Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
I live in a small, but lively town in Massachusetts. Its local legends have fueled my love affair with the paranormal. It’s a subject that fascinates me to this day. Coupled with insomnia, this passion led me to spend many a night at the nearby cemetery, hoping to see a ghostly apparition while walking through to pass the time. These outings were unfruitful; void of all activity, supernatural or otherwise. My dream of stealing a glimpse at what comes after eventually subsided, but I continued to visit the graves. It was a place where I could collect my thoughts when sleep eluded me. One night, however, something changed.
It was a dark Spring evening. I was bored, couldn’t sleep, and felt the need to do something outdoors in the cool, night air. As it so often did, the local graveyard called out to me. I obliged, unable to resist the allure of its calming nature. Sometimes, I was even tempted to set up camp there and sleep amongst the dead. Knowing this would be frowned upon and perhaps morbid, I settled for my walks. They were enough to make me at least somewhat weary by night’s end.
After a couple of hours there, I decided on one last stroll along the headstones in an attempt to become tired before heading home. Upon starting my walk, I noticed something. There was a light on in the grounds keeper’s shack. It wasn’t like him to be working so late. This wasn’t completely out of the ordinary until you factored in the large, gaping hole nearby, big enough for several caskets. It was a miracle I hadn’t fallen into it earlier in the night.
Curious as to what the old man was up to, I crept over to the shack, making my way to the busted window on its side. What I saw was strange.
Inside were nine men wearing tattered, blue shrouds, partaking in a makeshift feast. The main course was an oily, red stew with a horrific smell that permeated the shack’s walls and ventured up my nasal passages, tempting me to gag. The men winced when putting it to their lips, save for three; a tall man at the end of the table and the two sat beside him. When the feast was over, this tall figure stood up and addressed the room.
“Hello, newcomers. I hope dinner has been to your liking.”
He spoke with a firm voice. It resonated throughout the shack and beckoned even me to listen.
“Now that our bellies are full, Elijah will explain the rules of your impending trial.”
I listened closely. It seemed the men in the shack were part of a collective known as the Bloodlights. The trial the tall man spoke of was something akin to a medieval, gladiator sport used to initiate new members.
I listened on as Elijah divulged the game’s inner workings, fearful but curious.
Two teams were to disperse to opposite sides of the cemetery, each consisting of four members; three Blood Runners and one Blood Baron. The initiates would be the runners, and the tall man’s henchmen would act as Barons. There was one more participant to be discussed. The tall man himself. He was the Blood Keeper. Though not on either team, he was the most crucial facet of the game. He kept and guarded what was referred to as the Blood. I gathered that this referred to the red amulet hanging from the Keeper’s neck, as he firmly clasped it every time the word blood was uttered. The job of the Runners was to retrieve the Blood from the Keeper. The Barons acted as council, overseeing each team and helping where needed.
After Elijah finished his lecture, the Blood Keeper took over.
“With every wound, there is blood. With every drop of blood, there is solace. Without death, there can be no light.”
The Keeper opened a large cupboard in the corner of the shack, revealing a woman, bound and gagged, futilely attempting to cry out for help. My heart sank. This was not your normal, run-of-the-mill cult ritual. I had to find help, but what if they heard me? Unable to nail down my next course of action, I was immobile, frozen in fear.
The Blood Keeper continued.
“The light of blood can only be seen in death.”
Pulling a large, red dagger out from his cloak, he grabbed the woman and plunged it into her gut. I watched in horror as the life left her eyes. She began to shriek, but was soon cut off by a cut to the chest, followed by a final blow to her neck. I was mortified.
After throwing his kill to the floor, the Keeper pulled out three vials, filling each of them with the blood that dripped from his blade. This was the Blood the Runners were after, not the amulet.
“This is all the Blood I have to offer. That gives, at most, three of you the opportunity to become Bloodlights. And remember, you are being watched. Those who feel to collect must be disposed of. The same goes for any outsider you encounter. Corpses are to be thrown in the pit.”
Dear God. I was truly in danger. That’s what the nearby hole was for. The perfect hiding spot for a mass grave.
“You must stop at nothing to obtain one of these vials. All others will be sacrificed. Your thirst for blood must be as strong as your will to live.”
The men exited the shack to begin the trial. I scurried, silently to the wooded part of the graveyard and hid behind a large tree, not wanting to end up like that poor woman. I just needed an opening to escape without being noticed.
Glancing out at the cemetery, I saw a Runner knelt before a grave, eyes closed. I assumed this was a requirement before the game commenced. A perfect chance for me to make a run for it.
“Let the trial begin!”
The Blood Keeper’s voice echoed through the trees before I could take even a single step towards safety. My survival still hung in the balance.
Using a moonlit pool of water by my feet as a reflective surface, I watched as Elijah and three Runners strategized just ten yards from my position. My heart was pounding so hard, I was worried they would hear it. Between the beating in my chest and the conspiring whispers that filled the forest, my ears were consumed with an unsettling symphony of torture. Just when I couldn’t bare another moment, silence cut through the brisk, night air like the Keeper’s dagger piercing that woman’s skin. A chill then burrowed into my spine.
The puddle’s reflection bore no cloaked figures. Peering out from behind the tree confirmed that they were gone; or at least, nowhere to be seen. This was my chance.
Looking off into the distance, I saw a tomb by the main road; maybe a hundred yards away. It would provide the perfect cover to escape toward civilization, but there was no way I could waltz over there without being seen. The woods wrapped around the cemetery, so running from tree to tree would strengthen my odds of survival.
I took a deep breath and braced myself. Without so much as a second thought, I dashed to the next tree on the path to safety and took cover. I then gathered my wits and surveyed my surroundings. No cloaks in sight. I sprinted to the next tree and took another glimpse out at the world. The coast was still clear. As I was about to take off in the direction of my next hiding spot, panic set in as my feet inexplicably left solid ground. My blood ran cold as I was lifted into the air by some unseen force.
The next thing I knew, my body was hoisted up and placed atop a tree branch. There, I was greeted by the unnerving sight of my captor, a Blood Runner. I didn’t scream or try to get away. It would be no use. I sat there in terror and exhaled what I thought would be my last breath. Instead of gutting me, the man spoke.
“What’s your name?”
I was too shocked to respond.
“Come on now, who are you?”
He spoke clearer this time, revealing a slight English accent.
“Look, I noticed you at the window over there, eavesdropping. If I wanted you dead, I could have killed you then. I want you to help me.”
“Help… you?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m going to use you to my advantage. I take it you know what we’re doing here, and you know the rules of the game?”
I nodded slowly, still shook.
“Good. With you, I may be able to turn the tables and get the upper hand.”
I was frightened, but I calmed down enough to focus on the Runner’s plan.
“See that tomb over there? That’s where the Blood Keeper is.”
My stomach turned. To think, this guy may have just saved my life.
“I need you to go over to the tomb and open the door, slowly. The Blood Keeper will surely take a swing at you. Just as he’s about to end your life, I’ll swoop in and end his.”
“But why,” I asked, “That’s not part of the game.”
“Right you are. You need not concern yourself with the why. Just know that if you don’t do as I say, I will kill you myself. Now get going.”
The man gave me his cloak for protection and pushed me out of the tree. I didn’t want to risk facing the Blood Keeper, but I didn’t want to perish at the Runner’s hands either. My fear of dying kept me from deviating.
I again ran from tree to tree, eventually making it to my destination, the stench of bloodshed wafting through the air as Runners fought for control of the field. With my back pressed to the cold, aged stone, the pull to escape grew. The main road was within reach, but the thought quickly subsided. I was far too worried the Englishman would catch up with me and take his price. He was able to climb a tree and lift my weight into it without a sound; it was clear he possessed the agility and stealth needed to take me by surprise during a haphazard run for the hills. I sighed in defeat, knowing that, one way or another, I would probably die that night.
Mustering up every bit of courage I had left, I crept around the tomb and faced its door. My shaking hands reached for the rusted handle and pulled it towards me. Before its hinges could even creak at the motion, the door burst open, pushed from within. The force knocked me over, my head connecting with the unforgiving ground. The moments that came after remain fuzzy.
The Blood Keeper towered over me, half of his body in shadow, the other soaked in moonlight. A vision of death there to steal the blood from my racing heart. My eyes grew weary and shut for an instant before opening to see another figure. I couldn’t make out who was who in my dazed state, but one attacked the other, completely overpowering them. The prey in this scuffle fell to his knees before landing face-first into the cold, cemetery soil. The familiar sound of metal colliding with flesh rang through the air as the victor saw to it that the job was done. I prayed it was the Blood Keeper being torn apart; otherwise, I was a goner. My eyes shut again before unconsciousness finally took hold.
“Hey, are you alright?”
I heard an old man’s voice as I came to.
“Are you okay?”
I opened my eyes to see who it was. The grounds keeper stood over me, holding a lantern to my face.
“What!? How? Where are they?”
“Where’s who,” he asked.
“You don’t understand. I should be dead.”
The grounds keeper stared at me, confused, but then smiled.
“Come on. You’ll catch cold out here.”
The grounds keeper, who I now know to be Pete, invited me into his shack. He prepared some food and tossed me a blanket to keep warm. Thankful and in need of an ear to fill, I told him everything, despite how I knew it would sound. I didn’t describe the men by their given titles, but Pete seemed to know who I was talking about.
“Sounds like you had a run-in with the Blood Keeper.”
“That’s him! How did you know?”
“His spirit has been visiting these grounds for… over a hundred years now, I suppose.”
His spirit? Incredible. It was all a haunting. Something I always thought I wanted to experience, firsthand.
Pete and I talked for a long while. He knew all about the Bloodlights and their dastardly deeds. Apparently, they were a sadistic cult that formed in the 1800s, terrorizing the local community. Each Bloodlight initiation brought with it more disappearances. They used the cemetery as a space for their trails, burying casualties and sacrifices at the end of every night. After all, who would look for the bodies in a graveyard?
Over fifty souls fell victim to the Bloodlights before their sinister games were brought to a halt. During their last outing, an Englishman infiltrated their ranks and killed the Blood Keeper, avenging the death of his wife who had been murdered during one of their trials. Soon after, his disciples came forward, claiming to have been controlled by the Keeper’s amulet, alleging that it had supernatural powers. No such amulet was ever recovered.
After Pete explained everything, I sat in awe, dumbstruck by the whole ordeal. Had I relived that fateful night? Or did I time travel and help that man fulfill his goal? I may never know what happened that day, but one thing is certain. I will never visit another cemetery for as long as I live, just incase the ghost of the Blood Keeper is still out there, making his rounds.
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