There are one and ten brave souls, waiting beneath the moon.  Clara, their only teacher, went missing last Wednesday after church choir practice.  They found her car abandoned at the edge of a nearby creek; keys in the ignition, purse in the passenger seat.  Nothing missing except Clara.

The mountains, surrounding, whistling a dead man’s tune in the crisp, cold air.  One and ten souls, braver than most, standing guard in the shadows of their campfires, waiting beneath the moon.  A cracking log, spitting embers into the night, signaling the stars, saying “Wait, wait for me!” like a little brother left behind.

There is a motorcycle rumbling, coming up the country road, interrupting the mountains’ whistling.  Its rider arriving is emboldening one and ten brave souls to ask of themselves more than they ever have, waiting beneath the moon.  One brave soul, head covered in a Coca-Cola hat, standing before the ten other, addressing them in the firelight.

“I told you he’d come.  Jackie, get the hemp ready.  We’re going to save your sister.”

There’s a young woman digging in her backpack as the rider is approaching.  As she’s pulling out a length of rope, the motorcycle is stopping before the one and ten brave souls, gathered in anticipation beneath the moon.  The rider is pulling off his helmet, turning off the motorcycle and then extending an arm to the approaching man in the Coca-Cola hat.

“Mr. Coalstream,” the man in the Coca-Cola hat is saying, clasping the rider’s forearm, “I can’t thank you enough for coming.  I didn’t know who else to turn to.  Who else to get involved with. . .well, with what we’re dealing with here.”

Getting off his motorcycle, the rider is replying “No need for formalities.  Jedediah’s fine.  You’ve got the fires burning oil?” Jedediah’s asking, looking around the area.  “Five pits, all burning oil and birch wood?”

“We do, sir,” the girl called Jackie is answering, holding up her small length of rope while trying to put loose strands of hair behind her ear, “and I’ve got the hemp rope here.  Three feet is all you needed?”

The man, Jedediah, taking the rope from Jackie, examining it closely, seeming satisfied, is walking around Jackie.  Ignoring her, Jedediah is looking around to the other faces of this group, checking their fingertips and sniffing their hair.  He is taking the hemp rope and sweeping along the ground until dust clouds, like frenzied freed spirits, are dancing amidst the smoke of the fires.

A wolf is howling in the forest of the mountains.  Followed by a second wolf.  There’s a third.  Now a chorus of wolves, howling at the night, at the moon, at those standing around the fires.  A flicker of fear is passing among the one and ten brave souls.  If fear is in Jedediah, it is not showing.

Jedediah is positioning the men and women of this group two to a fire, having them sit cross-legged with the fire between them.  He is placing Jackie in the middle of the circle of fires.

“Can’t I be by a fire?  I want to help.”  Jackie is saying, tearing up as she does so.

Jedediah is pulling some cloth from his pocket and wiping his hands with it.  Looking into Jackie’s eyes, he is folding the cloth into a long triangle and now tying it around the top of his head.  The howling wolves sound closer.  There is anger in their song.

“Clara is trapped, Jackie, but I know she can still hear what’s happening now.”

Jedediah is circling, slowly circling, Jackie.  The whites of his eyes begin slowly disappearing into the darkness of his skin, looking to Jackie like his dark pupils are expanding, making her feel afraid.

“Wh–what are you doing?” she is asking Jedediah, spinning along with him as he is circling her.

The wolves sound closer still.  Their high-pitched wails sounding more and more like dead things, hiding outside of the fire’s light, explaining their torment in the only way they know how.  Jedediah is taking a step back from Jackie now, reaching back into his pocket.

“You were too jealous of Clara, weren’t you, Jackie?  You felt stuck in a small town with no prospects and no talent, didn’t you?”  Jedediah is pulling a black harmonica from his pocket.  “But Clara, she’s a different story.  She has the love of the community.  Suitors lined up from here to two counties over.”  He is blowing a quick, sad note on the black harmonica.

Jackie is fondling the stretch of rope, looking nervously to see if the others can hear as they sit catatonic by their fire pits.  The wailing of wolves is upon them.  Jackie is suddenly looking over Jedediah’s shoulder to almost see a small, red-skinned man, his gray hair in long braids, standing naked just outside the edge of firelight; melding with the night shadows, mixing between physical form and nightmare.  Feeling empowered, Jackie is no longer needing to keep up pretenses.

“I hated Clara,” Jackie is smiling a toothy smile, “so much.  She had what I wanted, so I offered her up to any dark god that would have her.  Now, she’s gone and people will notice me.”

“I’ve nearly undone what you did to your sister.” Jedediah is grim, “Novices always mess up their offerings.  You really shouldn’t have played with magic.”

“Novices?!”  Jackie is laughing a crazed cackle to the heavens, “You think I’m a novice?  I may not have understood what your little plan was tonight, but it isn’t going to work!  This is nylon, stupid!  It isn’t hemp rope!”  Jackie is trying to throw the length of rope at Jedediah.  She is looking confused at the rope staying attached to her hand.

“I know.”  Now Jedediah is playing the black harmonica.  A blues tune never meant for the ears of man.

“What is happening?  What are you doing?! Stop!” Jackie is screaming as the rope is working its way over her fingers, consuming its way down her arm like a half-starved constrictor.  Her shoulder is popping, dislocating as the rope swallows its way toward her head and over, muffling her screams and finally bursting her skull.  Within a minute, the being known as Jackie is gone, leaving in her place only a length of rope.

Jedediah is ending his song on the black harmonica.  He is walking over to where the rope is and, picking it up, heading to the edge of the firelight with it.  There, the almost man is holding out its almost hand.  Jedediah is giving it the length of rope that is now Jackie.

“I already have someone waiting for Clara at the creek where you got her.  Clara better be there.  Don’t forget,” Jedediah is saying, tapping the black harmonica in his hand, “I know other songs.”

The almost man is giving a slow nod and disappearing back into the mountains, the sound of rattlesnakes slithering on sand its accompaniment.  The brave souls, who now only number ten, are beginning to move in the fresh morning light as if they are waking from a deep sleep.  The man in the Coca-Cola hat, seeing that Jackie is no longer among them, knows that the plan worked.  That this stranger with the black harmonica saved Clara.

He must keep his gratitude, though, or whisper it into the wind.

The man known as Jedediah Coalstream is gone.