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My family has lived all over Southern California, from San Diego to Los Angeles and back again. For a few years we lived outside of Los Angeles, in the valley north of the city, an area called Valencia. People were mainly friendly here. It was an upper middle class neighborhood known for its exceptional schools and family values. It was the kind of place where you could ride your bike around at night and no one worried about anything bad ever happening.
It was also a place known for its rolling hills and canyons. There were as many bike trails as streets in the town. My friends and I used to go explore the canyons at night on our bikes, just to see the night sky and feel the cool breeze against our faces.
We’d ride our bikes outside of the track homes and explore the vast, never-ending trails that stretched into canyons and the openness of the desert. One night my friends and I took a trail off the beaten path, one that was a little less worn than our normal bike paths. It was late, around eleven, but it was summer so I didn’t’ have a curfew. Like I said, it was a pretty safe place to live.
We rode out of town, past the glow of the city lights until the darkness was heavy and thick, and we couldn’t see much besides the moon and the faint glow of the city below us. We rode our bikes deeper and deeper into the canyon until we came across a giant white light shooting up into the sky.
Needless to say, we were intrigued. It looked like someone was trying to reach space, like a giant telescopic flashlight was bouncing from here to Jupiter. Naturally, we decided to explore the mysterious light.
We made our way towards the light, as if it beckoned us to come forward. There was a clearing in the canyon, a large open space where the light was coming from. My heart pounded violently in my chest. I took a deep breath and stared out into the darkness.
Soon we came upon a wooded area full of small trees and shrubs. We noticed in the middle of this tiny forest was a huge fire, a bonfire that burned high and bright and to the side of it was the light shining up into the night sky. We approached closer still, abandoning our bikes by the path, slowly tip-toeing our way towards the fire. And that’s when heard the chanting. It was a low, guttural chant that came from the fire. As we got closer we saw that we were not alone.
People dressed in black cloaks surrounded the fire on all sides. They were chanting in some language I couldn’t recognize. There had to be fifty of them. We were close enough to see that the cloaks were long robes with hoods covering their faces. Everyone’s robe was black except for one person whose robe was crimson red. And then we saw the girl.
There was a large post in the ground with a young girl tied to it. We could see the look on her face. She was scared to death. The man in the red cloak held a large leather bound book. He circled around the fire and placed the book on a pedestal and then picked up a large knife. He walked towards the girl, the knife glittering off the glow of the fire.
That’s when my friend took a step forward, placing all his weight on a dry tree branch. It cracked like thunder. Immediately, the cloaked figures turned towards us. Without a moment’s hesitation, they all started to run. We didn’t’ wait to see what would happen. We took off after our bikes, running without looking back. The chanting increased in our ears—they were closing in on us.
We hopped on our bikes and took off back the way we came. I turned around to catch one final glimpse. All I saw was a crowd of hooded figures standing at the edge of the wooded area. They watched us ride away.
My dad got another job a few months later and we moved away from the valley. But what we saw that night has never left me. Why were they there? Why was there a girl tied up in front of the fire? There were tons of unanswered questions, the kind that make you stay away at night.
The most disturbing thing, however, happened about month after we moved. One day in our new house I accidentally found a box in our attic. I was looking for some of my books that went missing in the move when I bumped my head on a beam. A long slender box from up above fell on top of me.
I sat down and opened the box and took out a number of peculiar items, things I’d never seen before. There was a pentagram necklace and a small black journal filled front to back with notes. There was also a picture of me and my friends from our old neighborhood on our bikes.
I took the items out and laid them on the ground next to me. And then I saw it. On the bottom of the box was a large zippered clothes bag, like the kind you get from the Laundromat.
I unzipped the bag. Inside was a long, black hooded cloak. My dad’s initials were etched right on the front.
Credit: Stephen Pate