A small shack in the Ozark Mountains. Through the pines that noose it, a hard wind rushes like frantic horses. It isn’t wind that wakes David Holcomb from a long sleep. A car door slams outside. David slips from bed, hugs himself against the chill air. Candles gutter; the fireplace gleams with coals, but not with warmth.
David peers out a window through dusty glass. The moon hangs like a melted Christmas ornament in the nylon shine of night. No clouds mar the star-seeded sky. A parked station wagon is visible. A shadow strides to the cabin’s front porch.
Hesitantly, David steps onto the porch. Wind plucks at him; the chill needles. The figure’s back is toward him. “Who are you?” David calls loudly. “What do you want?”
The figure turns; a coat with a hood hides the face. “We need to get inside,” a voice says. “It’s coming.”
The voice is female. It can’t be who it sounds like.
“What’s coming?” David asks.
The woman doesn’t answer but walks past him into the cabin. David looks off into the woods for a moment. Blowing leaves kite past. The air whips in circles. Trees bend before it while twigs and dead pine needles rake the cabin. Dragons could be crashing through this wind-torn forest and no one would know.
David hurries into the cabin himself, makes sure the wooden door-bar is engaged. The woman stands by the fireplace. She’s thrown back her hood. She’s young, maybe twenty—a couple years younger than he.
“No,” David says. “No!”
David shakes his head violently. “I’m dreaming. I have to be. You can’t be here.”
“Because you’re dead, Shannon. Dead.”
Shannon smiles, shakes her head so that her short red hair gleams in the candlelight. “Don’t I look alive to you, David?”
“I know you’re dead.”
“Despite your own eyes? How do you know?”
“I killed you, Shannon. Ten years ago. The last time we were in this cabin. I killed you and buried you outside in the forest. Buried you deep.”
Shannon laughs. Her eyes twinkle. “Buried me deep? In the woods where the roots grow thick? What did you use to dig that hole? A bulldozer?”
Again, Shannon shakes her head. “It would take a year to dig deep with a shovel in that soil.”
“I dug it,” David says.
But Shannon isn’t listening. Not to him. She is looking outside, to the woods. “You hear it?” she asks. Her voice drops to a whisper. “It’s getting close.”
Terror stitches itself up David’s back. “What? What’s getting close?”
“No. I don’t.”
“You know. You’ve always known.”
David glances nervously at the locked door—as if it will birth a monster at any moment. He looks back at Shannon. She has…altered. Her face is younger, thinner. She’s grown small and suddenly looks as she might have looked a decade before—like a sickly ten-year-old. Her hair is knotted. Her nose drips.
But she steps forward; her focus is all on David now. “It’s time,” she says in a child’s voice.
David backs away. “Time for what?”
“To put away your sins. To move on.”
He shakes his head. “I can’t!”
“You have to. Or the Darkling will make us pay.”
“Tell me what it is! This Darkling!”
“David….” Then another whisper: “It’s here.”
David spins toward the door. Something is on the porch. It isn’t the wind. David whimpers, then sidles toward the fireplace. Planks creak on the porch as some heavy body treads them. A black ribbon of shadow flickers beneath the crack at the bottom of the door. Through the crack bleeds a smell like mint and kerosene.
David feels near to death as the door-bar bulges inward. He grabs a poker from the fireplace, brandishes it like an axe. “What is it? What is it?” he shouts at Shannon.
“The past,” Shannon says. She drops to her knees.
“Tell me!” David screams.
He raises the poker, as if he will strike Shannon. His arm trembles. But he remembers. That’s not how it happened—ten years ago—when Shannon begged her older brother to kill her. He drops the poker. A forgotten brown paper bag rests on the fireplace mantel. David reaches in, draws out a nickel-plated revolver.
As David turns with the gun, not sure what he will do, Shannon says: “The future.”
That word! David cries out. His eyes flood with tears. He falls to his own knees. The pistol is huge in hands that are suddenly young, small, weak.
“I’m sorry, Shannon,” David says. “I should have been able to stop it sooner.”
Shannon doesn’t hear him. “The now!” she shouts.
The door-bar cracks wide. Splinters sleet the room. The door smashes open. The Darkling comes through.
David suddenly sees the shack as it is. The bed where he slept is rotted. No glass fills the windows. No embers flare in the barren fireplace. A boy and girl kneel on the trash-strewn floor. Twelve, and ten, and ephemeral. They recognize the form that slides into the room like an acid mist.
David makes a different decision than he did ten years before. He empties the gun into the mist. The bullets do no good.
A chuckle echoes off the walls.
“There you are,” their father says. “My loving children.”
He kicks the door closed behind him.
∼ Charles Gramlich
© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.