I was going to do this in installments, but who the hell wants that.. ? As yet unnamed, completely unedited for worthwhile content, and a few days late for halloween.. but give it a whirl anyway.
It was cold when she came out of the grocery store. Colder than it was supposed to be for an early fall day in New England. The sun sat lazily on the horizon with a soft melancholy mood and glared blankly at Susan while she loaded the food into her car – eggs and bread for french toast tomorrow morning, a pint of Ben and Jerry's chocolate fudge brownie, and a can of cat food for D.C. She had just gotten out of work after a torturous teacher's union meeting and she owed the white tabby a treat for running so late. All she wanted to do now was go home and crawl up on the couch with her book and her ice cream, her cat and her comforter.
She started up the car and pulled onto the wide main street. The car sputtered in complaint but responded quickly, zipping across the on-coming traffic and settling into it's own lane. After five blocks she pulled the ice cream out and, in a slow and deliberate manner, pulled the cover off. She licked the inside of the top clean and then replaced it and threw the carton in the passenger seat. The entire ride home the sun kept popping in and out of the trees along the side of the road. The crisp edges of the buildings and street signs contrasted sharply with the orange haze of the evening sky. The few clouds still around were wisping about in a sort of forlorn sadness – the last children on the playground unwilling to leave the game.
When Susan passed the Texaco station it's fluorescents were already on in the waning evening light. She paused at the intersection; the stoplight blinking a steady red on– off-on-off-on-off. In the distance she could hear a dog howling mournfully. It was fairly far off and it sounded like it was barking about something, for it's supper maybe.
“Where are you, dog?” she wondered aloud as she took off again. She tried to pinpoint the direction of the bark but as she turned the corner she could no longer hear it as well. “It must be up ahead somewhere,” she thought. It was strange to her that she would hear a dog this far out; The only two houses for the next ten miles were her own and the abandoned farmhouse across the street.
A large shipping truck flew by a few minutes later shaking her out of her state and she realized she had driven for a good mile without actually looking at the road. She felt uncomfortable and tired and tried to pull her sweater closer around her. She shivered and looked at the clock on the dashboard: 5:36. She hunched over the steering wheel and tried to find the sky but the trees wrapped her in. She drove on.
The drive was usually her favorite part of the day; a chance to unwind after eight endless hours spent pleading and cajoling two dozen tiny kids with screaming mouths. Today, though, she was sick of it all. She didn't want to look at the forest rushing by or the broken yellow line. Today there was something sinister about the road and she felt as if the last thing she wanted was to be on it. The centerline twisted comically at her with an evil smile, it's faded yellow the color of rust at the bottom of a Half and Half can left out over winter. The trees pushed in on her with alarming insistence.
As she crested the small hill about a mile before her driveway she spotted something laying up ahead halfway in her lane. As she approached it she could tell it was an animal and she held her breath. From fifty feet away it looked like a shepard/collie mix but she couldn't tell without her glasses. She slowed to a near crawl, pulling out into the center of the road, and as she passed she peered down at the lifeless body. It was indeed a dog of some kind but she couldn't be sure from it's contorted pose. Over it stood two blackbirds. They cocked their heads and stared blankly at her. She stepped on the brake and stopped the car short before her mind had made the decision. She took her eyes off of the scene to put the car in park and looked back immediately in an involuntary motion. The birds were still standing over the prone form though they seemed less interested in her now. They pecked tentatively at a red gash where the dog was most certainly hit by a vehicle on it's hind quarters. They stared at her with their black unmoving eyes in between tiny sideways hops. She yelled, but she wasn't sure what she said. She just knew she felt unsettled inside - disrupted. The birds didn't twitter nervously as most birds do – they just stood there motionless, unphased by her outcry. The closer of the two hopped towards her and she could see the outline of the dark woods on the other side of the road gleaming in his beady eyes. It opened it's mouth to make a sound and then paused as if thinking better of it, it's tiny black tongue dipped in the middle and rough like sand paper. As she sat up and sped away it finished it's thought and she heard it shout loudly behind her. CAW. In her side mirror she could see it still staring at her. The other one raised it's head from the dog. CAW-CAW.
She drove a little too fast the last mile home and turned into her driveway with the faintest squeak of the tires. All of a sudden she noticed it was dark enough now that the sky was melting into the tops of the trees. “Too early to be this dark,” she mused. It was almost a quarter till six but not late enough for it to be so black out. Her mind automatically kicked in, rationalizing for her – It's overcast, I haven't been noticing how early the sun sets, I don't usually drive home this late – before she realized how clearly she was able to see the dead dog just a mile back in the road. There had been plenty of light. Enough light to see the birds – reflections in their eyes and the glisten of fresh blood on their beaks.
Her heart skipped a beat and then rushed ahead of her, forcing her out of the car before her mind could force her to freeze from some unfathomable and unexplained fear. She grabbed the food and half ran towards the door of the old farmhouse, it's windows like the wide staring eyes of a petrified child. When she reached the porch and the automatic light came on she regained some of her wits and turned her back to the wall, one hand on the doorknob. She took a few breaths with her eyes closed and felt slightly better.
“Heeeeeeeeeerrrre kitty kitty kitty kitty,” she called. She swept her eyes over the yard and the edge of the woods, looking carefully by the pile of old wood ripped out of the house for renovation. He liked to hang out in the pile where mice could be found by the dozen. She spotted a white streak by the corner of the barn and he came running down the driveway to stop at the bottom of the steps.
“Come on, come inside now,” she said. He looked at her questioningly. His all-white coat was usually dirty in places but tonight it shined an almost pure white while his eyes winked in the funny off-on way that cat's eyes do under directed light. He brought his back legs down and sat quietly looking at her, the worry of a dog on his face.
She reached up on her tip toes, running her hands along the top sill of the door frame looking for the key. Her shirt pulled up and her stomach pressed against the glass of the cold window. She shivered but as she found the key and came down off her toes she felt the slightest vibration from the door and she froze again. In an instant the fear was back and her heart was racing faster and faster. She looked back questioningly at D.C. but he was still sitting there looking at her, unanswered. She peered through the window into the blackness, squinting, but finding nothing. She forced herself to stop and count to three and breath. She couldn't live with this unrelenting fear of the dark if she was going to live alone and she knew it, but it kept coming back. She slid the key into it's slot and jimmied the door so it aligned with the - albeit crooked – frame. She turned the knob and the door opened roughly into the entryway. Then she remembered the cat.
“Come in now, D.C... I'm not going t...” she stopped mid-sentence. D.C. Was gone from the bottom of the steps. “Where are you now?” she said, her words absorbing the frustration she felt about her irrational fear. She looked around again but without stepping her body back outside onto the porch. From the bushes came a slow and painful holler that D.C. usually reserved for proudly announcing a victorious game of cat and mouse. His green eyes stared through the plants but nothing else of him could be seen.
“Come in RIGHT now!” Susan demanded. She whistled his favorite call but his eyes didn't move. “Alright then,” she thought bending over to reach into the shopping bag. She pulled out the can of food she had bought and turned back towards the bushes but his eyes were gone. “Goddammit D.C.” she moaned but the hairs stood up on the back of her neck and she stayed poised, can in hand, staring strongly into the dark, willing the green globes to reappear.
There was no watch on her wrist but the seconds ticked by loudly in her ears, her heart thumping pressure into her head like the throb of a bass drum. Despite the cold her forehead beaded ever so slightly with sweat. Odd spots of heat and ice, as if blotched onto her body by the hunched form of a giant artist, began to appear, grow, and slide over her torso.
Her mind snapped out of it's thoughtless loop and she sprang through the door, slamming it shut behind her. As if it had been waiting for her to leave the automatic porch light snapped out and the shock of it caused her to flatten her body against the entry wall. She ran her arm along the door frame till she felt the cold of a metal light switch plate. She paused, her inner monologue arguing with itself, and let her hand fall to her side. Committed, she slowly pulled herself away from the wall, stood tall and erect and walked forcefully through the entryway to the kitchen door. There really was no door – just a frame – and she stopped there, proud of her small victory. She listened again for things that go bump in the night but only the fridge hummed back. The old kitchen chairs shined ever so lightly from the metal along their edges and it was now that Susan looked out the window and noted the large, orange moon hanging just above the horizon. It was the harvest moon, full and bright while everything around was seemingly pitch black. Next to the door she found the kitchen light, and flicked it on. The overheads flickered once and sprang to life.
The next second was the longest she would ever live in her life. There, under the kitchen table was the most horrible thing she had ever seen. It's terrible eyes swirled with darkness and it's paleness, dirty against the linoleum, went creeping in a slithery sliding ooze. It backed away from her, mangy and sunken with hair so thick like fur but patchy and sick, like poison. It stared, unphased, as if temporarily disturbed from it's work, and it's spine curved inwards as it backpedaled in one fluid motion. It's form low on the floor like a crouching cat it moved almost seamlessly, like a movie being rewound. The front arms did a backwards moonwalk, miming the legs of a bicyclist, while it's haunches took larger, slower crawling steps. It's animal-human form sunk into the depths of the den engulfed by the darkness leaving in the kitchen nothing but the weight of it's evil lingering, filling every corner with it's death.
Less than a second later it was gone and Susan sunk to the floor. Her body was shaking and trembling. She gasped desperately for oxygen but there was no moisture anywhere and the air tasted burnt and toxic. Painful seconds ticked by as her mind raced through her hallucination but every aspect passed the test of authenticity. She hit herself with her bunched fists and cried and yelled out at her imagination but the taste was still in the air and she could still feel the evil floating like mist in the room.
After a time she lifted herself slowly from the floor, back sliding up the wall. She listened for sounds while her eyes tried not to look at anything so as to make her ears more acute. She noted the yellowing wallpaper peeling at the top of the room and the discolored cabinets. She saw the dark rings of coffee cups on the counters and the dirt of ages smudged deep into the window sills. Suddenly overcome with dinge she squeezed her eyes shut and as her legs straightened and her head came up the lights flickered out. She opened her eyes. There was no moon.