After a breakfast of eggs and toast, Frankie started roaming the house, looking out windows and inspecting the locks on the doors.
“What are you doing,” Donnie asked, watching his brother stalk around the house running his fingers through his now shoulder length hair like a mad scientist.
“Checking our defenses. I think we just pissed it off last night.”
As the sun dropped in the sky and the land slowly cooled one degree at a time, Donnie became infected with his brother’s restlessness. He went down into the cool of the basement and checked the bulkhead doors. The overhead light had burnt out but enough light came through the small windows for him to still see. A long splintery board secured the doors, and Donnie rested a hand upon its coolness. Dry fly carcasses lay suspended in gossamer spiderwebs and Donnie stared at them and prayed once more, not to God, but to his father.
He did not ask for victory against the Roaming Darkness or for his mother to come back to life, but for all of this to finally be over.
The songs of crickets filtered in through the window screens as dusk enveloped the farm. The light was red and warm and full of shadow. The two boys sat in the dimming kitchen and waited for the Roaming Darkness to make its next move.
“Will it wait for dark?”
“Yes, full dark.”
“Should we get Daddy’s gun?” Donnie asked.
Frankie looked at him as if he was the smartest person alive, and Donnie knew he had remembered something Frankie had not.
The revolver was at the top of the hall closet. They had found it while looking for Christmas presents years earlier. Their mother told them to never touch it, that it had been their father’s and it was dangerous. So the boys, of course, got it down whenever their mother left them home alone. Frankie said it wasn’t loaded and showed Donnie how to check. They took turns dry firing it, aiming at their mother’s vases on the mantle. They knew Momma kept the cartridges in her nightstand table but they had never dared load the gun until now.
The bedroom was right next to the bathroom where their mother still lay. There was a door which connected the two rooms and it was open. As they crept in to get the shells, Donnie reached for Frankie’s hand and was surprised when he took it.
Frankie opened the nightstand and grabbed the box of cartridges. Donnie tried not to look at his mother but his eyes kept trying to follow the sounds of the flies. He nearly retched at the smell, which was much stronger in the sweltering bedroom. Finally he couldn’t keep his eyes off her any longer and stared in horror at what his mother had become. The bright halogen overhead light reflected off the blood, now black, and the skin, now pale and blue. Her mouth lay open in a terrible grin and her eyes had been eaten away, leaving only blackened sockets. Donnie knew right then Momma wasn’t coming back no matter what they did. They could trap the beast in the woods and kill it, but Momma wasn’t going to return. Momma was meat and meat she would stay.
As Frankie retrieved the shells, Donnie bolted from the room and nearly fell down the stairs. He managed to get his balance at the last minute and grab the railing. He could hear Frankie calling after him but he didn’t look back.
Donnie ran into the kitchen and realized two things, one, that it was full dark now, and two, the Roaming Darkness was peering in at him from outside
A great, eye nearly luminescent, glared in at Donnie through the half open window. There were only a few feet and a thin wire screen between them. Donnie froze and began to shake. He wanted to call out for his brother, but his mouth was stuck in a gaping pose and he could only utter a small “Uh, uh” sound.
A second later, Frankie ran into the kitchen, nearly knocking Donnie into the table.
“What is it?” Frankie asked, but then saw what Donnie was staring at, or rather what was staring at him.
“Run!” Frankie screamed, grabbing Donnie and dragging him back into the living room.
A low growl rattled the windows and something shook the house, knocking pictures off the walls. The boys nearly fell, but managed to grab the coffee table and steady themselves.
“It’s trying to get in!” Frankie said.
“What do we do?”
“We’ve got to get Momma and go down to the basement.”
“No, Frankie, no. Let’s just go,” Donnie pleaded “Momma’s dead. Momma’s dead!”
For a second, Donnie thought his brother would come to his senses. Frankie’s eyes returned to the easy clarity they had before Momma died. Donnie thought he would take the lead and they would flee down to the basement, locking themselves in until morning. But then the sanity in Frankie’s eyes was gone and the mad scientist gaze was back. He grabbed Donnie’s arm and they scooted through the living room and then half ran, half crawled up the stairs.
The bathroom floor was coated with gore, flies, and wriggling maggots. The smell was thick and cloying, and it hung in the air like a putrid fog. Donnie realized he tasted his mother’s death and turned his head just in time to spew into the sink.
“Come on,” Frankie said grabbing a rotting arm. “We’ll slide her down the stairs. Grab her legs.”
“Yes you can. Grab her legs, Damnit! Unless you want that thing outside to get her, and us.”
“I don’t care anymore. She’s dead, Frankie. Can’t you see that?”
“She’ll come back. If we hide her and kill the beast, she’ll come back. Now grab her legs and help me.”
Donnie did as he was told but began to sob, his tears sliding down his mothers bare and blackened leg. He could feel his fingers making indentions in her soap-like flesh. As he lifted her leg, there was a ripping sound like Velcro as the dried blood-glue gave way.
They dragged their mother out the doorway, pushing the maggot infested towels out from under the door. She was harder to move on the carpet. Donnie had to join his brother at her head, pulling her naked body by her arms which rotated stiffly in their sockets.
She slid down the stairs, her heels thumping on the steps as they pulled her over the first landing. She left a dark smear down the middle of the steps.
The growling continued outside and its volume increased as if the beast suspected what they were up to.
“Do you have the gun?” Donnie asked.
“It’s in my back pocket. If I get a clear shot, I’ll take it.”
Donnie wondered why Frankie hadn’t taken the shot when the beast’s eye was glaring in at them through the window, but said nothing.
They reached the bottom of the stairs and crouched down, listening to the breathing beast just beyond the too-thin walls. Frankie pulled the gun and held it as if he knew what he was doing.
As the Roaming Darkness moved past the windows, Frankie tried to draw a bead on it, but it was too fast. One minute it blocked out starlight, and the next it was gone before Frankie could even aim.
“Come on. It’s moved around back,” Frankie said. “Let’s get her downstairs before it comes back around.”
They pulled their mother through the kitchen, her buttocks squeaking across the faded Linoleum. As they reached the basement steps, there was a huge crash from the back of the house.
“It’s in the mudroom” Frankie whispered. “It’s crashed through the back door.”
Donnie opened the cellar door and switched on the light, then remembered it had burnt out. The darkness was suffocating, waiting for them below like a nightmare at bedtime.
“We’ll be okay. Nothing scary down there ‘cept spiders.” Frankie said. “It’s coming. I can hear it breathing. Hurry.”
They pulled her body through the doorway and Frankie slammed the door behind them. In total blackness, they slid their mother’s body down the narrow, wooden steps, and then curled up with her at the bottom of the stairs. Donnie could smell her stink and feel her cold flesh against his thigh, against his arm, against his face.
The beast slowly moved through the kitchen above them. The old floors creaked and groaned under its weight. The only light was a razor thin beam of light sliding under the door.
Donnie could hear his brother’s raspy breathing and could smell his own sweat mixed in with his mother’s decay.
The door started to open and Donnie realized he was no longer afraid. He welcomed the Roaming Darkness, welcomed death and whatever would happen afterwards. He took a deep breath and stared up into light.
The silhouette that filled the doorway didn’t look like a beast at all, it looked human. Donnie realized what Frankie was about to do a second too late and tried to jerk his brother’s hand down, but the gun went off.
The basement was filled with noise and smoke. There was a cry from above and the person in the doorway jumped aside.
“Don’t shoot, Damnit! We’re not going to hurt you. Don’t shoot!”
Donnie hugged his brother and kept him from firing another shot.
“No!” Frankie screamed. They’re here to take Momma too! They’re just like the beast. We can’t let them have her!”
Footsteps pounded down the stairs and strong hands grabbed both boys. Frankie clutched their mother and the men had to pry his hands loose from the corpse. They were carried upstairs and dragged out into the sweltering night. A man with a kind face sat them in the back of a police car and told them everything was going to be alright.
“The mailman called me. Said your mail was backing up and when he went to knock on the door, he smelled your Mo–, um, smelled something bad and thought everyone was dead.”
Frankie sat staring, his mouth hung agape and his arms fell to his sides. His eyes were dead and he didn’t say a word. Donnie watched as the men took his mother out of the house on a gurney and placed her in the back of an ambulance. Groups of men stood around the house, talking, stealing glanced at the boys as if they were bugs in a terrarium.
“Where will they take us, Frankie? Frankie?”
Tears welled up in Donnie’s eyes as he watched his brother continue to stare straight ahead at nothing.
Lights reflected off the windshield as the ambulance began to pull away. Donnie suddenly saw a shape creep along the side of the house, heading straight for the vehicle. He tried to call out a warning, slamming his hands against the window, but none of the men heard him. The ambulance was hit and fell over onto its side. The men scrambled and drew their guns, but the Roaming Darkness was too fast. It meant to have what it came for.
It crawled up onto the side of the vehicle, tearing it as if it were a tube of biscuits. Guns fired, but the beast seemed not to notice. It ripped the gurney out of the ruined ambulance and took their mother in its gaping jaws as if it was a huge dog and she was a bone. Then it leapt from the vehicle and turned its massive head marking the boys with its gaze, before slithering away across the field and into the ever-darkening forest.