounded down the street. Jack-O-Lanterns were crushed under their feet as they wreaked havoc on the village, throwing pommes at windows and doors, just like the phantoms once had. Sleepy villagers opened their doors, only to be hit with a pomme that sent them running back inside, screaming at the sight of so many horrific creatures terrorizing their village once more.

The next morning saw the Darkwood Hollow village in a state of panic and disarray. Pommes were splattered on every surface, and the villagers were reeling from the appearance of these new creatures. Their grins haunted everyone's thoughts, and the screams and shrieks still echoed in the ears of the village. What could they do? Nobody knew...