The Roaming Darkness
Mark E. Deloy
Little Donnie awoke to the sound of flesh and bone striking porcelain. He blinked sleep out of his eyes and scrambled out of bed. The hallway was lit with early morning light. He scuffed his feet along the green threadbare carpet, reached the bathroom and opened the door. Laying half in and half out of the clawfoot tub was his mother’s naked body.
She must’ve fallen as she was getting out of the shower, and cracked her head on the sink. Her wet body was sprawled out, a glistening pool of blood surrounding her dented head. She stared up at the ceiling with glazed, red-rimmed eyes.
Donnie started to cry and ran to get his older brother. Frankie would know what to do; Frankie always knew what to do. He was older, almost seven, and Momma always said he was smart as a whip. Their mother had told Donnie to mind his brother if she wasn’t around, so Donnie did as he was told and listened intently as Frankie explained his plan.
Ruth Harnett managed to keep the old farmhouse after her husband died. She did this with some help from her parents, who never wanted her to marry Joe Harnett in the first place. They grew corn, twenty acres of it directly in front of the house, blocking the slanting structure from the seldom-traveled dirt road. But it hadn’t rained in over a month and the stalks were now coated with dust and hadn’t grown any taller since the first week of June. The soil was sandy and every time the wind blew, great dirty clouds billowed over the house and coated everything like a thin blanket. Crows sat on the barn roof, waiting for either the corn to finally grow or the body inside the house to be brought out. Flesh or fruit, either one was fine with them.
Ruth had been plagued with insomnia for three weeks prior to her accident. She wandered the house like a wraith, night after night while the boys slept in their humid, cramped rooms. Donnie awoke one night to see his mother looking in at him, swaying back and forth like a drunkard, her haunted eyes staring at him from the dark doorway. When he whispered a nearly silent greeting, she moved from the doorway and continued her nightly wanderings.
During the day, she’d been like a zombie, barely awake but never completely asleep. She would sit at the breakfast table, her head on her hand, and watch the boys get ready for school. Sometimes, she would tell them about the creature she saw when the rest of the world was asleep. She said it roamed the tangled woods behind the house and she called it The Roaming Darkness.
That was where Frankie got the idea that their mother wasn’t really dead. He told Donnie she wasn’t gone, but just in some unconscious limbo while she waited for the dark creature to come and claim her. Frankie believed their mother had seen her death coming, the way the Farmer’s Almanac predicts there’ll be a good crop or whether it’ll be a bad winter. She tried to tell the boys about the huge, dark shape that roamed their property to prepare them for her passing.
Frankie said they would have to guard against the lumbering beast if they ever wanted their mother to come back to them. Donnie loved his mother and his brother so he did what he was told.
The boards on the barn were sun-faded to a dull pink. A wilding star was cut into its face, sending a sharp beam of light onto the back wall. Donnie stared at the star, praying on it as if it were God himself. It was a habit he had gotten into after Daddy died. He didn’t know why he did it, just that it made sense to him. He prayed their plan would work, and if it didn’t that when the great beast came for Momma, it would take him as well.
“We’ll have to set traps,” Frankie said, gathering the coil of rope from a rusty nail on the barn’s wall. “We’ll trap it and then we’ll kill it.”
Donnie sat on a hay bale and watched his older brother gather the conglomeration of items they would need. Frankie always seemed to know what he was doing. He never appeared afraid or confused. He was the voice of hope.
“Will we have to go out at night?” Donnie asked.
Frankie looked at him, and then shook his head slowly. “No,” he said. “The night is its hunting time. We’ll wait until daybreak. Then we’ll go back out and stab it with the pitchforks.”
“What is it, do you think?”
“It’s death. If we kill it—“
“Then Momma will come back,” Donnie said, finishing his brother’s sentence.
“Yup, she’ll come back, good as new.”
Donnie wanted to believe his brother, he wanted to think their mother would pull herself out of the fly infested puddle of stinking muck where she rested, take a quick shower and be just as she was. They had shut the bathroom door and shoved towels under it, but her stink still permeated the entire house.
If anyone was to come to the door… Donnie thought, No, he didn’t even want to think about that because it wasn’t going to happen. No one except the mailman and the school bus driver ever came out this way. The mailbox was at the end of the road and the school bus wouldn’t return until September. Their nearest neighbor was three miles away and Momma didn’t have many friends or family in the area that might come calling.
Donnie helped his brother gather up the supplies and they trudged through the sun-scorched alfalfa. Daddy had grown, and then sold the crop, but Momma said she didn’t have the time to tend the rock infested patch of ground which she had nicknamed “the quarry.” Donnie believed she just didn’t want to get that close to the forest. Donnie couldn’t blame her. The trees hulked at the edge of the field like a border between two worlds.
One night when Momma’s insomnia had first started, Donnie had come down stairs and found his mother kneeling on the sofa, looking out the back window. She had Daddy’s old field glasses pressed to her eyes. Her bare legs were curled beneath her on the faded, threadbare cushion. Donnie touched her arm and she jumped, covering her heart with her hand. Her face was different somehow, harder. To Donnie she didn’t look like Momma at all, but like some dangerous, caged animal ready to attack.
“Jesus, Donnie,” she said. “You nearly scared me to death.”
“Sorry, Momma. Whatcha lookin’ at?”
“It’s on the move,” she said. “Slidin’ between the trees like a big, black snake. One day it’ll come for me. Right now, it’s just bidin’ its time, but one day it’ll get the guts to slide out from those trees and come find your old Momma. It hunts at night, you know. That’s why I can’t sleep no more.” Then her face relaxed and she smiled and she was Momma again. “But you can. Now off to bed with you. You’ve got school in the morning.”
Donnie did as his mother told him, but he couldn’t sleep that night, not a wink. He looked out his bedroom window, and couldn’t see anything in the tree infested blackness beyond their back yard. But he didn’t have Daddy’s field glasses either.
Part 2 – Coming soon