R.J. was numb, laying there in the shade of the great oak. He was frozen not only by the surprisingly cold shade, but by his mind. Slipping away from him like a car tumbling off of an embankment, his thoughts fell out of his control. His anxiety, depression, fear, and anger combined into a tapestry of self-loathing. Frustrated and once again unable to take his nap, R.J. pulled out the pills his doctor friend gave him.
Damn it all.
Click, pop, snap. He used his spit to wash some down, desperate for dreams.
God, just let me sleep again. I want to forget where I am, and enjoy them while they last.
He held his eyes shut, squeezing. Tears still forced their way out, as if they were being pushed from his head by all the despair within.
Looking upward, Robert James opened his eyes.
Someone once told him that there was a word for what he saw, but he could not quite remember. It didn’t matter — not knowing did not make it any less beautiful:
Light whispering between the leaves of the tree, wisps of gold and green.
Shining through just for him to see.
The light of the gods.
For just a moment — and maybe it was because of the pills — there was a glimmer of peace within his chest. Warm, radiating out, reminding him of when he first saw his wife, all those years ago. She had caught him staring at her and their eyes locked, and R.J. felt fear at first.
Then she smiled — this is that feeling again.
For a moment that peace existed, and he slipped into unconsciousness in the shade of a giant oak. Birds flew and landed on a telephone wire, they looked down at the cars trickling through the city. One looked at the sun, and flew off alone. Looking up at it, flying against the wind and framed by the blue sky, one could mistake it for a photograph.
Somewhere, off in the distance, a dog barked. But R.J. did not hear it.
The ground was much colder than Robert remembered, and harder too. The air hurt to breathe for some reason.
R.J. shivered and quickly stood, rubbing the sleep from his face in one motion. He looked around at the park.
It was not the park.
Robert James was just asleep against a stone that jutted out of the side of a hill, or was it a mountain? Trees surrounded him, the ground bare except for a layer of leaves mixed with light snow, and his heart was cold – not from the weather – but from that sensation of not knowing where you are.
Robert was afraid. A real fear that shot through his body, from his toes to his fingertips.
What is going on?
“HEY! YOU THERE!” Someone bellowed.
Robert whirled around to get a look at the voice, higher up than him on the hill behind him. It was a mountain of a man, bearded and dressed for the weather: layered from head to toe. R.J.’s mouth could not find words to speak, and so his teeth chattered instead.
“What the ‘ell are you doing out heer dressed like that? You’ll die. Sun’s goin’ down after all. Don’t wanna to be out here caught with the darkness.”
…WITH the darkness?
“I… don’t know where I am. How did I get here?” Robert asked, cautiously.
The man hopped down, one leg at a time landing steadily where he bounded. His brown boots made distinct thuds with each landing. He stood in front of R.J., and looked down at him with a boyish grin.
“Woooo-eee boy, you musta had yourself a drink of sump’n FIERCE. Let’s get the hell out of here before we talk. I told you man: the sun’s gon leave us alone out here soon. Don’t want to be out here with the dark.” His breath smelled of something strong, something Robert hoped to get a sip of when he got to where he was going.
A dream, maybe. How else could I be here? Might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
Robert laughed a bit, nervously. He looked around as he began following the man’s back into the woods. Snow laced between leaves on the ground and floated slowly from above like dandelions. It all looked very… Real. He fell behind examining the veins of a leaf he grabbed – noticing only a blue-jean cladded leg disappearing behind a tree – and trotted to make up for lost ground. The cold made his bones ache with each step.
R.J. was impressed with himself for a change, he believed his mind had crafted all of these intricate details for his own amusement. This was a dream he thought that he would surely remember. Maybe it was the one that he kept on having, and he was finally lucid enough to really experience it. He was right about one thing:
He would always, always remember.
“Come ON, man! Keep up!” The man had really picked up the pace, and Robert was not happy at all. He hadn’t run in a long time and it was showing.
“Just…. Slowdown….please…” R.J.’s words slipped out between gasping for air. The cold really made his lungs hurt, and multiplied the exhaustion that was setting in. Trees watched, growing more and more ominous by the minute with the sunlight quickly waning. Mountains had a way of making the sun vanish, he noticed grudgingly.
This better not turn into some damned nightmare.
Without warning, the running was over. The man, still with his strange boyish grin, looked on as Robert bent over with his hands on his knees gulping in air like a fish out of water.
“Lets get you inside, old timer.” The man opened the cabin door and motioned for Robert to enter first while his eyes flicked over Roberts shoulder. He was looking for something, perhaps? Robert paid hardly any mind.
“God, thank you for opening your home to me sir, I –“
The man let out a belly laugh. “Ain’t no need to call me no dang “siiiir”, mister. I work for a living!” Robert made his way inside. It was modest, wooden everything of course. Dirty shoes by the door, all of the windows had shutters. Strikingly thick and sturdy looking shutters, actually. The man bolted the door shut with several different locks, and a bar over the door. Bears must be an issue here, deep in these woods.
R.J. sat, and his host went to the kitchen where a big pot of stew was sitting, still hot.
“Yeah, its just me and my boy up here in these woods. We make our living selling firewood to the city folk about 50 miles away. Hunting and fishing too, o’ course. Good, honest work!” A gregarious grin showed all his teeth. Rather large teeth, Robert observed. Strangely… large. Not sharp or anything, but Robert was noticing now that his mouth was actually quite big.
This is a dream, after all!
R.J. was relieved. A hot bowl of stew was in his hand, and he felt really comfortable in the big couch. There was a fire roaring surrounded by a big grey stone hearth.
“Wheres the dang boy ‘o mine? He didn’t do nuthin I asked him to…” He muttered something else under his breath, quickly and quietly. Privately. The man looked nervous. He walked down the hall past the kitchen and out of sight.
“Aaron?! AAAaaaaroooon!” No response. Some sounds of slamming, suddenly. Loud, followed by sounds of metal moving and clicking into place. The man came out of the back with a large hunting rifle.
“Dang kid knows its too late to be anywhere but inside goddammit — goddammit — godDAMNit!!” He paced quickly down the hallway and with one hand began shutting the other windows up tight, metal latches locking over the wooden panels.
“Buddy, I need you to stay right where you are. I know you’re sober enough now to know where you are and I KNOW you know you ain’t gonna be able to help me with this. Damn city folk always gettin’ in the way… you seem smart enough to know when to sit still though…” As he trailed off he walked toward the door leading outside.
“Lock all these behind me. You’ll know when to open it again. And DO NOT unlatch these windows. I know you want to see but its stupid so DON’T.”
Of course Robert wanted to see, this was HIS dream after all! HE gets to enjoy whatever show his mind has conjured up for him now. R.J. couldn’t help but smile! Finally some real amusement! The door slammed behind the man, and R.J. latched the door just like he said. He then unlatched one window to the right of the door, and peeked outside. The fireplace was at his back and he could feel its warmth radiating behind him.
The snow was falling harder outside now.
He could see the man with his flashlight running off into the darkness like he knew where he was going. But he was also moving differently than before. Frantically, almost. Odd. Robert saw why. After about 5 minutes the man was making his way back, carrying some strange shape in his hands. The boy?
Yes, the boy. The light from the window reached them now, and the man noticed and looked up in anger, bellowing:
“OPEN THAT DOOR!”
Robert opened it, confused.
“I’m sorry I just wanted to see wha —” He trailed off for a second.
“Dear God. What…” Robert saw the boy now that they were inside. The child was missing an arm, and he was bleeding everywhere. It was all over the man and now the floor, and they slid in it a little as the man laid his son on the couch, taking his hat off to try and stop the bleeding.
“Shut that god damned window, big city.” The mountain of a man whispered.
“It’s too late now that they got a taste. And th’ light you let out this long? They’re all around us now. You fucking idiot.” Robert stood still in shock, his legs would not move.
One of those where you can’t move? Or speak apparently. I feel stuck.
The man looked over his left shoulder at him, the eye Robert could see was glassed over from fear. The mountain of a man was trembling with terror. Robert saw now something he failed to notice before. Three large slashes on the man’s back, like someone cut him three times with a sword with each stroke parallel to the last.
“There’s nuthin… we can really… do… now… Is there?” The man turned to look up at Robert with pleading eyes.
Robert James went quickly now to shut the window, legs moving without hesitation. He glanced outside as the shutter moved to close, and he could see a pair of eyes reflecting the light leaking out the window, low to the ground. Hanging in the darkness like glow flies, they vanished. He latched the window as quickly as he could and backed away in horror. Unknowingly he reached for the rifle, which the man had tossed on the ground.
It… Saw me… It……… Did this?
His mind was numbed, he had never felt fear like this. Wait.
It’s too late now that they got a taste.
A lone howl. Starting high, then dropping into a lower tone. Almost deep. Lonely sounding. Then one more began, then another repeatedly until a cacophony of alien cries echoed off of the falling snow and the trees.
The moon watches quietly, with the sadness of the elderly.
Like it had watched these wretched children of nature grow, and yet did nothing.
Like it had lived with regret.
R.J. had no time for regret, though. There were scratches at the door now. Sniffs, he guessed. This sound he heard was unlike anything he had heard before.
He cocked the rifle and flicked the safety off. There was work to do.