Night of the Ghouls
There is a legend in the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, one so dark that it keeps children awake at night. Beware all ye born on the twenty-fourth day of the twelfth month, for this legend concerns you.
If you were born on that specific day, then I am afraid you are afflicted with the darkest of curses, for late at night every Christmas Eve, between the witching hour and the devil’s hour, you are liable to succumb to the foulest of fates, if just for the night. Waking up from the deepest of slumbers, you can expect to take the form of a shambling horror known as the Gawgaw—a mindless creature finding its roots in the most terrifying of nightmares. Your guttural moans and wicked growls as you prowl the dark streets in the early hours of Christmas will strike fear in the hearts of those who hear them.
Ancient lore has it that there exists a remedy for the curse: staying up all night from eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve and counting the holes in a sieve is prophesied to stop the curse from taking effect. How effective such a remedy really is I do not know, for counting holes sounds like the perfect way to fall asleep and succumb to the malediction. But perhaps that’s just me.
You may ask yourself how it is that I know so much of this dark legend. Well, dear reader, while some have heard this twisted tale from their elders, I have experienced it; not because I myself was born on the twenty-fourth day of the twelfth month of the year—not at all—but because by some misadventure I was having Christmas drinks a few years back with some colleagues in a bar when I saw a woman who piqued my interest. Clearly I had piqued hers too for she came up to me and we started talking. Talking led to drinking, drinking led to dining, dining led to kissing, kissing led to, well, let’s just say that at midnight I was sleeping in her bed.
Did I say at midnight I was sleeping? I meant at midnight I woke up to guttural moans and wicked growls. The woman who piqued my interest was no longer there; in her stead was a ghoul. I knew it was her because it was wearing her lingerie, and the face, although hideous and distorted, was hers.
The Gawgaw paid no heed to me and walked out of the bedroom. Curious and clearly carrying a death wish of the most macabre kind, I followed it down the stairs, past the TV stand decorated in tinsel and birthday cards wishing my hostess a terrific thirtieth birthday, and out of the front door. It roamed the streets, guided by some invisible tendril, and I followed it, guided by some morbid interest.
We walked and walked, until we reached the prehistoric temples of Ħaġar Qim. There I saw more Gawgaw, all moaning, all growling, none heeding me. One by one they went down a hole in the ground I never knew existed. It was a hole which to this day I believe materializes only when it is time for the Gawgaw’s gathering.
Down the dark stairs I followed them, deeper and deeper, until we reached a dark cavern—oh, so dark! It was an unnerving, frigid void. An unnatural expanse of nothingness which I perceived to exist beyond space and time. But not all was lost, or so I hoped, for an eldritch light at the far end of the tunnel appeared.
I followed the Gawgaw towards the light, and I found myself in the primeval cavern that was the source of that eldritch illumination. I call it a cavern because my human mind cannot fathom anything other than a cavern existing beneath the ground of prehistoric temples, but in truth it was a terrifying forest with no concept of ceiling or sky.
Black nothingness hovered above that unnatural grove. The plants and trees were a hideous arrangement of flesh, eyes, claws, and mouths. The river was clear but its water was viscous, its odor was fetid, and its inhabitants were schools of crawling bipedal fish which every now and then strayed onto the river’s bank.
But the greatest horror of all stood in a clearing in the middle of the forest, a gargantuan terror with two horned heads, three spiked tails, four hoofed legs, dozens of clawed hands, scores of eyes, and one huge, fanged mouth where its stomach should have been. Its yellow fangs were almost my match in size, and the wiggling tongue had its own mouth and sharp teeth. The stench of putrefaction emanating from that most macabre of maws overwhelmed me.
I vomited copiously.
The Gawgaw knelt in front of the unearthly monstrosity. They bowed to it and chanted in a language I did not know but somehow understood. They paid homage to it and promised undying fealty.
It was their primeval god. The deity of the cursed Gawgaw.
That was when the last remnants of my sanity gave way. I ran out of that accursed place, barely noticing the plant that bit my hand, and did not stop running even after reaching the frigid air outside. I ran and ran, until I arrived to my own house, and then I ran again, until I locked myself in my room and collapsed on my bed. There I lay all night, weeping, for I had seen what horror the Gawgaw revere.
That gargantuan abomination still haunts my existence. Every morning I wake up asking the same question: What if it decides to exit its unnatural abode and roam the streets of Malta? For I know that my nightmare had been real. I shall forever carry with me the bite I received as I ran out of that monstrous forest, an unwelcome souvenir of the night of the ghouls oozing a foul green liquid and spewing a fetid odor.