Friday, September 7, 2007

Chapter 3: First Night, Part IV

As if the thought were a signal, the little tugs ceased. Something rushed past him in a steady stream. Vernon sensed it building somewhere on the other side of the room, a mounting wave waiting to crush him and his son. Eyes wide, he continued groping. His hand brushed cool metal. He tried to grab it. The flashlight rolled away again. His questing fingers found nothing but carpet and desk.

The streaming sensation stopped. Floorboards creaked, and the night growled. It came as a deep rumble more felt than heard. The floor trembled, and off to his left, he could hear metal vibrating against wood. Vernon leaned over and snatched at the sound, his fist closing around the metal cylinder. He hauled himself upright and set the flashlight on one cocked knee. He frantically squeezed the barrel. Where's the switch? The room fell silent.

When his hand closed over a smooth circle, Vernon ran it to the other end and squeezed. His middle finger landed on rubber and the flashlight flared to life with a soft click and caught him full in the face. He spun it around and cringed, waiting for night to overwhelm the feeble illumination. The light stabbed forward about as far as his foot, a short, blunt club when he needed a spear. Still, it was the only weapon he had. He swished it back and forth. The beam grew with each pass, driving the darkness back. It went – though not as far as before – and resumed its circling.

Thank God. His breaths came in ragged pants. He looked down at Ray, who remained sleeping in his arms. The baby had a double handful of his shirt. Vernon held the light up over his head, shining it down over the pair of them. He wondered how long he could hold it up there. However long it takes. I sure can't set it down again.

Not that that was the end of it. Whatever was out there apparently learned from its failure. As much as the headlong assault had unnerved him, Vernon soon found its new tactics were worse.

It started with a nudge at the flashlight. Tired as he was, he had difficulty telling the intrusion from his own trembling at first. It wasn't until the light started slipping from his weakened grasp that he realized the problem. He tightened his hold and whipped his wrist around, pushing the darkness away before quickly shining it back over himself. In that short gap, shadows crept in and pulled at Raymond. They fled when the light returned, only to have something else try to pull the flashlight free.

Vernon spent the night in a deadly game of tag, chasing shadows away only to have them sneak up from another direction. He'd feel something crawling along his leg one moment and tugging at his shirt the next. The attacks came faster and faster, snatching at his waist, baby, light, shoes or even hair in rapid succession. Before long, he had long scratches along his arms, legs and neck. His shirt hung in ribbons, and a good portion of his pants lay on the floor, shredded to tatters below the knee. Even Raymond hadn't escaped. Red welts marred the soles of his feet and left cheek. He stared up at his father, trembling and whimpering. But Vernon had been able to shield him from the worst of it.

Tears of frustration trickled down his cheeks. Exhaustion threatened to drag him under as each long minute dragged by. Every sweep of the light, every new tug on his clothing only added to his misery. As midnight crawled toward morning, Vernon found himself wishing he could just give in, lay down and let the darkness roll over him. I can't do this again, he thought as he waved the light yet again. I just can't. He swept it around in another arc to shoo the night away from his foot.

Every time he thought about quitting, Cheryl's face swam in his vision. He saw her disappearing into the darkness over and over, heard her cries to save their son, witnessed her final action to push her baby to safety. I've lost them all but Ray. I abandoned them. He looked down at the boy dozing in his arms once more. I tried to abandon him, but Cheryl wouldn't let me. That one burned most of all. Shame strengthened his limbs long after his will gave out.

The night passed so slowly that Vernon didn't know what he was seeing until he realized he could see. When he lifted his eyes from the immediate circle of his body, he found himself blinking at the far wall of the room and a black, gaping hole he thought must be the bathroom doorway. We made it! He tilted the flashlight down toward the floor. Immediately, it started sliding from his grip, but the pull lacked the strength it had earlier. Vernon snapped it back up and resumed protective, sweeping arcs of light.

Weak, bitter laughter escaped his lips. He'd passed a night in hell and lived to talk about it. All it cost me was most of my family. Just a little longer, and they'd be safe.

Dawn was coming.

Part I of Chapter 4 coming Monday!

Labels: divx create 6.0 serial key divx create 6.0 serial key

Monday, September 3, 2007

Chapter 3: First Night, Part III

He craned his neck to peek out the window through a gap in the curtains. Full night ruled out there, broken only by a few stars. Is it even eight o'clock yet? He glanced down at his wrist. Blood dripped where his watch had been. Shaking his head, he leaned against the wall and sighed. He'd never appreciated just how bright Houston was. Light was everywhere in the city. Even at midnight, streetlights glowed, cars drove by and a few neighbors stayed awake. But out here, light only remained while you created it. Darkness reined supreme everywhere else. Why do people always want to leave the city and come out here?

Vernon began to see patterns as the darkness writhed around them. It flowed like a black river, creating alien alphabets and pictures in its whirls and eddies. He even saw faces in that blackness, but looked away hurriedly, afraid of seeing a small, familiar visage looking back at him. Occasionally, tendrils of shadow ventured toward them, only to whip back from the light. Mesmerized, his eyes started to lose focus. His head nodded.

Afterward, he could never pinpoint the moment he drifted off to sleep. One minute, he was listening to the slow, steady breathing of his wife and son while gazing at the midnight kaleidoscope around them, and the next, he was jerking his cheek off his wife's hair to look at the ring of light, certain it had grown smaller while they dozed. But everyone was still here. Sucking in lungful of air, he tried to slow the galloping pace of his heart. He leaned back and gazed at Cheryl. Sleep had erased the lines of worry that etched themselves into her face when she awoke. The light created a halo around her, outlining the edges of her body in a soft glow. His eyes followed the line from her head down her shoulder to her arm holding their baby, the elbow resting on her hip, which led down her leg and to her foot…

Vernon's eyes widened. Her foot was gone, slipped into the shadows.

Slowly reaching across her, he grabbed Cheryl's knee and pulled. She stirred and murmured, but didn't awake. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Her foot wouldn't budge. With a grunt of effort, he pulled as hard as he could. Something popped and ripped. He caught a glimpse of her ankle and tattered shoe before her leg snapped straight and disappeared to the calf.

Eyes popping open, Cheryl screamed. She clutched Ray, muffling his own cries against her chest. Her leg sawed back and forth, dragging her a little further into the darkness with each pass. It twisted, and she flopped over onto her belly. She started sliding faster. She extended her arms, pushing the baby toward him. Hugging himself, Vernon shook his head in mute denial.

"Take him! Take Raymond!" She jerked back until darkness hid everything below her armpits. "Don't let it get him! Take your son!"

His gaze flickered between his wife's anguished face and the squealing infant in her outstretched hands. He unclenched one fist gripping his shirt and hesitantly reached for Raymond. She slid back to her neck, and he jerked his hand back. She kept yelling for him to take his son. Raymond squalled. Vernon started to reach out again and froze as the night claimed its prize and wrenched her from sight. Her screams cut short.

Tears screaming down his cheeks, Vernon groped in his pool of light until a tiny hand grabbed his finger. He snatched his son against his chest and rocked until Ray's cries subsided.

"You got her!" he yelled. His voice cracked. "Isn't that enough? Leave us alone!"

The darkness, apparently unmoved and unsated, continued its black dance around his illuminating shelter like coyotes circling a campfire. Shapes formed and broke apart. He saw Cheryl and Alexis gazing back at him from time to time, silent and accusing. He wanted to plead with them, tell them he was sorry, that he had done everything he could. But his tongue refused to form the words. You abandoned them, a voice whispered from the back of his mind. They know it. You know it. Why lie? He wept and closed his eyes.

Leaning back, Vernon tilted his head against the wall. The sobs grew until they shook his body. Raymond squirmed and whined. He propped the baby on his shoulder, rubbing his back until Ray fell quiet once more. Vernon wiped his eyes clear and stared at the writhing darkness. He ran his vision around the swirling lines, trying not to focus on any one detail. Still, he caught a glimpse of a reproachful face every so often. He shied away from the glares and moved onto another section of night whenever that happened. His eyes moved continuously, gliding and circling from one line to the next, around and around and around... His head bobbed.

Vernon bolted upright and slapped his face. Wrenching his eyes away from the dancing night, he stared at the ring of light that ended just beyond his toes.

The line quivered.

Rubbing his eyes with the heel of his free hand, Vernon blinked several times and looked again. The edge vibrated and blurred. Something scraped softly along the wall behind him and the circle shrank a hair. He reached up, careful to keep his hand along the light's edge without casting too much shadow over himself or Raymond. His gaze swiveled from spot to spot, searching for any encroaching darkness. His hand reached the wall where he had wedged the flashlight.

It had moved.

Where his fingers should have felt the light's flared head, they instead encountered its rubber power switch. He felt along the barrel. He poked it. The flashlight remained steady. He gave it a tug. It shifted slightly, but still seemed to be securely wedged against the wall. Frowning, Vernon pushed it back to its original position and shoved the television over to tighten its hold. It pushed back, softly at first, then with increasing pressure until it squealed across the wooden surface. The TV snapped his hand to one side as it became airborne. It sailed into the darkness and smashed against the far wall with a loud crash and tinkle of falling glass.

Freed from its prison, the flashlight tumbled. It struck the edge of the desk and clicked off. It bounced away, struck his shoulder and fell to the floor beside him.

Darkness descended upon them. It didn't fall all at once, but flowed in, moving quickly but cautiously like an animal stalking the hunter that had wounded it. Vernon could feel its first exploratory advances. It plucked at him. Shoestrings tightened, then sagged. His pants leg twitched. One shirt sleeve fluttered, and the collar flipped back and forth. Ray's onesie tugged and pulled around his arm in several directions. Vernon fumbled at his side. His hand brushed the flashlight and sent it rolling. He heard it bump against the side of the desk. The darkness pulled harder at his clothing. He reached for the flashlight, hand spider-crawling across the floor. He couldn't find it. How much longer before it stops playing?
Part IV coming Friday!

Labels: divx create 6.0 serial key divx create 6.0 serial key

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Chapter 3: First Night, Part II

He started to turn, then jumped to face the other way at a shuddering thump. He jogged around the corner as the sound turned into a steady hum emanating from the window in the back room. He relaxed a little. Why is she running one of those air conditioners? It's not hot out here. Is she trying to waste electricity?

Light in the window flickered, dimmed and died. The air conditioner spooled down and fell silent. Vernon shook his head. A blown fuse? Well, she'll have to deal with it for now. He turned the light away from the window. It pointed south, toward the front porch. Maybe Alexis is hiding up there. He started to run. When I get my hands on her...

Cheryl screamed. Raymond started to wail. He froze, turning his head from porch to window and back. He ventured a half-step toward the front when his wife shrieked again.

Cursing, he spun on one heel and ran back to the steps. The knob turned, but the door wouldn't move when he pushed. He threw his shoulder at it. It gave with a grudging squeal of the hinges. Vernon stumbled into the house. He turned his flashlight toward the TV. In his panic, Vernon thought it appeared as though the darkness resisted the beam before it grudgingly parted to show his wife crouched on the floor, her body curled around the still-screaming baby. Her shirt hung in tatters from her back. She looks like she's been whipped! She sat as he approached, turning to face the light. A long scratch ran down her cheek.

"I w-w-wanted t-to see if the air conditioner worked, but when I turned it on, the lights went out." Her voice rose to a screech. "Something tried to grab Ray!" Her voice cracked. She began to sob hysterically, rocking back and forth.

"Honey, settle down. You probably just jumped when the circuit breaker tripped and nearly dropped him."

Cheryl twisted to expose her ripped shirt and bleeding back. "Does this look like I jumped?"

"It looks like you fell and ripped your shirt when you tried to catch him. Think about it. There's nothing in here to grab the baby. Look, I'll go find the breaker box, and we'll get these lights back on."

His wife sniffed and shook her head. Still rocking with Ray clutched to her breast, she hiccoughed and trembled. It must be the stress. I just hope she gets over this soon. Vernon pursed his lips. What if it's more than stress? We might have to find a doctor for her in the morning. He sighed. Lord only knows where we'd find the money for that. Turning, he played the light along the walls. That box had to be around here somewhere. Had he seen it in the bathroom? He took perhaps a half-dozen steps before his wife started yelling again. He whirled and pointed his light back in the corner.

This time, there was no doubt about it. Shadows visibly retreated from the light, uncoiling tendrils of darkness that fled beyond the beam's edges, dragging yellow and blue cloth with them. He thought he heard a faint growl. His eyes bulged. That was Ray's baby blanket! What is going on here?

He strode back to his wife. "Are you all right?"

Eyes wide, she rose to her knees. One hand clutched the baby, and the other latched onto his pants leg. "You can't leave us again. Promise you won't leave us!"

"After I get back..."

"No!" Her grip tightened, and her words spilled out in a rush. "You've got to stay. You've got the only light. We'll be safe if we stay here until morning, and then we'll get out of here..."

He placed a finger across her lips to halt the babbling. She shushed and looked wildly around her, like a mouse trying to figure out where the cat had gone. He pulled her hand free and pushed her back into a corner. He placed the flashlight on the desk and wedged it in place with the television so that the light made a pool around them. He knelt next to his wife and drew his knees to his chest. Got to stay in the light, he thought. As he squirmed into place, Cheryl's head snapped up and her eyes widened in panic.

"Where's Alexis? Where's my little girl?"

"I don't know," he replied grimly. "I couldn't find her. Unless you want to go out there and look" – she whipped her head side to side in denial – "we're just going to have to hope for the best and wait 'til morning. We won't do her any good if we let whatever's out there get us."

She huddled in closer and continued rocking the baby. Ray eventually quieted and drifted off to sleep. Vernon realized with a shock that Cheryl had done the same after her trembling stilled and her breathing evened. He frowned. How can she sleep with Alexis still out there? Guilt gnawed at him. You're the one who left her out there in the dark. How can you just sit here?

Vernon thumped his head against the wall. His wife snuggled against his arm. He waited several moments, then pushed her upright. She murmured something, but didn't wake. Crouching, he reached out along the wall and tried to stand. Something cold and implacable grabbed his wrist and jerked him off balance. Vernon pulled back, his mouth stretched in a grimace as the grip bit into his flesh. He heaved and fell over as his watch band broke, landing on top of Cheryl, who bolted upright and grabbed his shirt. Raymond kicked and started crying.

"What are you doing? You promised you wouldn't leave!"

"I was going to try to find Alexis..."

"She's fine. You said she'd be fine until we could find her in the morning. You can't leave us here alone!"

I never said that. Vernon bit back the retort. "All right, all right," he said instead, making gentle shushing noises. Cheryl gradually calmed and slid back into fitful sleep. He wrapped his arms around what remained of his family. Trying to ignore the pain in his wrist, he glared at the darkness. What do you want?

Part III coming Monday!

Labels: divx create 6.0 serial key divx create 6.0 serial key

Monday, August 27, 2007

Chapter 3: First Night, Part I

"Alexis," Vernon shouted, "time to come inside!"

Head hung low in thought, he walked slowly back up the driveway. Every step kicked up gray dust barely visible in the twilight. Rocks clattered and spun away from his feet. A chill autumn wind blew across the yard. He shivered and hugged himself, hands rubbing the goose bumps growing on bare arms sticking out of his short sleeves. Feels more like November than October. The breeze carried a hint of fresh mowed grass and an even fainter aroma of turned earth, as if someone were tilling a garden. Or digging a grave.

Something about this place just ain't right. Vernon shook his head and kicked a stone, which went rattling down the driveway. Did we make a mistake coming here? He couldn't find anything major out of kilter about Jennings Grove, just a lot of little things that made him uncomfortable. Lord knew any tight-knit community had its share of oddities. Every staff meeting at Franklin Plastics had ended with the workers filing past a small ceramic goat that had become their unofficial mascot and nodding as if to an old friend. Neighborhood Watch gatherings at their old home followed such an exact pattern that anyone who dared interrupt the ritual found himself ostracized for weeks. But this place took weird to an all new level. How many other towns could claim that every last resident attends the local church? Why aren't there any farm animals? There's got to be enough room out here for a small herd or two, but I haven't seen so much as a cat. And what's with the whole home-by-dark thing? They're worse than Alexis when she gets to whining about her nightlight. His head lifted, and he frowned. His daughter had never answered his call.

Vernon stepped off the driveway and angled across the yard for the pecan tree. The mass of branches and leaves had devolved into a hulking lump of shadow that hid the darkening sky behind it. Something creaked from within. He stopped short, suddenly anxious about stepping any closer.

"Alexis?" No answer other than the rhythmic rasping of a rope on the tree branches. He stomped angrily across a few yards of grass and halted again. The blackness under the tree refused to lighten no matter how close he got. No point in going forward if I can't see what I'm doing. "Young lady, if you're not out of there and in the house when I get back, I'm going to pop that hiney of yours." He started back to the house. The breeze grew as he walked. It sighed in his ears, as if trying to form words. The hair on the back of his neck tried to stand. Something's not right. Twisting around, he bellowed at the tree. "Alexis! Get in the house now!"

Still no answer. He ran up the steps and into the house. He glanced to the left and saw Cheryl sitting on their bed, Raymond cradled in her arms. "Do you know where a flashlight is?" he asked.

"I think I saw that big one of yours on the kitchen counter. Why?"

"I gotta go get Alexis," he called as he made his way to the kitchen. "She wouldn't come when I called. I guess she's having too much fun on that swing."

What she called his big flashlight was nearly a hand-held spotlight. He glanced up and down the counter. He found it hiding behind a large box of cereal bearing a tiger on its front. Vernon knocked the cereal aside, snatched his light, pointed it upward and clicked it on. Even with the lights on in the house, the flashlight threatened to blind him. Forgot I put new batteries in it before we moved.

Rubbing his eyes, he stormed out of the kitchen. Glass rattled as he bumped into the front door. Still trying to wipe the spots from his vision, he jumped off the porch and ran to the tree.

"Alexis Nichole, you get in that house right now or so help me…"

She wasn't there.

He slapped a hand down on the plank, stopping it in mid-swing. The wood still felt warm.

"Alexis?" he whispered.

He played the light through the tree. It traveled from branch to branch, struggling to penetrate leaves and shadow. Something rustled above him. He whipped the flashlight up, but found nothing other than limbs. Vernon dropped his hands and head. Where is she?

Wind gusted. Branches creaked overhead with a sound like a menacing chuckle. He swished the light back and forth. The beam sliced through darkness, but seemed reluctant to illuminate anything other than the grass at his feet. He slapped the head of the flashlight. He should have been able to see the house clearly, but his light fell short, offering only the barest hint of bushes underneath bedroom windows that glowed in the twilight.

The breeze dwindled and died, trailing off with a faint sigh. "Bye-bye, Daddy."

Vernon broke into a run, swinging his flashlight in wild arcs that offered glimpses of his new yard. A tree root caught his foot and tripped him. He stumbled, rolled and bounced back to his feet. Skirting a bush, he dashed behind the house and barely turned in time to avoid a barbed wire fence. His foot kicked concrete steps, and he fell against a silver beast hunkering against the fence, light skittering off to one side and landed in the grass to shine on the steps. His body draped itself over cool metal, and his head smacked down with a hollow bong.

Turning over, he slid down the propane tank and sat on the ground, his head banging the side once more. He winced at the bolt of pain that stabbed through his temples. A sob ripped free of his chest as he groped for the flashlight. His fingers brushed metal, pushing the light away. He froze. Something glowed softly just beyond the light splashed on the wall in front of him. It looked like a pair of legs incased in white hose.

"Alexis? Honey, you scared me." A faint titter of laughter floated on the night.

He grabbed the flashlight and turned it toward her. A flurry of movement resolved itself into a crepe myrtle, its pale branches dancing in the breeze.

"Alexis! You stop this right now!"

Laughter answered him once more.
Part II coming Friday!

Labels: divx create 6.0 serial key divx create 6.0 serial key