Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chapter 10: Dawning, Part IV

He had no idea how long he sat there, staring at the dark and weeping into his arms. The night shifted and probed at his bright shelter, but mounted no major offensive. He doubted he'd care much if the porch light went out right then. All that planning to save her, and I drive her away. The rope's heavy weight mocked him. He pounded a fist into the porch. I should have gone out there after her. Why else did I tie this thing around myself? He tugged on the cord. It whacked against the porch, loud in the still night. Scowling, he started twirling it jump-rope fashion. The rhythmic slapping set up a harsh beat in his head as he continued to berate himself. Coward! Coward! Coward! The rope spun faster and faster. chatnet stella

What if she didn't want to be saved? The rope smacked to a halt. He shook his head, but the thought wouldn't go. All Alexis wanted to do was play. She kept appearing and reappearing, taunting him and, he had to admit to himself, frightening him. It's like she was trying to get me out of the light. He shook his head again. Surely not. But people here kept saying over and over again he shouldn't talk to the figures when he saw them, that no good would ever come of it. Vernon grunted. He couldn’t believe that. What did they know? They were too scared to even try. They've lived here forever. Wouldn't they know something about it?

Bouncing to his feet, Vernon kicked the flashlight and whirled to face the darkness. He found Cheryl staring back at him.

She stood left of the steps, a few feet back from the railing. She had her arms crossed, and her foot tapped on what might have been the ground, but Vernon thought was probably several inches above that. She looked fainter than her earlier apparition, but had enough detail for Vernon to read her posture as one of impatience. She had looked the same on their honeymoon, standing next to their luggage while he argued with the hotel manager that yes, he had indeed made a reservation. It had taken nearly an hour to get a room; by the end of it, his new bride had looked ready to smash both his and the manager's heads against the marble countertop.

He stepped forward hesitantly, afraid she might flee or start taunting him. Cheryl remained in place. Wish I could see her face properly. Her dim features made it difficult to tell if she was smiling or frowning. He could barely tell she even had a mouth. Only her eyes possessed any solidity, and they tried to pin him to the wall. Probably not smiling. He cleared his throat.

"What do you want?" No response other than an increased tempo in her foot. He reached the top step. "Come on, Cheryl. Say something. How am I supposed to know what to do if you won't tell me?" He wished he could have the words back the instant they left his lips. She'd never liked that sort of argument. Figure it out for yourself, she would always respond. She blurred and started to fade as he talked. He stopped on the second step and held his hands palms out, just short of the darkness. "Wait! Just wait." She sharpened a bit. "Thanks."

He took a deep breath, then plunged ahead in a rush. "Look, Cheryl, I'm going out of my mind here. You and Alexis are gone, except for these weird visions – or whatever they are. I'm trying to take care of Ray and figure out a new job. I spend every night trying to keep the darkness from eating me and the baby. I can't sleep. I can't even get any rest." His voice hitched, he hiccoughed, and a sob ripped free of his chest. "I can't do this anymore. I need you. Please, help me. I just want us to be together again, as a family."

Tears rolled down his cheeks. He leaned on the railing and wiped his eyes. When he looked back up, Cheryl floated a couple of feet from the rail. Her figure had grown more defined and the steely gaze softened. She made no sound, but unfolded her arms and extended one hand. Vernon reached out.

A wail sounded from inside the house. Vernon twisted toward the door as Raymond started crying. His foot slid underneath the porch step, and he fell. Flailing, he tried to snag Cheryl's hand. His arm passed through hers with tingle. She dissipated like wind-blown smoke, and something else caught his hand. He hung, frozen in mid-fall with his arm in the darkness and his foot wedged under the step. Then the grip on his wrist pulled. Vernon's shoe came off, and he tumbled over the railing and into the night.


Part V of Chapter 10 coming next week!


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