Scratching (Final)

Click HERE for the part before.

I’m writing this in the lobby of a Starbucks. I’m not sure how much time has passed, but I need to make a record of this before I finally lose my senses to the fear that is lurking behind my eyes. Or they catch up with me. My wife has left me and its my fault, all my fault. I’ve become obsessed. I should start from where I left off. Looking back at what happened there is so much gray, and not enough black and white. The people here are casting odd glances at me, they must think it strange for a homeless looking man to have a laptop and to be typing furiously while stifling the crazed laughter that keeps bubbling up into his mouth. No matter. Who cares what THEY think?? Th0ey have no idea of what lives out in the untouched woods east of this town.

 

OK, I need to focus. Focus.

 

I went back to the house. The house on the left, where the old man was, was embalmed with yellow CAUTION tape. Wind made it flutter and sound like some leathery wings above the din of the trees that swayed and twitched in the heat that blew through them. The humidity was so thick that I felt as if I was wading into some great, invisible sauna. The strange, seemingly empty house on the left stood silently. Staring. The trees all around us, being fairly far into the countryside, towered into the sky as they moved with the wind. I thought about how I wished I had enough money to buy a pistol. Buckshot and slugs would do.

I was going to move without hesitation today. I was going to finish this. It was going to be easy. I could corner them here and finally finish this. Oh, to be finished. Were that I could be and not a raving man holding on desperately to the cliffs of sanity — trying to save myself from the black waters of madness frothing below. I have to push their strange ritual out of my mind. That dark altar in the woods. Forgotten… Demanding attention.

Wait. The beginning.

 

I was about to re-enter my old home, the one that I had fallen in love in. So many memories were held within its walls; pale echoes of laughter glowed in my mind as I went to slide the key into the lock. The key barely touched the brass when a quick clamor and came from inside and I whirled to the window next to the door to see my white curtains obscuring my view. Shadows were all I could see, and one moved into the hallway and out of sight while another stealthily slithered to the kitchen on the right. A trap was in the process of being set and I had stumbled upon their devious workings. I would not become the next skull on their filthy shrine, cut into that wet colon of the earth. I would not be another trophy to be polished and displayed carefully in the foul darkness while they cleaned their rotting teeth with a splinter of my rib bone. I would not be, as it seemed more likely now, a sacrifice. It did not matter. I would not become another victim. Not today. Or ever.
I put a chair under the front door to keep it from being opened. Leaving it locked, I doused the front of the house in gasoline. Even the windows were covered in dancing flames as I moved around to the back. From the hole in the house foundation, rats came squeaking out into the dirt and into the underbrush. Then a black-nailed hand – elongated in a disgusting strangeness – pulled a pallid beast out as it gripped the dirt. I shot it and it wheezed and looked up at me as it gave its last repulsive breath. Hatred brewed in those obsidian orbs that stared unblinking as death filled its new corpse. Another came, and it was so fast!! It crawled out low to the ground as if this was another natural way that they moved — on all fours!! In one motion it had come out of the hole, and pulled its revolting counterpart over itself like a cloak. I fired 3 rounds into it, the buckshot only slightly penetrating until my final round – a slug – tore through them both and it fell into a steaming hump of grey flesh half into the brush and half in the dirt. Dark red blood began to pool and be absorbed by the planet. Mosquitoes and flies landed instantly on the macabre pile. A wafting of horrible smells from the body blended with the natural stink of a swamp. My house was engulfed in flames behind me, and while I was far enough away from the main part of town for it to take some time for police to get here, I had to work quickly — I knew I had to I had to finish them off now and here and forever and then leave this place and never talk again. There could be no more rituals. I had no clue – at the time – that these horrors were nothing compared to what I would find later. The blending of onyx and green in the moonlight… No. Not yet. I must write it all.
The house that had seemed vacant next to me all of those years was not, and the fire had grown out of control with the wind and spread to it. I checked inside the shed to make sure that my rudimentary barricade had held, which it did. A loud crashing and cries of the beings who had long been hidden echoed out. Melancholy and angry, animalistic and frightened. Unnatural, and yet… human. Almost. I moved just in time to see the last of them tumbling over each other into the forest, screeching and clicking and talking to each other… Maybe to me. Fragments of half-words and almost familiar tones drifted into my ears. I did see one that sat, staring at me from across the small field. It saw me, too. I raised my gun to fire a slug I had loaded, but it was gone. I knew that I could not leave them free in the forest, I could not pass the buck on to some other unsuspecting soul.

 

They were my responsibility. They were mine to kill.

 

I left the inferno raging behind me, screams of the damned erupting from the yellow blossoms of their funeral pyre. I crashed into the underbrush, and ran after the creatures. The fauna was thick on the ground, cutting and pulling and tearing at my arms and face and clothes. Ahead of me, I could hear the stampede of the hominids running through the forest. I caught glimpses of them standing upright, and I fired at them, missing. I don’t remember how long I chased them, my breath burned in my lungs and my legs were aching when I finally slowed down. It could have been an hour. Maybe even more. The adrenaline was endless, and my heart fluttered like a captured bird in my chest. I managed to slow my breath after a time, and listen. The sun was beginning to fall already. How long did I run? This part of the forest seemed untouched by man. A forgotten swamp. I began to walk, hearing silence around me. My crunching was stifled by the mud, for the ground had become much more damp. My eyes investigated every leaf and bush, tree and branch. I saw no signs of animal life in that place. No paths cut by boars in the brush. No scratchings from deer. Even the insect life was drained from this place, as the sun fell behind a clouded horizon. There was darkness now, and I was lucky to have packed a flashlight.
I moved through muck now, my boots almost getting sucked off by their sinking into a mire of ancient land. Spanish moss was thick in many places, choking the life from parts of thick oaks. Slopping through more and more, I was worried for gators, but saw none. I thought myself lucky for it, and stopped my breathing and strained my ears to focus on a sound I swore that I did not hear. But I did hear, and to think of it now makes me want to scream out at these fools around me who have no fucking clue what lives east of their suburbs and lattes.
The sound was chanting, words that I had never heard and wish to never hear again even if it means I have to take a spike to my ears. Half-human tones and alien syllables distantly found their way to my mind. Words meant to remain unheard — but I must try to make some sense of it all! some record so that people can know and avoid and perhaps… No. There is no defeating it I suppose. The dreams made it clear. The voices blended and clicked and did not make sense but here, I will try:

 

Ft’ngluii maglwf’nafh Kuthluun Reh’lyeh wvagah-najl phutadjnn

 

I heard these mumblings and moved closer, that is when the words became more clear to me. They chanted low, just above a whisper, and yet being in that strange silence of that old land it reverberated into my bones with every vile syllable. I moved quietly closer to observe a horrible sight and strange things that disappeared when I went back to look for them. I combed that same area for days and could not find anything. That glade was still there, a str a n ge island in the swamp with a river gliding around it murky and brown. It was still empty, when I went back. No animal life. But the shrine was gone, or invisible. Yes… The shrine.
The creatures swayed grimly chanting around a monolithic structure around 8 feet tall. Fires surrounded it, layers of sticks blended with a few headless corpses that crackled and popped and made me nauseous with a stench of charred flesh. The stone towered and was an odd color. Black and green and… yet not. Not obsidian and emerald though, it was almost as if the green had blended into the black, a disgusting and unknown color. Strange carvings were visible, unexplainable hieroglyphs and a malevolent etching of some strange being I cannot describe. Something from the sea. I stared upon the horror of this evil ritual, and raised my gun to fire. Slugs ripped into one and it fell suddenly, like a repulsive rag doll. The others looked around frantically and screamed with an overwhelming hatred as I fired again, and again, pumping rounds into the bush next to me. I think it was then I went mad, as some picked up strange amulets or totems from around the shrine and took off into the night, leaving the horrible fire burning flesh under the stars. The night was silent again, and I blacked out.
I woke up several days later, for I had grown a beard and bug bites covered my body. Maybe I came back into rational thought again, and repressed the time spent insane? I found my way back to that place and it was empty, no green/ black monolith jutting from the earth on that strange old island. Not even evidence of burnt grass. I laughed into the silence. Just empty dirt filled the island, and not even footsteps remained. I must be insane. I went back to the town, and I found that my wife had left the hotel without a forwarding address. Her number was disconnected. Her family’s was off. And so I went to look again at that place. It must be there!  But, there was nothing. I hunted in those woods for anything now, no boar or deer or ancient subterranean human cult lived there anymore. I googled my home address in the news just now. People disappeared 20 years ago from there, almost to the day. And 40 years before that. I have to leave now. The police are on their way, apparently. Something about arson. More like some sort of cover up. The people are whispering around me and I have to leave.

 

The Whispers

 

Click here for the part before

 

Hours passed.  The light began to flicker in the lamp behind Robert.  Stopping his nervous tapping on his legs, he turned to look at the chaotic strobe.  The room was in a state of flux between darkness and light, each flicker an explosion of lightning in the empty room.  Suddenly, one of the flashes revealed a shadowed figure in the center sitting on his bed looking at him with a predatory smile — God, those teeth!  Shooting up, he knocked the chair over and almost fell over it as he stepped back.  Robert was stumbling as the impending darkness washed back into the room, like a wave crashing onto the shore.  His heart was cold as he reached for anything he could use to protect himself, blindly grasping at the scratchy curtains and the end table.  All was deathly quiet now, save for his scrambling.  The light crackled back into the room as he fixed his eyes on an empty bed. Perfectly made.  Untouched.

Moments passed as he flicked his eyes around the room, assuring himself that his mind was playing tricks on him.  The lack of sleep was not helping his nerves, and neither was this spastic lighting.  He walked over, and adjusted the bulb so that it sat better within its home, and clicked the ceiling light on as a backup.  Considering how heavy his eyes were, brighter was better.   Anything to help keep him awake.  He thought about the bathroom, and the shower that was sure to be inside.  Walking across the light brown carpet, he opened the door to the modest restroom and flipped the light on.  It was what you would expect: A decent sized shower with white-tiled walls and a tacky shower curtain with a flowered pattern commonly found in the homes of the elderly.  The mirror and sink were clean, and he looked at the tired-looking man staring back at him.  Big bags drooped under his eyes, and his clothes were rumpled looking.  The suit that had been so crisp and clean had been turned into third-hand clothing within  24 hours.  He shrugged at his reflection, and went to relieve himself in the toilet.  A wave of ethereal relaxation rushed over him, and he remembered he hadn’t had a chance to do this in forever.  It was almost too euphoric to handle, and he chuckled.

Upon flushing, he noticed that the water pressure was quite weak as it refilled the bowl.  Trying to wash his hands, he saw that the water was now nonexistent in the pipes.

Damn.  I really needed a shower, too.  Would have helped pass the time.  

 He glided back out into the bedroom, beginning his first lap of pacing back and forth.  Step by step he had to hold his eyes open, feeling the strength draining from his body.  He let himself close his eyes – thinking that if he relaxed them while he walked that he could get a second wind.  Fatigue does this to people.  It tricks our trains of thought onto the rails of foolishness.  However, Robert was correct in thinking that he would find his second wind.  It was from a different source, to his dismay.  Sometimes when we first begin to fall into sleep, there can be an uncontrollable jolt of raw fear. A powerful sensation of falling can snap us back awake whether we like it or not.  Many find it an inconvenience.  After the initial shock, Robert was relieved by it.  He had almost fallen asleep while pacing on the floor.  Legs like jello, arms like cement.  Robert was afraid that he could not keep himself awake.  Raising his arms out to his side, he opened his palms and began to smack the shit out of himself.

“Stay – a – WAKE!!” Each syllable sounded in time with a quick smack on his reddening cheeks.  Smack.  Smack.  He paced across the floor in time to his new found rhythm.  Robert tried his hardest to push the horrible reality of why he was doing this out of his mind.  Gleaning the tiniest bit of humor he could, he held on to this and forced an internal laugh.

Stop hitting yourself.  Stop hitting yourself.

That bully he knew would have found this hilarious, no doubt about that.  He was confident that he was awake.  For now.  A stinging heat welled on his face.  His eyes were tired, but his mind had hardened itself.  It had to.  Oblivion was within Robert, and it waited with a hungry maw just behind his eyes.  He knew it was there.  Licking his lips and staring out of the thin part of the curtains through the window outside, Robert knew this was a healthy fear.  Like his stomach groaning into the silence, it would help keep him awake.  Hopefully.  Maybe more fear would add to the mental bulwark against the black.  He could study the evil, perhaps.  Gaze at it with steadied eyes, and see if he could understand.

moon gif

There was something important he forgot, though.  All know this to be a truth somewhere deep down inside, no matter their culture.  No matter the philosophy or belief.  It is a law, one that has been etched into the definitions of existence.

Those who study Evil, are studied by Evil.

This was something that could not be helped.  Robert cracked his neck, twisting it to one side in a habit he had since he was a child.  It felt great, tiny pops of pleasure amid a body of creaking bones and tight back muscles.  Staring out into the night, he tried to remember the moments in between the worlds he saw.  A dark hallway filled with dots of light, the obsidian hole he fell into filled with vile eyes that gazed into his soul.  Did he see any hints? Anything that could help him understand? There were whispers, he remembered.  Whispers of some enigmatic language he had never heard before.  What were those strange words? His mind focused on that memory, pushing into the past with prying sight.  His ears tingled for a moment, and he stared at shadows on the parking lot darker than the night sky above.

Lano kala bo’shar lanu novala 

These words burned like fire into his mind and felt as if they were whispered loudly into both of his ears.  He whirled around and stared at the empty room.  The lights both flickered weakly and went back to normal, as he felt for spit on his ears.  He could have sworn someone ha –

Pharom car’ana mokkada bah’jah ko se

Tears welled in his eyes as he spun around again, he could hear the tongues clicking in his ears and he could feel the spit of the hissing whispers without question, and yet he was alone.  He fell to his knees, knocking over the end table in the process.  The Gideon’s bible fell from the drawer onto the ground in front of him, and he was struck with a thought.

Maybe this will help! 

One hand brushed tears away as the other turned pages.

The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not… want

He sniffled a bit, and read the rest of the passage as quick as he could.  He felt much calmer now.  A deep breath after each few lines brought his heart rate down.  Turning the page to continue, he stared in horror and could not help but read this next part out loud.  Weakly, he whispered to the empty room.

“Go to sleep, Robert.”  Printed alone, and centered on the page.  And the next page.  And the page after that.  Robert continually read it aloud, turning the pages faster and faster and reading it louder and louder.  Yelling out into the hotel room he gave the book a cathartic throw and it slapped heavily on the wall, then dropped to the ground with a soft thud.  He began to cry heavily, labored breathing in between sobs.  Finally managing to calm himself down, he sat with his back against the bed.  The clean linen scent wafted into his nose as silence echoed into the room.  Only the soft hum of electricity accompanied its melody.  He stood up and moved back to the window and sat down, tapping a different beat cautiously on his knees.  Tap.  Tap.  Grimly he thumped, shadows outside waxing and waning as clouds passed quickly over the moon.  Seemed like a storm was coming, the trees swaying in the passing moonlight.  Black clouds rolled in from beyond the horizon, covering the land in a pallid shroud the color of coal.  Low rumbling filled the room with static buzzing invisible through the air outside.  Any minute now it would pour.

storm gif

As a streak of lightning traced across the sky, the parking lot was illuminated with a clear light. Enough for Robert to see several shadowy hominids crawling low to the ground, only to be swallowed up by the darkness as the lightning turned into a growling roll of thunder.  He pulled the blinds shut and squeezed the curtains together, eyes bulging from his skull.  Backing away, he turned and looked around for something he could use as a weapon.  Three loud knocks rapped on his motel room door, and lightning crashed outside.  Robert could barely breathe now,  horror clutching his throat with its strong hands and squeezing him with fingers of terror.  He was frozen solid.  Whispers spoke again into his mind:

Ko’se lano makora kojani noss’e

Three more knocks, louder than before.  Urgent.  He was surprised that the beings did not force their way in by crashing through the window.  He could imagine the storm blowing wind in through the shattered glass as the demons crawled closer toward him, their hellish teeth bared in the cheshire smile of a hated creature, twisted by time.  Three more knocks, a pause between each distinct thud on the door.  Against his better judgement, he walked to entrance and looked outside.  Standing there in the storm was Don French!  The old man had his brown coat drawn tight against the wind.  Making a frustrated gesture toward the door he began to walk away.  Robert watched his back as he shuffled weakly around the corner. The wind was pushing and pulling his body in a way that made him look like a drunken man finally stumbling home.

Robert slunk back over to the window with all the stealth and precision he could muster, and looked back into the parking lot.  The various blacks and grays swirled together, shadows dancing wildly as the wind flew violently through the trees.  The gusts were so strong that even the cars swayed lightly on their chassis.  A lightning bolt crackled through the clouds above, tracing its way across the sky.  It was enough to restore his view outside, and Robert stared at nothing but an empty landscape being buffeted by the storm.  No demons, no black tongues curling between spiked teeth.  No apex demon with the horns of a ram that looked doused in fresh blood.  A shiver found its home in his shoulders as he thought of the various creatures he had seen.  His eyes were heavy still, and heavier by the minute – but his fear helped keep them pried open.  Like a device used to peel your eyelids back.  But instead of cold metal prying into his skull, he had the whispers and an ancient evil that was stalking him.  This room had kept him safe somehow, despite the horrors that unfurled their tendrils within his thoughts.

Because I am alone here?  Do they need a… vessel? 

The storm roared outside as he glanced at the clock, the strong white numbers stood out against the black tiles they sat on.  They flipped, and showed that it was so much closer to morning than Robert would have guessed.  His heart twinkled in his chest for a moment, and in that tiny time a small smile toyed at the edge of his mouth.  He had stayed awake this long, he could make it for a while longer.  He began to tap an upbeat rhythm on his knees now:  Tappity-tap-tap-tappity-TAP! Robert felt a warmth in his stomach, and its rumblings had calmed along with his mood.  The storm was beautiful, a wild force of nature whirling overhead.  Chaos raged in the heavens and with each bolt of lightning and crack of thunder his hands tapped to the beat.  He felt strangely happy suddenly, all things considered.  He was closer to home.  His wife was sleeping now, probably listening to the same storm buffet against her window.  Clouds almost as black as her hair, that pure raven shimmer of beauty.  His minds eye painted a picture for him: framed by the white of the bed and the clean sheets, her lovely face softly sleeping with the glow of an angel.  Robert’s blood ran icy in his veins as he felt the air of a whisper slither into his ears.

  Kaa…La — K’osst AMOJANN!!

Each syllable was stressed with the flinging of invisible spit into his ears, and he involuntarily wiped at them.  There was no rest for the weary, and definitely not for him. He paced.  Thinking about going to sleep for the smallest second he shook his head violently and smacked himself in the face.  No sleep.  This was his one chance, as far as he knew. Robert might not make it back to this frame of existence again.  He had to take this chance as far as it would let him go.  As far as the darkness would let him.  Robert stared at his hands, and turned them into fists.  Nothing would stop him, and he found a new conviction in spite of his fear.  The storm raged on in the sky outside, the electric air buzzing and rumbling.  A roll of thunder almost drowned out a new knock at the door, a shave-and-a-haircut pattern.  Robert went and looked through the peephole at a different man than he expected, as it was not Don French.  It was a stranger, someone he had never seen.  He had a toolbox, and he did not look happy at all.  It was early morning now, and Robert supposed that he was not the only tenant here that had no water.  Why did he need to get into his room?  Robert decided to let the man knock uselessly, there was no way he was going to open the door.  Spending time with anyone inevitably led to their being engulfed by the tentacled cloud of shadows.

The knocking continued, turning from the amiable pattern into the typical three loud knocks of someone in a hurry.  They shot into his room over the rumbles from the sky, and then Robert thought he had gone away.  A lull in the chaos made for a deafening silence, and the sound of a key sliding into his lock sent a numbness into his body.

His heart pounded in his chest.  The lock turned, and the door handle began to twist.

key gif

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Spiral of Shadows

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The horns were all Robert could see for a moment.  His eyes focused on the demon perched on the back of the Harley roaring toward him, shadows swirling violently behind it.  There were two sets, one beginning from the being’s brow and extending back, with only a slight curve inward toward their tips.  Perfectly symmetrical.  The second pair came from just behind its cheeks, and curled over like the horns of a ram.  Like some horrible helmet.  They were blood red and shined with polished brilliance, reflecting the light from the sun glaring down on them.  Robert tried to swallow, but he couldn’t.

He and the shadowy demon flew at each other, alone together on this stretch of highway.  Heart pounding in his flesh, he stared at the face of the darkness. The smile stared at him harder than the red eyes that sat above, unblinking. The teeth were perfectly straight, sharpened to points.  So symmetrical. Robert was paralyzed, he could feel his eyes bulging out of his head at the horror. Smiling ear to ear, the mouth wrapped around its black head.  It tossed back, laughing wildly at everything. Shadows whipping around like tentacles flapping in the wind.  So close now! Robert could not move, and he felt that he was watching himself from somewhere deep within his body.  Like those terrifying dreams we have from time to time, a strange cursed passed down through history.  A sensation of paralysis and gripping fear that may permeate into our waking state.  A brush with hell.

Numb to the world, he could not feel his hands clutching the wheel.  He squeezed so hard that pain echoed in his metacarpals; bones that broke when he was a kid and never quite set back right in his hands.  He stared at the being bearing down on him with intent to kill, and he thought of Linda.  His wife’s face blinked into his mind, a breath in his ear, the smallest whisper.  A reassurance.  The words that were whispered are words we all wish to hear, the most comforting phrase a person can know.  These are, all at once, words of forgiveness and trust, loyalty and joy.  Words that are as old as humanity.  Words necessary for life to continue:

“I love you.”

At the moment before the impact, time slowed down.  All in one second he stared, noticing the being reaching out for him, one arm stretching out with onyx claws.  Within this moment, the claw melted into a black-gloved hand.  It was rising to shield the face of a human in black, slamming into his car.  The creature had abandoned this husk within a fraction of a second.  The man was tossed into the windshield, tumbled over the roof, and thudded on the road behind Robert losing control of his car.  Slamming into a tree, he managed to slow it down enough that he wasn’t knocked out, while protecting his head with his arms.  He always wore his seat belt, and it cut into his chest with burning force.  The horn exploded past the ringing in his ears, droning out into the sky.  The car was totaled, at least beyond what Robert could repair.  Bleeding and groaning he spilled out of the car onto the grass.

Holy shit.

 He managed to get up, his left leg shouting out in pain to his brain.  Both the motorcycle and his car were wafting black clouds of smoke lazily into the sky.  Finally, the car horn was fading down into silence.  Robert limped over to the man in black, laying face down in the middle of the road.  Blood pooled underneath him, thick and almost reflecting the serene sky above.  His head was cracked open, and Robert remembered something similar from when he was a child.

The memory rose to the surface, where back in his home town where he was teased by a bully, and Robert challenged him to a bike race down a steep hill.  Robert was eager to put that giant of a kid into his place.  The bully naturally accepted and rode to the appointed place.   Robert prepared by going home for his favorite shirt, and he made his way there.  But not before his mom made sure he ate a big lunch.  She thought he was just going to play as usual, and he needed the energy.

cirrus clouds

The sky now was the way it was then, blue with only a whisper of clouds high in the sky. They were like white feathers up there in the light blue hue.  Robert won that race, but his opponent had lost in the worst possible way.  Halfway down, he lost control of his bicycle and toppled head first onto the asphalt.  The blood was thick, and almost reflected those celestial feathers hanging in the blue.  The smell was the same too.  Copper laced with something else.  That big lunch his mother made for him – salami on rye – made a surprise appearance that day.  As if on cue.

This day though, his stomach was cast iron.  He did not feel queasy at all looking down at the dead man.  Relieved, he began to limp away down the long highway flanked by trees.  He was hungry and tired and his body ached with every step.  Birds called out their songs to the sky, intermingling with a wind that traced its way through the trees.  The breeze was cool, and he raised his face to the sky for a moment before continuing his walk.  He felt like some great weight had been removed from his shoulders.

His leg had mostly stopped bothering him, and sticking to the shade he began to walk briskly down the road.  Nervously he hummed to himself as the trees helplessly listened.

~*~*~***~*~**~**~*~***~**~**~*~**~***~*~**~**~**~**~**~**~**~**~***~**~*

After what seemed like forever, he happened upon a small town.  It was the type you always pass on the way to somewhere else, and if you blink twice you’ll miss it.  A gas station, a diner, and a small motel were the only establishments that he could see.  All of them seemed very old, like folks haven’t passed through in a long time, and it was only by the grace of God that they managed to stay open.  The gas station was the first he came upon, a place named “Jim’s”.  A small mechanic’s garage was attached, where a man was underneath a black sedan that looked completely shot, and a small truck was parked next to the wall outside. Robert swallowed, and hoped this fellow took credit cards.

“Hey there!” Robert said amiably, walking up to the mechanic now rolling out from under the car.  Tools were littering the ground, grease seeming to cover everything.

“Hey there, mister.  How can I help you?”

“You must be the Jim.  I’m Robert, Robert Lowman.  Call me R.J.,” The salesman in him was coming out again, and he smiled at Jim’s face covered in the grime of hard work.

“Say, does that truck happen to be for sale over there?  My car just got wrecked a ways up the road, and I have to get somewhere.” Hiding his unease, Robert was in a hurry to escape for a while. He needed to get away from the eyes of strangers.  He felt extremely paranoid even talking to this man for a moment.

How does the darkness find me?

“Actually, I have been trying to get rid of that thing for a while.  Some guy came here, asked for it to get repaired, and then just disappeared.  Strangest thing.  So yeah, you can have it budd —  er  — R.J.!”  Jim was visibly pleased with how has day was turning out.  He was thinking of maybe getting his son that bike he wanted.  Robert moved in with a fair offer, uncaring of running his credit up.  Thoughts of holding her in his arms again made financial worries seem distant.

“Sure thing, sir!! Thanks for not low-balling me.  Let me get your information then I’ll get the keys.”  Jim wiped grease from his hands onto the grease on his overalls, and the exchange went quickly. Robert was eager to get on the road again.  He was completely exhausted and felt that he would fall asleep if he kept his eyes shut longer than a blink.  Hopping in the truck, he put the keys into the ignition and the engine just made a strange clacking sound.

“Starter’s out? That’s strange… I just replaced that the other week.  No matter, should have another one in the back somewhere.  I’ll get it swapped right away.”  It turned out that he did not, and after looking for several minutes apologized and said that he ordered one from a store up the road.  They were going to drive it out in the morning, so Robert was stuck in this glimpse of a town.  Robert normally would have felt frustrated or angry, but he knew he did not have the time for that.  Walking toward the diner, he could swear that he could feel the man began to be framed by swirling shadows.  He whipped his head back around and looked at a normal Jim walking back inside his shop.  Trees stood tall around the town, and stared at Robert, who shivered as he began to navigate around rusted out cars with tall grass growing out of them. An ancient refrigerator was yellow in the partial shade, patterns of leaves dancing across its door.

Better get some food to go.  Can’t spend too much time near people, obviously.

The diner was almost as dirty as the garage, and he would never have eaten here if he was not starving.  When he grabbed the door handle, he also grabbed a fat round roach that crunched in his hand.  Normally it would have startled and made him disgusted.  Today, he just wiped it off on his pants and walked inside the restaurant.  He could feel the eyes of patrons looking him up and down, and he buried his anxiety with the perpetual smile of a salesman.  He ordered a burger, fries, and a Coke from a bubbly young waitress with bouncing brown curls.  Sitting at the counter, he tried to read a newspaper someone had left behind but could not focus with the eyes tracing over his body.  Suddenly he stood up, deciding to wait outside for his order.  The uncut grass was safer company than that of strangers.

 Finally the girl came out to him, white teeth shining with youthful optimism.

“Have a great day, sir!!”  He took his bag and walked to the motel without a thank you or hesitation, taking long strides.  A nervous pace like walking through a parking lot late at night.  Crunching through some grass for a few seconds, he stepped onto the pavement of the motel’s modest parking lot.  It looked like it was well taken care of, unlike the rest of the town.  Freshly swept and windows washed, and a clean bell tingled in the air as he walked into the small office.  An old man tended the counter, and cheerfully greeted him.

“Hello!  My name’s Don French, and this has been my family’s motel for a long time.  You look like you could use a good night’s sleep!” He gave a strong chuckle despite looking very frail, his white hair thin on his head.  Wrinkles carved strong lines all over his face.

“Hey Don! This place is a sight for sore eyes indeed.  Got a room?”

“I got a whole bunch!  Let me get your card and information here,” He said with a smile.  Soft music buzzed from a radio that seemed to match Don’s age.  Robert scribbled his information with intense speed, his hand aching from the tenseness of gripping the pen.  The exchange was quick, both men practiced in the process of buying and selling.  A few smiles and a key let Robert into a motel room, with a very comfortable looking bed that Robert knew he could not sleep in.  He promised himself to not even touch it, no matter how inviting it was.  Even the smell wafting up from it – fresh linens – could not coax him into its soft promise of comfort.  He understood that even a wink of rest would fling him into a river of oblivion, filled with its currents and eddies and sharp rocks.

Robert stared out the window, looking outside on a world that appeared bent on catching up to him somehow.  A strange chase that was chilling to think about, the darkness hiding in the universe itself searching everywhere all at once for a single man.  Could the plaster in the walls sense him? The lamp, or even the light itself that radiated from it?  The shadows that stood tall on the wall behind him?

“We are everywhere.”

Robert tried to think which word of the phrase was the most horrifying.  “We” implies numbers, possibly great ones.  A whole team of shadow beasts with some devious objective.  “Are” cements the fact that they exist.  And reinforces the “we” from before, and with confidence.  And “everywhere”?  Well…  One finds it easy to think of those implications.  Robert’s legs twitched with an anxious tic.

The wind blew briskly outside as the sun drifted lower in the sky.  Shadows cast from the trees grew longer, and darkness crept over the land.  Robert’s stomach rumbled, and he appreciated it.  The hunger should help keep him awake.  He played a tune with his hands on his knees, an ancient rhythm that has been played time and time again by those familiar with struggle, or with a battlefield.  The beating of drums that came from his hands was the song of nervousness, of anxiety and a lingering fear.  It had played in the hearts of those who have stared death in the face, and lived.  Lived to know that one day they would have to raise their sword again against that Black — the Nothingness.  Raise their sword and watch it disintegrated by the scythe of Death as it cuts down to push them into the darkness of Shakespeare’s “Undiscovered Country”, from whose borders no traveller returns.

But Robert’s tune was somewhat different.  He had the knowledge that there are fates worse than death.  The madness that he had felt in those spaces of time, those places darker than black.  The whispering tongues that wagged in the darkness.  A place that ripped and pushed into his mind and abused his senses with overwhelming inputs of emotion and physical horrors.  Madness.  Robert shivered, and tapped his hands harder, faster.

He had to stay awake.  He had to make sure his wife was safe.

It was going to be a long night, he mused.

Tap tap.

Tap tap. 

motel2

 

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