Friday, October 26, 2007

Chapter 6: Second Night, Part IV

Rubbing his nose, he choked back the tears and snatched a light green blanket from the top shelf. He slammed the door closed and stalked into the living room, dragging the cover behind him like a child preparing for bed. He threw himself in the recliner, pulled the lever and flapped the blanket, letting it settle over him. Vernon leaned back and closed his eyes with one arm folded across his face. His right arm, he kept draped over his belly. He flexed the fingers and wrist to find the pain there fading. His elbow hurt when he moved, but not as much as before. Guess I got lucky. Vernon yawned and drifted. He was nearly asleep when a thought rose up. What about the dark under the blanket?

He tried to ignore it. The blanket was thin enough to let a fair amount of light through. If something was going to happen, wouldn't it have by now? The darkness hadn't shown much patience so far. He shifted in the chair. The blanket fluttered and stilled. Might as well worry about darkness in your pants. Something brushed his leg, and he scratched it with his foot. He felt something scurry across his chest and took the arm off his eye to swat it. At the next intrusion, his eyes popped open, and he lifted the blanket. Dim, green light illuminated the length of his body, but he couldn't see any scurrying shadows. What is going on here? He rubbed his leg again, balled the blanket and threw it across the room. Bouncing out of the recliner, he started brushing and swatting everything he could reach with his left arm. My clothes must be full of them!

Vernon caught sight of himself dancing and squirming in the window. Shaking his head, he stilled and forced himself to take deep breaths. Just like when we went camping. He'd made a few outdoors excursions with Cheryl while courting her, and the first sight of a mosquito, ant trail or spider web always sent him into gyrations while he tried to remove imaginary bugs from his body. No matter how much he could feel them marching across his skin, they never found a single insect.

The room suddenly felt stifling. Vernon walked to the front door, opened it and stepped out onto the lit porch, taking deep breaths of chill autumn air. The night writhed beyond the steps. He leaned against the door and watched.

A patch of the random, black-on-black shapes paled ever so slightly and coalesced into a defined, if hard to see, form. At first, it looked like some kind of tall bird standing before him with wings lifted for flight. As the edges sharpened, he realized it was a figure holding its arms outstretched. It had no more detail than a shadow, but he knew that figure quite well.

"Cheryl?" Half-whisper, half-sob, the word threatened to strangle him as he forced it through a constricted throat. He took a step forward.

The figure retreated a step and sharpened.

Another step carried him halfway across the porch.

His wife's shade backed up, arms still open. The darkness swirled, lightened and formed a smaller, vague figure to her left.

Vernon stepped to the terminator between light and dark at the edge of the porch.

The pair retreated again, still faint but growing sharper. Faint laughter floated to him through the night.

"They said you'd come back. That's the only reason I stayed." The figures stood motionless and silent. "Come closer, please."

Cheryl shook her head and lifted her arms higher. Vernon lifted his foot.

The phone rang.

"What?" Blinking, he turned his head back to the living room, where the phone called for his attention. He scowled and turned back to the yard. His family still beckoned. He started to step off the porch as the answering machine's digital voice answered. If you don't answer, they'll come here. They'll bring light and drive them away. "Just a minute," he called to Cheryl and dashed back into the house.

Picking up the cordless handset cut the answering machine off. "Hello?" he gasped.

"Mr. Hamilton." Travis Ware's voice issued from the earpiece. "I was starting to worry about –"

"What do you want, Ware? I'm kind of busy?"

"Are you alright, Mr. Hamilton?" While he spoke, Vernon leaned back and tried to look out the door, but couldn't see past the frame. Ware's voice sharpened and took on an urgent note. "What's going on there?"

"Nothing." He walked to the door. The night was totally black. "No!"

"What is it?"

"They're gone!"

"Who's gone? Mr. Hamilton, have you seen them already?"

"Gone." Vernon whimpered in his throat. "They were right there."

"I told you it's best to ignore them, Vern. Trust me, no good can come from paying too much attention to any apparitions you see at night."

He wiped tears from his eyes. "Shut up!"

"I know how you feel, and I'm sorry for your pain, but if you think about it, you'll realize I'm right."

"I said, shut up! I had them here. A few more minutes and I could have gotten them to talk to me, or gone out to them or something…"

"You step out into the night, and you'll never come back."

"Fine! I don't care! What do I have here, anyway?"

Ware's voice hardened. "You have a son, Mr. Hamilton. I'd say that's something. Are you so selfish that you'd abandon him for the sake of a lie?"

Vernon slammed the phone down with a wordless yell and walked out onto the porch. He stayed there for several hours, eyes scanning the darkness, but his wife and daughter didn't return.

Finally, exhausted, he went back inside, threw himself on the recliner and wept until he fell asleep.


Part I of Chapter 7 coming soon!

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At October 26, 2007 7:49 AM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

Jeff, that was an awesome chapter! Haunting and mysterious. Way to keep me hanging on in anticipation through the interlude!cygwin.dll and revolt  

At October 26, 2007 8:26 AM , Blogger Jeff Parish said...

Glad I could help. :)cygwin.dll and revolt  

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