A Warning (Part Two)

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“If you come through that door you won’t get one step further!,” Jeremy promised the intruder. He cocked the shotgun for emphasis so that the person could hear just what kind of firepower they were up against. The house was totally silent with the only noise coming from the howling wind and occasional thunder, so Jeremy’s threat was clearly audible and soon answered.

Two more successive slams against the door proved that the intruder was either crazy or thought himself bullet proof. The last blow splintered the wood in the center. I realized in that moment that if the shotgun missed or somehow misfired I might be standing in a dark room alone with a maniac. My sweaty palm gripped the 9mm and I braced myself for the next blow. When it didn’t come Jeremy backed up and whispered to me, “We’re going through the kitchen and out the garage door entrance. You go first and I’ll follow.”

“Do you have your keys?” I hoped. Jeremy was many things but organized was not one of them.

“Not on me. We just have to make it outside and across the street to a neighbor.” He motioned for me to hurry.

The few steps from the darkened living room the lamp lit kitchen seemed to take forever. I kept waiting to hear the sound of wood cracking and a man bursting through. I couldn’t imagine what kind of person would want to get into our home so badly or why. I got to the kitchen door that opens to the garage and my heart sank. I had let the garage door down that night. We were trapped.

“Goddamn it!” Jeremy swore.

The wind suddenly picked up and I could hear tree branches scraping the sides of house outside as if the atmosphere was reacting to Jeremy’s mood. The unmistakable sound of glass shattering exploded in our ears. A grey and white streak of fur darted by my legs and into the pantry. Davey must have been hiding in the sunroom. Jeremy pointed the shotgun into the air in front of the doorway and inched forward. I used my cell phone light to shine into the room so he could see to aim -although I wasn’t sure what he’d be aiming at. The top half of a tree had fallen against one side and landed on the house bursting several glass windows in the process. A terrible stench like rotting leaves and animal remains came from the direction of the tree. As lighting flashed across the sky I could see muddy rain water streaming in through the new holes in our windows and dirt strew across the floor from where the tree had knocked over several house plants.

Jeremy drew closer to the scene, as if some macabre curiosity forced him forward. I shined the light for him so he wouldn’t be surprised by anything. A pitiful mew came from the direction of the pantry and caught my attention. Davey was blind and terrified by all these unusual sounds and smells. I followed his distress cry. The fact that a defenseless animal depended on me, lessened my fear. I stuffed the gun into the back of my jeans pocket and hoped there was no way it could spontaneously fire.

Jeremy backed up quickly and I could hear the shuffling sound of something following him. “They’re climbing up the tree!”

They are? How many people are trying to break into our house?”

“There aren’t any people.” He said it so quietly I almost didn’t hear before I could ask what he meant he shouted at me.

“There’s no time!” He ran down the hall to the front door. The lock had recently broken and it couldn’t be opened from the inside. “Back up and cover your ears.”

He took aim and fire exploded from the end of the gun. I’d heard it fired before, I’d even shot it, but that was at an outdoor shooting range and I’d been wearing protective headgear. This time there was nothing protecting me. I wasn’t able to plug up my ears while holding the cat and Davey carved bloody grooves into my chest in an attempt to scramble away from me. Hot tears ran down my cheeks. My chest was on fire and my ears rang. Jeremy’s voice was muffled like he was screaming into a pillow but I could tell from his expression that he was yelling at the top of his lungs. He put all his weight into delivering a kick to the front door. I still didn’t know who or what was attacking us but I turned my attention toward the danger. An awful sense of dread filled me as the shadows in the house drew together and formed a shape. The door gave way and opened enough for us to see that something blocked it from opening completely.

“It’s a tree!” Jeremy said. “It’s blocking the fucking door.”

Jeremy cursed and gave up on that plan of escape. He turned to see why I’d gone silent and we faced the nightmare together. The mass of black shadows had the vague outline of a man and it might have been my impaired hearing but it sounded like a growl came from it’s center. I could see Jeremy taking aim from the corner of my eye but he didn’t seem to know where to fire. Something like an arm reached out from the swirling mass and long tendrils flexed in my direction. Davey hissed and took a swipe that passed through the arm but caused it to shrink backward.

“You protect this one?” A thin spidery voice asked. I wasn’t sure if it had been spoken aloud or in my head.

“What?”

When the question was repeated I realized it wasn’t being asked of me at all.

Davey bared his fangs and made the fiercest hiss I’d ever heard before turning around in my arms and burying his furry head against my chest.

“Very well,” the voice said. “We will cause no harm.”

Jeremy relaxed the gun beside me. I held my breath as I watched the shadow man withdraw down the hallway and back out of the destroyed window in the sunroom. When it had fully retreated everything went still.

There was no more monstrous wind causing tree limbs to scrape the sides of the house, and no longer any frustrated rumbling from whatever it was that had been trapped in our basement.

Davey leapt from my arms and ran into the sunroom. We both followed and an instant later the lights flickered back on. The giant maple tree in the back yard had completely blown over and crashed into one side of the house shattering several windows . Glass, and mud covered most of the furniture. The light colored carpet in the room was stained with something black and viscous almost like tar.

“What is that?” Jeremy bent down to inspect the semi gelatinous black blob.

“Don’t touch it!” The evidence left behind still gave no indication of what had climbed the tree into our home.

I stared at my cat, who stared back at me as if he could actually see my face. “What happened here?” I asked as if he had the ability to answer. I wondered what he was thinking about. Somehow I knew there was more going on behind those wide green eyes than I’d ever imagined.

I remembered my phone and retrieved it from my back pocket. “My phone’s working now, I’m going to call the police.”

“And tell them what? We were attacked by a shadow?”

“I want to see something.”

I followed him through the house and into the garage. The door was working now and it lifted with a painful slowness. Most of the streetlights had been knocked down by the insane wind but the light in front of our house blinked slowly as it struggled to hold onto it’s tenuous connection to it’s power source.

The houses around us on all sides were gone. The structures themselves had been flattened as if a tornado had touched down on every single one of our neighbors’ homes. In their place trees had grown in an instant, trees that looked as if they’d stood for a hundred years and would stand for a hundred more.

Jeremy wrapped his thick arms around my waist and pulled me close to him. It was hard for my brain to make sense of what I’d seen. “What happened here?” I whispered into his chest.

“I’m not sure, but I think it was a warning.”

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The Night Always Returns Pt (1)

This is part 1 of an contest entry for Writers Digest Popular Fiction Awards 2015.  I didn’t win anything so I’m publishing my story here.  It’s too long to post the entire story in one entry so I’m breaking it up into two posts!  I’m sorry Writers Digest didn’t like my story, but hey, it was my first attempt!

 

sleep

I woke up in a pool of my own sweat. The filmy t-shirt I wore clung to me as if I’d just walked out of a rainstorm. “God, please keep me safe,” I whispered into the air above the bed. I made the sign of a cross with my fingers. I wasn’t a practicing Christian but I always fell back on Bible verses when scared, or in this case, in the presence of pure evil.

A bedside lamp clicked on across the room. The illumination helped to clear the cobwebs from my head. My roommate Jen looked at me with eyes only halfway open. “Is it still here, Avery?”

“No. It’s gone.” My heartbeat so loud I was sure everyone in the ward could hear it. The black miasma that had floated above my head moments before, and held my arms against the mattress, was gone now. Like always, it had left no evidence of its existence, except my fear.

“That’s the third time this week, you know.   I don’t think this is going away on it’s own. You should probably tell Dr. Pettigrew. Maybe she can help.”

“No!” I jumped to my feet. “It doesn’t help to tell anyone, believe me.”

“You have to do something. Look at you! Your hair’s so sweaty it bled blue dye onto my shirt!”

I looked down to see dark blue stains dotting the collar of the shirt I’d borrowed from Jen. All my clothes were dirty because I hadn’t done laundry in over a week. Blue stains dotted the material in every spot where my sweaty hair had touched it. My sheets had stains, too. They should know better than to give white sheets to mental patients. “Sorry about the shirt, Jen. But hey, who likes Muse anyway? It was only a matter of time before Paige saw this shirt and cut it to pieces.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

A knock on the door stopped any further discussion of music preferences and I had just enough time to dive back under the covers before Nurse Tina’s round face appeared in the doorway. I arranged myself in a way that the woman couldn’t see the dirty pillowcase and sheets.

“Girls, it’s 2:45 AM. Why is that light on?”

I’m twenty-four years old and Nurse Tina always makes me feel like a guilty toddler. I feel no shame in being afraid of the big brutish woman. “Sorry!” I said. Although she couldn’t physically harm patients Tina could give out punishments and the isolation room was one of her favorites. I was terrified of that place.

The large woman looked around the room, fixed both of us with her most evil pig-faced stare and turned to leave.

“Miss Tina?” Jen asked in the smallest voice possible.

She looked down at her watch and tapped her toe on the floor. “What is it, Jenny?”

“Would it be okay if we left the lamp on? Just for tonight, I mean.”

Nurse Tina rolled her eyes and let out a huge expanse of air. “No.” She emphasized her point with a hateful yank of the lamp string. “And if I hear one more sound out of this room tonight there will be consequences. Got it?”

“Got it!” we said in unison.

I listened to her heavy footfalls until she was a safe distance away. “Why’d you do that?” I whispered and tried to sound mad at the same time. It was hard to make a whisper sound menacing.

“Well, you know, you usually sleep easier with the light on.” Jen made the Catholic cross sign over her chest despite that she’d been raised Methodist and had zero knowledge of Catholicism. “I wish we had a Bible. Maybe I’ll check one out from the library tomorrow.”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t make a difference. I’ve tried sleeping with one before and it never helps. I think it’s because I don’t believe it will. At this point I’m not sure if anything can help me.”

I couldn’t see Jen’s face in the dark but I knew she pitied me.   I could feel her concern from across the room and it almost made me cry. Someone finally cared. In this cool still night with the moon hiding behind the Great Smokey Mountains, I could cry and no one would see. No one would think me crazy. It’s better if we don’t talk about it anymore. Talking about it makes it stronger.” I had no actual proof of that but talking about my nightmare was how I earned a nice mountain vacation at Whitetail Mental Health.

“Ok. But did you ever think that maybe the thing is back because you’re not taking the meds?”

Jen, who was also sometimes Paige, was a good friend but she was completely batshit. She had personality disorders they hadn’t named yet and even she thought I was hallucinating. If I could choose between schizophrenia and nightly torment from some spawn of hell, I’d gladly choose the former and take my pills. I didn’t fit neatly into a category, and antipsychotic drugs couldn’t cure my problem. “I’m still taking the meds,” I lied.

“Whatever you say, Avery. We’d better go to sleep before Stay-Puffed Tina comes back.”

If I weren’t so depressed about my situation I would have laughed at that comment. I was tired but too afraid to close my eyes again.   I knew that I could only stay awake so long. Eventually, I would sleep and the nightmare would come for me. I lay awake and watched the small shadows of feet walking by our bedroom door until dawn.

***

The next morning I was roused from sleep when a white-hot beam of sunshine stabbed me in the face. I recoiled in horror as Nurse Gabby pulled back the curtains. I opened one eye to see that the wall clock read 7:00. I must have dozed off for an hour. A grunt of disapproval from the other side of the room confirmed Jen was also awake, and not happy about it.

Nurse Gabby was humming a Taylor Swift song and pulling back the curtains. “Good morning, sleepyheads. Breakfast in fifteen. Oh and Avery, you’ve got Dr. Pettigrew afterward.”

Great. As if the sun bouncing off theses obscene yellow walls isn’t enough to cause a headache. Whoever painted the bedroom walls canary yellow probably thought they were doing the residents a favor by using a cheerful color. People in mental institutions are often depressed, which in my opinion is even more reason not to surround us with the most garish wall paint imaginable.

I sat up and wiped sleep from my eyes. “I didn’t think I had a counseling session until Tuesday.”

“I’m not sure kid, just delivering the message. You’re supposed to report to her office right after breakfast. Oh and you may want to grab a shower first so there’s still some hot water!”

Nurse Gabby was the polar opposite of Titanic Tina. She was young, slender and hadn’t been in the mental health field long enough to become bitter. No one had told her most of her charges had no hope of improving and she treated them like they were regular people worthy of her respect.

“Thanks for reminding me.”

When she left I noticed the room was uncharacteristically quiet. By this time of day a chorus of mockingbirds are giving me their daily serenade.  I looked out the window and didn’t see a single bird. It’s still too early in the year for migration. Strange.

            “Hey you got anymore black eyeliner? I just hate the way my face looks without it.”

Obviously, Jen was still sleeping. Paige was the only one that ever wore eyeliner.