5 steps to writing Preparation – Part 3 Mindset By Mark Deloy

To recap our journey into the 5 steps to writing preparation so far, I’ve covered Desire, and perseverance.  Desire is where we started because you have to have that inside of you to ever pick up the pen, or start typing on your MAC.  Perseverance, because there will come a time when you want to stop, quit, say it’s too hard, or delete all your short stories you’ve been writing since you were ten because someone gave you a bad review or a rejection.  So now we come to the last of the super serious top secret (not really) writing preps, Mindset.

Mindset isn’t something you think about.  I know that sounds contradictory, but after the initial decision to write a novel, or a short story, blog or essay, you don’t have to think about it at all.  What you do have to do is adjust it.  Mindset is one of those things that takes hold of you, and all you need to do is give it a little tweak now and then.  Keep carving out that time to write, keep making yourself sit down and work.  It’s all because of the initial mindset that you are going to do it.  There are a lot of times when I get an hour, and I try and talk myself out of working on my novel.  You’ll say things like Oh it’s only an hour; I wouldn’t get that much done anyway.  But you would get something done, and that’s what matters.

There’s another initial mindset that needs to come into play as well, right from the beginning, and that’s the one where you tell yourself you are a writer.  It’s what you were made to do.  Your work will stand out as something original because it comes from your experiences and your heart.  Yes, I know that sounds cheesy, and I don’t mean it like it sounds.  Your heart is where feelings come from in the metaphysical sense, and you’ll need to draw on those feelings as you write.  Draw on the love you’ve experienced, the disappointments, the fears and the pain.  Pull those emotions into your characters and make them real.  The thing about human emotion is we’ve all felt it, and the more of it, you can add to your characters, the more real they become.

Next up – The fun stuff – In the last two Blogs in the series, I’ll cover workspace and fun while writing.

 

 

5 steps for writing preparation Mark Deloy #2 Perseverance

Welcome to the second installment of 5 steps for writing preparation.  Step one was desire, where I laid out my thoughts on having the desire to write, write often, and hopefully, write well.  The second part in our journey has to do with sticking to it: perseverance. 

Let’s face facts.  If you are anything like me, it takes a fair amount of self-discipline to sit down and start a project, especially if it’s a large project like a novella or a novel.  It’s even harder to keep writing, to keep that momentum, because momentum is key.  You’ll start seeing that word count go up, and you’ll start thinking, I really can do this.

Novels can be especially difficult because not only do you have to remember what you wrote way back in chapter one, but you have to remember how each character acted, their traits, their dialect, events that happened to them and stops they made along the way in your story.  That gets even more difficult if you don’t edit as you go, as I do.  Short stories pose their own problems.  Most of us don’t hammer out a short story, even a three thousand word one, in one sitting.  Shorts are a bit different for me, in that when I sit back down, I need to re-read what I’ve already written.  There’s something special about short stories and their flow that needs to stay perfectly consistent throughout the tale.  You may not write the short story in one sitting, but most readers will read in one.  In a novel, you can correct style variations when you go to edit it.  You may have been having a dark day and wrote in a slightly different ominous style, or you might be listening to an especially good audio book and inadvertently take on the narrators tone.  I know when I was listening to Lisey’s Story by Stephen King, read by the amazingly talented Mare Winningham, I wanted all my villains to sound just like Scott’s, sometimes insane, father.  Be careful, this is easier than it sounds.  I had to give my villains their own voice.  One I created.

The second part of sticking with a project, and the most difficult for most writers, is the edit.  By the time I’m finished with the editing process, I honestly never want to read that novel again.  I’m a bit more forgiving with short stories, but novels, nope, the reader can have it.  I’m sure editing is different for everyone.  Here is the way I do it.  I print everything out, find a comfortable place, and a red pen, and start marking.  As I finish a page, I flip it over, so I have two stacks.  Edited, unedited.  I edit until I get tired of editing for that day.  Then the next day I repeat until I get through the novel or short story.  Then I take everything back to the laptop and start making the changes.  Sometimes it’s just an added punctuation mark, sometimes it’s an added or deleted scene.  I also recommend reading the story out loud when you edit, at least the first two times through.  At least the first two times through?  You mean I have to do this again?  Yes, when I finish making the initial changes, I print off the story a second time, go back to my quiet place with my trusty red pen, and go through it again.  Hopefully, this time, there will be less red ink.  Then repeat one more time, just to make sure you have everything as perfect as you can get it.

At this point in the project, I’m ready for someone else to read it.  I usually give it to five people I trust with my life.  Not only my life but my work.  People who will tell you something doesn’t sound right, people who will be honest, and hopefully kind, and who will take their time and do it right.  Let them mark up those copies and get them back to you.  Some of the suggestions you’ll agree with, some you won’t, but the great part is you’ve just shared your work with your first readers.  Get their thoughts on the story, the characters.  As much as it’ll hurt, tell them, to be honest.  You know you’re good at this.  It’s time for other people to hopefully tell you you’re good.  Now this last step, some writers swear by and some skip.  If you want to pay a professional editor, it’s time to send them your manuscript.  When you’ve made any changes based off their input, you should be ready to start sending queries to agents or publishers.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, writing requires quite a lot of perseverance.  The most important thing you’ll get out of that perseverance is a finished product you can be proud of.

Next up – Mindset

 

5 steps for writing preparation #1 Desire

Mark Deloy

This is the first in a 5 part blog on how to prepare yourself to actually get some keyboard time and hammer out the next great American (Horror) novel.  First a little about the thought process behind this series.  If you’re anything like me, you don’t get up every morning, make yourself some coffee, and automatically start writing.  If you do, you’re either extremely disciplined or very lucky.  Most of us have to carve out some time during our day somewhere in between work, school, time with our significant others, taking care of kids, social media mindlessness, and friends.  THEN, you have to actually be in the mood to write.  If that magical combination of sheer will, and opportunity arises, you want to be ready.  First, I’ll explore some of the more serious aspects of preparation, then at the end I’ll cover some of the more fun examples.

So, on to # 1 – Desire.  You have to WANT to write.  That one should be easy.  If you are a writer, then you know you were born to write, to create, to imagine a world and then map it out on paper or on a computer screen.  If I’m not writing, I’m usually thinking about my current project, my characters, my settings, and my plot.  I’m playing around with how different characters would handle situations, and how those situations would affect the other characters.  Most of all, I strive to figure it all out and get it down in some kind of sequential order that makes sense and doesn’t have gaping plot holes.  Let’s face it; we are basically world building.  If we are writing fiction, those people, our characters,  don’t actually exist.  You might have one or two that are modeled after real people, but generally, they are conglomerations of many different peoples’ attitudes, prejudices, likes, dislikes, thought patterns, and probably quite a few of your own traits as well.  This takes an enormous amount of thought and effort to think all of that through.  Stephen King said in his book, On Writing, that writing is like an archeological dig.  We work to unearth as much of the story as we can without damaging it.

So, how do you get desire?  I’m not sure you can “get” it.  I think you’re born with it and have to work your ass off to develop it, to practice it, and figure out what works and what doesn’t.  You’ll know if you have that desire because you’ll be writing, every chance you get.  It’s something you’ll have to do.  The desire comes from making writing a priority in your life.  You’re going to have to give up some things.  That’s just how it works.  There aren’t enough hours in the day to watch a ton of TV, play around on Facebook, Reddit, and Pinterest, play video games, have a social life, and then try to write a novel.  Remember, you’re world building.  Immerse yourself in that world, make it real, make it your own, see the bark on the trees, and the texture on every tombstone.  Above all, have the desire to create meaningful characters.   Characters are what get readers coming back.  Because hopefully, if you did your job right, that world you created has become real to your readers as well.

 

Up next: Perseverance

Knob’s Hole By Mark E. Deloy

Mark Blog post

“I’m tellin’ ya, there ain’t no bottom to it,” Henry Knob said, peering down the hole into the darkness.

“That’s impossible,” Dave said.

“I’ve dropped rocks, a busted computer monitor, even that old refrigerator down there. Ain’t none of them ever hit bottom, at least not that I heard.”

Dave leaned over the opening which was about the size of a small car itself.  Grass grew high along the edges and dirt spilled into the blackness making him wonder if they were in any danger, standing so close to the edge.  If this was a sinkhole, they could be swallowed up at any moment.

“How did you find it?” Dave asked.

“I was driving my tractor out to the other side of my property and my back wheel got stuck.  I gunned the engine, and it was a good thing I did because the ground had opened up.  Far as I can tell, it ain’t got no bigger since then though.”

“That’s good.  Hey, we can get some rope and lower a bucket down into it.  Maybe it’s an old well and the reason you didn’t hear anything is because there’s water way down in there.”

“I already thought of that,” Knobs said.  “I went through about a mile of rope and shit-load of kite string until I gave up.  The bucket didn’t even come back wet.  I just don’t get it.”

Dave just shook his head.  He’d lived next door to Henry for ten years and he’d never known the old man to lie or even stretch the truth, but this was too bizarre to believe.

“I’ve got an idea,” Dave said.  “Actually two ideas.  I’ve got a million candlepower spotlight.  If there’s something to see down there, we’ll see it.  I’ve also got one of those luggage alarms.  We can drop it down there and listen to it fall.”

“Sounds like a solid plan.  I’ll go get us a couple beers and meet you back here.”

Dave limped across the rocky field between their two houses.  His leg was bothering him again.  The doc had told him it would hurt in the wintertime and when it stormed, but right now it was sweltering and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  This summer had been hellishly hot and the weatherman didn’t offer any relief for the near future.

The big flashlight was in the kitchen on the top of the refrigerator and the luggage alarm was in the junk drawer.  Caroline had hated that drawer, hated clutter in general.  It was little things like opening a drawer in a dimly lit kitchen that reminded Dave of his wife.  She was always on his mind, but sometimes he would be watching television and would see a commercial she liked or a show she’d hated, and before he knew it he was sobbing like a little girl.  Cancer took her six months after he’d retired as a local police officer.  He remembered how excited she was that he was going to be home with her.  Most wives would’ve seen it as an inconvenience, but not Caroline, she’d planned trips for them to take and projects around the house for them to do together.  Now those trips would never be taken and the projects would never be completed.  He was alone and there was nothing to do but watch DVDs, cut his grass once a week and drink himself into forgetfulness.  But now there was this hole.

He carried the items back across the field and found Henry waiting for him with four sweating Bud Lights.  It was early, but what the fuck, Dave thought.  They were both retired and besides, it was close to a hundred degrees outside.

“Which one should we try first?” Henry Knob asked.

“Thought maybe the flashlight,” Dave said, switching on the strong light and pointing it down into the darkness.  They both got on their bellies and looked into the pit.  Pieces of dirt and a few small rocks fell in.

The beam shined down and reflected off rocky sides.  Dave pointed the flashlight straight down, but saw nothing, so he angled it back towards the walls and followed them down, but eventually, the light just filtered out into the infinite blackness.

“Weird,” Dave said.  “That’s just damned weird.”

“I told you, there’s no bottom to it.”

“Let’s try the alarm.”

Dave pulled the pin on the smooth black box which was about the size of a cell phone.  Instantly it started shrieking out a falsetto howl.

“Drop the thing already!” Knob yelled, covering his big ears with his liver-spotted hands.

Dave switched the light back on, and then dropped the alarm.  They watched it fall out of sight.  It’s high pitched whine echoed back to them like a woman’s movie scream.  The sound faded, growing softer and softer until the darkness turned it to silence.

“Oh shit,” Knob said.

“Yeah.”

“What should we do now?”

“The only thing I can suggest is to call the geological department at Vol State and see if they have any ideas.”

“Don’t really want nobody poking around on my land,” Knob said.

“I can understand that, but if you’re going to leave it be, I’d suggest covering it up.  The last thing you need is for some kid to cut across your field and end up falling in.”

“Good point.  I’ve got some plywood and a few cinder blocks.  Give me a hand later?”

“Sure, no problem.  Gonna be hot this afternoon.  You sure you wanna wait?”

“I’ve got to run to town and get a few things at Wal-Mart.  You wanna ride along?”

“Sure.”

***

 

They got back to the house around noon and finished boarding up the hole.  The sun was high in the blue sky and the temperature hovered right around a hundred and five.  Cicadas buzzed from nearby trees and grasshoppers flitted through the high grass.  Both men were covered in sweat and they’d gone through a twelve pack of Bud Light between them.  Knob had brought out a cooler but it hadn’t taken long for the ice to melt.  Empty bottles now floated in the water.

They had placed four pieces of plywood over the pit and then stacked twenty cinderblocks on top of the boards.

“There,” Knob said.  “If anyone falls in there now, it’ll be their own fault.  You want lunch.  I’ve got some leftover Hamburger Helper in the fridge.  I love that stuff, but it makes a shitload of grub.  I can never eat it all myself.”

“Naw.  Thanks though.  I’ve got my own leftovers to get rid of.  I need a shower anyway.”

***

 

When Dave got back to his house, the air conditioner hadn’t kicked on.

“Shit,” he said to the empty, humid farmhouse.

He called the heating and air conditioning place in town and of course they told him it would be the day after next until they could get out there.

“It’s our busiest time of year,” the man said.  “Everyone waits until their units go out before they call instead of getting them checked once a year.”

“I did get a checkup, two months ago,” Dave said, beginning to get pissed.

“I know, Mr. Avery.” the man said, I was talking about everyone else.  “Your service is covered.  We won’t charge you, but it’ll still be Wednesday before we can get out there.  I just don’t have anyone available.  My techs are working twelve hour days as it is.  I’m really sorry.”

Dave hung up the phone and sat down in the kitchen chair.  At least his water still worked and he had some fans up in the attic.  He’d just have to deal with the heat for a couple days.

After opening all the windows and positioning his two box fans on either end of the house, Dave stripped down and jumped in the shower.  He didn’t even bother to turn on the hot water.  The cold stream soaked his hot skin cooling it back down to a comfortable temperature.

He felt a little better when he got out and decided to sit out on the porch and read the new Joe Lansdale book he’d picked up from the library the day before.  It was cooler outside under the shade of the porch than it was inside.  The old wooden farmhouse had trapped the day’s heat and it probably wouldn’t cool off until well after sunset.

The porch swing creaked under his weight as he swung back and forth and read about Hap and Leonard’s adventures in East Texas.

Something caught Dave’s attention out of the corner of his eye.  Someone was walking up on the top of the gently sloping hill to the west of Dave’s property.  He couldn’t tell who it was, but he knew it wasn’t Henry.  The gait was all wrong.   Henry walked slightly slumped over.  The man on the hill with the sun behind him, stood up straight like a young man and something was familiar about his stance, but Dave couldn’t put his finger on it.  He watched as the figure disappeared over the crest of the hill.  Despite the heat, Dave’s arms broke out in gooseflesh.

 

***

The phone rang as Dave was frying two hamburger patties for his supper.  He wanted fries, but there was no way he was going to use the oven. The house was still as humid as a sweatbox and the sun had been below the horizon for an hour.

“Hello,” Dave said, and at first all he could hear was breathing.

“Hello?” he said again.

“Dave,” Henry’s voice said out of the receiver, but it didn’t sound like Henry.  Look out your kitchen window, the one that faces my place, and tell me what you see.”

Dave suddenly realized why his friend didn’t sound like himself, fear had crept into Henry’s voice making it high pitched and jittery.

The window was open and a cool breeze that felt to Dave like heaven blew in.  He pressed his nose against the screen and glared out into the dusk colored evening.

There was movement in the field between Dave’s farm and Henry’s, a figure walking through the high grass.  At first, Dave thought it was the man who he had seen earlier but this person was much smaller and dressed in what looked like a white dress.  It was a little girl, probably about ten by the looks.

“Yeah, I see her,” Dave said.  Who is she and what’s she doing on yo—?“

“You see it too, don’t’cha?” Henry said.  “By God, you’re seeing what I saw.”

“Yes I see her.  But…Oh my God.  Oh my God!”

Dave nearly dropped the receiver but knew if he did, if he severed the tie to the real world, he’d surely pass out.

The girl had just emerged from the high grass and Dave had seen what had prompted Henry to call in the first place.  She floated across Dave’s back yard, missing her legs from her knees down. The gown she wore ended where her shins should’ve been, but there was nothing below the hem, nothing at all.  She glided across the lawn and reached the rotted red barn near the corner of the property.  Then, just when she should’ve collided with the structure, she faded right through it, disappearing.

“Holy shit!” Dave said.  “Did I just see what I think I saw?”

“Either that or we’re both crazy because I saw it too.”

Dave’s gooseflesh was back.

“Can you come over?” he said.

“Be right there,” Knobs said.  “Got anything stronger than beer?”

“Fraid not,”

“Well, that’ll have to do.  Hey, watch out your window while I’m walking over, okay?”

“Sure,” Dave said.

 

 

Thirty seconds later, Henry was sitting in Dave’s kitchen drinking a Bud Light and shaking like a man with palsy.

“Was that really a ghost, Henry?  Was it really?”

“Yeah, it was.  Had to be.”

“Maybe the light was just funny, maybe—“

“I knew her”

“What!  Knew her from where?”

“I’ve never told you this story I don’t think.  I don’t talk about it much.  My wife and I had a daughter just after we were married.  Her name was Sylvia, beautiful child.  This was back in 56 when we lived on the other side of town near the old rail yard.  Sylvia would wander off sometimes, mostly just over to the neighbor’s house or down to the corner store to get an ice cream.  Back then you never had to worry about it much.  Then one day suppertime came and Sylvia was nowhere to be found.  My wife and I went looking for her.

“I found her on the tracks,” Henry said, his chest hitching.  “Her legs had been cut off.  She’d bled to death.  I don’t kn…know why she was down there, but when I think about her lying there, dying, all alone, probably crying out for her daddy and her momma, I..I just…”

Henry was now sobbing, hunched over covering his face and rubbing his red swollen eyes like a child.  Dave put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Henry”

“A man forgets.  If you want to get on with your life you have to.  You put it out of your head and convince yourself that things like that happen sometimes and…I really did forget.  I mean yeah I think of her from time to time, but I never thought I’d see her again.  It was her Dave.  It was her, and I’ll never forget again.”

Dave handed Henry another beer and sat down beside him.  “Could it be that hole?  Could that be how she came back?”

Henry looked up, his eyes, still rimmed with tears.  “You mean to say she was in hell?”

“No, no, nothing like that.  I just mean, maybe that hole is some kind of vortex.  Like a portal between this world and the next.”

“You believe in that kind of thing?”

“No, not usually, but after what we saw, maybe.  I mean, how could that be a coincidence?  You found that hole this morning and tonight we start seeing ghosts?”

“What do you mean ghosts, plural?”

“I may have seen someone earlier.  Didn’t get a good look, but…It’s not important.  I think we should go and have a look, make sure those boards are still in place.  Not that a ghost would necessarily have to move them to get out.  You saw how your dau…the ghost went right through the side of my barn.”

“I’m not sure I can go up there right now.  Not in the dark,” Henry said.  His hands were still shaking.

“We’ll wait ‘til morning.  You wanna sleep on my couch?”

“Naw, but just watch me walk back to my place, okay?”

“You want one for the road?”

“I better not.  Hey, why is it so hot in here?”  Henry asked, just now noticing the sweat which had stuck his t-shirt to his chest.

“Air conditioner’s broke.  I’ve got fans though.”

“They ain’t helpin’.  Why don’t you walk over with me and sleep on my couch?”

“I’ll be alright.  It’s started to cool off.  I might take you up on that come tomorrow night.  It’s supposed to get up to a hundred and seven tomorrow.”

Henry just shook his head, drained the last few drops of his beer and walked out into the sweltering night.

 

***

 

It took a long time for sleep to come.  Dave had stripped the bed down to the sheet and had moved both fans into the bedroom, but it was still hellishly hot.  The day’s events tap-danced through his brain, pushing any hope of sleep even further away.

Why would a hole in the ground call up spirits?  It just didn’t make sense, he thought.

He thought about tossing that luggage alarm down into the darkness and wondered if they hadn’t woken something up.   Or a couple somethings.

The hum of the box fans eventually lulled him into a fitful sleep.  He woke just one hour later covered in sweat.  Something had woken him, a sound either in this world or the fading dreamland he had just left.  He sat up in bed and listened hard but it was impossible to hear anything over the drone of the fans.

Then he did hear something, just a whisper of a voice, but it was there.  Someone was speaking his name over and over again.

“Davedavedavedavedavedavedave,” sounding like a mantra in the sweltering darkness.

“Who’s there?” He called out with a voice that sounded weak to his ears.

Dave wished for his gun, but it was in the safe downstairs.  He started to get out of bed but then froze as the dark form appeared in the doorway.  Instantly the temperature dropped and Dave could see his own breath.

The man was dressed in the same dirty overalls he had died in.  His face was pinched with rage, eyes too close together, his mouth set into a snarl.  It was Mick Tamblin, the man Dave had shot and killed on a dusty roadside nearly five years ago.

Mick was Macon County, Tennessee’s only murderer in fifty years.  The drug dealer had been a thug his whole life and had been arrested several times.  When two out of town kids tried to rob him of some money and his drugs during a deal, Mick had wrapped the teenagers in barbed wire and buried them alive under the floor of an old barn.

Dave had been the arresting officer.  He’d shot and killed Mick when he pulled his own gun, but Dave took a bullet in his own leg, shattering the bone.

As he watched the dead man approach, Dave’s mouth went dry, and his bad leg began to throb with a pain he hadn’t known since the first few days after the shooting.

Tamblin crouched down like a small but dangerous animal.  He raised his fists and Dave noticed the man’s hands were wrapped in barbed wire.  As he clenched his fists tighter, drops of shadow dripped onto the hardwood floor at his feet.

The shadow-blood slithered like two dark snakes across the splintery floor.  Dave backed up to the headboard, vaguely feeling his bladder let go and warm wetness spread beneath him.

“What do you want?” Dave asked, finally finding his voice.

Tamblin didn’t speak.  He just kept glaring at Dave a look of pure hate on his face.

The snakelike shadows flowed up onto the bed and wrapped themselves around Dave’s legs.  He watched, breathless, as they wrapped themselves tight.  When they reached his chest he tried to brush them away, but his hands passed right through the serpentine shapes.

He could think of only one thing to do and he prayed that it worked.  He extended his arm over to his end table and pulled the chain on his bedside lamp.  When he blinked against the light, the snakes were gone, but Tamblin remained

He walked slowly across the hardwood, his eyes were locked on Dave’s and he waved his razor wire hands in the air as if trying to slice the air.

“Them boys had it coming.  They cried like little girls when I piled that dirt on em.  They cried for there mommas.  Now I’m comin’ back for you.  I’m gonna wrap you in my wire and throw you down the bottom of that hole.”  Tamblin said.

Time suddenly sped up and Tamblin was inches from the bed.  Dave could smell his sickly sweet aftershave and cherry tobacco snuff.  “Are ye ready?”

“Your dead,” was all Dave could say.

“So. You won’t be far behind.  Everyone goes to the same place anyway.”

Dave blinked once and Tamblin was gone.  The temperature returned to a humid ninety degrees and Dave’s heart felt as if it was keeping time to a marching band.

“Son of a bitch!”  Dave exhaled loudly and he took several deep breaths, trying to slow his pulse back down before he had a heart attack.

The alarm clock read 3:15 A.M. It was still dark outside, but there was no way Dave was going to be able to go back to sleep. He got out of bed, stripped off his piss soaked boxers and turned on the shower.  He was in and out in a flash, worried that Tamblin would come back while he was naked.  The boys were naked when they were found, naked and wrapped in razor-wire, their lugs filled with barn dirt.

As Dave headed downstairs to make coffee, he turned on every light in the house.  He kept expecting to see Tamblin around every corner, sitting on the stairs perhaps or standing in the living room staring out the window. Perhaps he would be sitting in Dave’s kitchen sharing leftovers out of the fridge with his shadow-snakes.  Dave kept turning on lights.

It had to be that fucking hole.  They had to find some way to cover that damned thing back up; apparently the plywood and cinderblock method didn’t work for keeping the ghosts where they belonged.

The phone suddenly rang, splitting the silence and making Dave jump.  He knew who it was before he even picked it up.  Henry had seen all the lights on and was checking to see if he was alright.

“Hello,” Dave said, surprised at the shrillness of his own voice.

“She said it was all my fault,” Henry whined, his voice weak and sad.

“Henry?  Are you okay?”

“She said I left her there.  Said she called for me and I didn’t come.  She needed me Dave.  She needed me and I wasn’t there.”

“Henry, listen to me,” Dave said.  “Everything is gonna be alright.  Turn on your lights and she’ll go away.”

“She’s already gone.  She whispered in my ear all night, but she’s gone now.  She said I needed to find her mother.  She said she couldn’t find her in all that darkness and I had to do it.”

Then he was gone.  Dave went to the window and looked out toward Henry’s place.  All the lights were off and the dark shape of the house stood like a hulking beast against the lightening sky.  Henry’s front screen door creaked and then slammed and Dave saw the old man walk across the yard.  He thought Henry might be coming over, but he was headed in the wrong direction.  He was headed toward the—

“Henry!  Henry, no!”  Dave ran out his front door, cursing his bad leg, limping while trying to intercept his friend.  “Henry!”

Dave raced through the field but knew he would be too late.  Henry wasn’t responding to Dave’s shouts, wouldn’t even turn and look at him.  The old man walked like a zombie across the high field toward the bottomless pit.

Henry had just reached the edge of the hole.  The boards and cinder blocks had already been moved aside, perhaps by Tamblin or Henry’s daughter.

Henry gave Dave one last pitiful look, then without hesitating at all, he stepped into oblivion.  Dave heard one of the old man’s bones crack as he hit the rocky side on the way down but Henry never even cried out.

Dave dove, reaching for his friend, but Henry was already out of sight.

“Henry!” Dave’s voice trailed after him into the suffocating darkness.

No answer came from the pit. After several minutes Dave finally lifted his head.  The sun had begun to rise in the western sky, painting the world red.  Silhouetted against the dawn were several shadowy forms.  They wandered the hillside several yards away.  Dave couldn’t make out any of their faces, but none of them appeared to be Tamblin.  There was no sign of Henry’s legless daughter either.

Heavy sighs and deep breathing came from the hole behind him as if the black pit had suddenly come alive.  Dave turned and saw several dark shadows slither out of the ground.  When they reached the edge of the hole, they took on human form, each one different; men, women, and children.  They settled on the grass and began to walk, heads rotating, as if they were looking for something or someone.

Dave recognized one of the men; it was Jason Simms, a police officer who had died of a heart attack while chasing a perp last year.  Jason walked away from the hole as if he were in a daze. He was still dressed in his uniform, sweat stains stood out around his armpits, darker than the rest of the material.  Thick veins bulged from his neck and his eyes looked too big for their sockets.

“Jason!” Dave called out not expecting his old friend to hear him let alone respond, but Jason did turn.

“Dave?  Dave Cooper?  Is that you?” the spirit asked, a confused look on his red face.

“Yeah, Jason.  It’s me.”

“Why am I here?  Where is here?  Is this heaven?  It was so dark.  So dark and so cold.  We saw a light so we swam for it, swam through the darkness.  I didn’t know what else to do.  There was nothing else to do.  I know I’m dead.  I’ve got to find Ruth.  She’ll know what to do.”

Dave let his old friend walk away.  He knew Ruth was the man’s wife and perhaps it was best to just let him go.

More spirits flooded out of the hole and then walked away toward town.  There were dozens, perhaps hundreds all of them, all with glazed over eyes and slack mouths.  Some had tears streaming down their cheeks, and others had looks of rage or pain etched upon their milky faces.

Dave walked back to his house, brushing past or rather through several of the beings, it was impossible not to.  They were everywhere. Their skin felt like icy pockets of chilled air against him, and he was shivering violently by the time he reached the front steps.  He was so tired.  Each step was a monumental struggle and he barely made it into the kitchen.  His body felt as if it were filled with liquid lead. He finally managed to sit down on the creaking rattan chair and lay his head on the table.

Dave stared, bleary eyed, out the window against the glare of the rising sun.  He knew she was coming, knew it was only a matter of time until the temperature in the house dropped despite the broken air conditioner and he smelled her perfume. His wife would return to him and he would ask her to take him back with her down into the bottomless inky depths of Knob’s Hole.

The Roaming Darkness Part 2 of 3 – A Serial by Mark E. Deloy

“We’ll set the traps close to the edge so we’ll be able to watch from the house,” Frankie said, pulling Donnie out of his thoughts.

“I’m scared,” the younger boy whined.  He tried not to be, but all he could think about was the look on Momma’s face when she’d spoken of the great beast.  Her left eye always twitched slightly, and she had begun smoking again.  Donnie also noticed her voice had become a bit deeper, more gravelly.

“Everything will be alright,” Frankie said.  “You’ll see.” Then he put his arm around his brother’s shoulder, which made Donnie feel like crying, but he swallowed hard and blinked the tears away.

“Do you think we’ll catch it tonight?” Donnie asked.

“No tellin’.  We might.  Here, help me with this.”

Donnie took the rope from his brother’s arm and draped it over his own.  Frankie carried a shovel and a pick-axe on one shoulder and a pitchfork on the other.  As they reached the edge of the forest, he dropped them onto rocky ground where they clattered together like dry metal bones.

It was much cooler beneath the towering trees.  The drought hadn’t affected the ancient oaks and maples at all.  Daddy always said, their roots ran deep, where the great springs flowed.  Donnie imagined a cavernous underground world beneath their feet.  He could almost feel the thrum of water below him, and wondered suddenly if that’s where the Roaming Darkness came from.

The trees were packed closely together, shading the pine needled carpet.  Deeper in, the forest floor was packed with moss covered stones and seas of lush, green ferns.  It was amazing to see so much life just a few feet away from the rest of the world which was now a dying land of dust.

They spent the next few hours digging holes and setting snares, which they triggered with flexible saplings.  Frankie had learned how to set such traps from their father.  Donnie didn’t remember too much about Daddy, just that he would sing to them at bedtime.  Sometimes, Donnie could still hear Daddy’s deep voice while drifting off to sleep at night and he believed this was what protected him from nightmares.

When they finished laying the last snare, Donnie looked up and noticed they had worked through supper.  The sun was getting low in the sky.  His eyes had adjusted to the gloom and he hadn’t noticed the day was nearly gone.  Suddenly, the forest took on an ominous feel.  Shadows lengthened, slid into dark hollows and danced through the great oaks like dark spirits seeking shelter.

“Frankie,” Donnie whispered.

“Yeah, what?  I’m almost finished.  Hand me those spikes.”

Frankie had sharpened several sticks making makeshift punji stakes.  He was now standing at the bottom of a three-foot hole they’d dug.

“We gotta go.  The sun is going down,” Donnie said as he handed Frankie the sticks.

“Okay, let me get these into the ground”

Suddenly, Donnie caught movement out of the corner of his eye.  A shape looked like a gigantic sliding shadow moved through the line of huge trees.  The shadowy beast was as long as a car and half as tall.  Sticks and leaves snapped beneath its club-like feet.  Low branches bent and swayed as it passed and there was a low grinding sound as it rubbed against the tree bark.

Donnie stood frozen, staring at darkness moving against night.  It was nearly invisible but had a slight shimmer like heat on a highway.  Its breath was ragged and low like a dog after a fight.  The beast began to growl and Donnie saw a glimmer that could only be huge pointed teeth emerging from the beast’s cavernous mouth.  That was what jolted Donnie out of his stagnation.

 

“Frankie, get out now!  Give me your hand!”  Donnie reached down for his brother and he was glad when Frankie’s hand extended upward without argument.

Donnie pulled his older brother out of the hole with more strength than he ever thought he had.  The two boys ran for the house, neither one of them looking back.  Donnie knew if they turned around, it would slow them just enough for the Roaming Darkness to catch up.  And if the creature caught them, it would eat them.  Then it would climb the stairs and take Momma back to whatever Hell it came from.  Donnie had changed his mind.  He no longer wanted to join Momma if the black beast got her.  The thought of being carried away in that creature’s tooth-filled jaws made him sick with fear.

They stumbled up the porch steps and burst into the house.  Frankie turned and slammed the door behind them then twisted the deadbolt into place.  He slowly moved the curtains aside and peered out into the darkening yard.

“Did it follow us?”  Donnie asked.

“I’m not sure.  I don’t see it now, but I did out in the woods.  I saw it just as sure as shit.  It was fast, God, it was fast.  I though it had us.  Oh God.  Did you see how big it was?”

Donnie just nodded.

Frankie collapsed, his back to the door.  They were still both out of breath and panting like dogs.

“I’m scared, Frankie.”

“I am too, but maybe it’ll fall into one of our traps and break a leg.  We’ll find out in the morning.  I’ll bet it went back into the woods.  Are you hungry?  I’m starving,” Frankie said, speaking nervously.  He realized he was shaking.

“Yeah, we haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

“I’ll make us some macaroni and tomatoes if you go get a jar from the basement.”

“Okay,” Donnie said.  Macaroni and tomatoes was his favorite meal.  He didn’t think Frankie would make them as good as Momma, but his stomach was still growling loudly at the thought.

He opened the cellar door, turned on the overhead bulb and made his way down into the musty smelling basement.  Spider-webs decorated the corners and the dirt floor puffed up dust as Donnie walked, but it was cool down there and he felt safe buried deep underground.

Thanks to Momma’s canning they had enough food to last for months. He grabbed a jar of tomatoes off the shelf and carried them back upstairs.  Donnie hadn’t thought much about what would happen if they couldn’t kill the beast, hadn’t thought much about it because it was terrifying.  Frankie had said they’d be taken away from the farm, probably separated and put in different homes far away from the farm.

In no time, Frankie had everything cooking.  The food smelled wonderful and Donnie’s stomach growled audibly.

They ate in silence, sitting at the splintery kitchen table, listening for sounds from outside.  Donnie thought they would hear howls of pain or a roar like a lion if the Roaming Darkness was caught, but the night was silent.  His hope faded as the nighttime hours passed and he grew sleepy.  In the moments between awake and asleep, he thought about going upstairs and kissing Momma goodnight, but that only made him cry.  He fell asleep with tears drying on his dirt-covered cheeks.

 

 

^^^

 

 

The next morning they were both up with the sun, anxious to see if the beast was caught or wounded.  The world was red with dawn’s light and a slight breeze rustled the corn plants and stirred up the dust.

They walked out onto the front porch.  A crow cawed from its perch on the barn roof.  Chipped paint crunched beneath their feet and there was still a slight coolness in the air.  Donnie knew it would be gone in an hour, replaced by the suffocating heat and humidity that was now like an old friend who had overstayed his welcome.

“Frankie, look.  What is it?”

“I don’t know, come on.”

They jumped down the steps and walked out into the yard.  The crispy, brown grass had been worn away, forming a rough, dirt circle that surrounded the house.  Clods of soil and sod lay to each side of the channel as if a bulldozer had dug a shallow moat.

“Did the beast do this?” Donnie asked, squinting against the now bright morning sunlight.

“I think so.  It must’ve been pacing, waiting for us to come out.”

“All night?”

Frankie nodded.

The thought of the Roaming Darkness circling the house in the early morning hours while they were sleeping, made Donnie shiver.  He could imagine it making its rounds, staring into their windows, hoping they would come back outside before the sunlight chased it back into the forest.

“Let’s go check the traps,” Frankie said.

 

 

^^^

 

 

Frankie took the pitchfork and handed Donnie an axe they found sticking out of a tree stump out back.  It had last been used while their father was alive and was rusty but the blade was still murderously sharp.  Donnie hefted it onto his shoulder, feeling like a lumberjack.

“Do you think we caught it?” Donnie asked.

“It’s too big.  I didn’t realize it was that huge when I set the traps.” Frankie said, shaking his head sadly.

They walked through their back yard and stopped at the edge of the forest.  There was a thick, pungent odor wafting through the trees.  It was sickly sweet, slightly syrupy and coated the back of Donnie’s throat like molasses.  He gagged once and his eyes watered.  Then he swallowed hard and it became a bit more bearable.  Frankie spit in the dirt and coughed once.  The sound was very loud in the early morning stillness.

“Breathe through your mouth.  It helps,”

“Donnie held his nose and sucked in noxious air past his tongue.  It did help some, but now he felt like he was eating the odor, swallowing it.

“What is it?” Donnie asked.

“That must be its scent.  Let’s go see if it’s sprung any of the traps.”

They walked between the trees.  Donnie listened to their feet crunching on dead leaves and his own heartbeat slamming in his chest.  He saw things move out of the corners of his eyes and the trees seemed to crowd him.

As they reached the area where they’d set their traps, it became apparent that they had caught nothing.

The ground in the small space was chewed up, much like the circle around the house.  Smaller trees were uprooted, and larger ones were missing their lower branches.   The boy’s traps had been destroyed.  The saplings now lay broken and twisted on the disturbed ground.  The pits they had dug were now filled with boulders.  Dead rabbits, squirrels and birds lay on top of the piles, their blood spilling down between the stones like a mock sacrifice.

Frankie hung his head and let out a small, hopeless sigh.  Then he kicked at the ruined earth and slammed his small fists against one of the ruined trees.

“Dammit!” he screamed.  “It’s not fair.”  Then he began to sob.

Donnie put a hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “Frankie, maybe we’d just better just call someone.  The police, or Pastor Ringley. “

“No!  Screw that!  That thing is waiting for us to give up so it can take Momma.  We can’t let it, Donnie.  We just can’t.  Come on.  Let’s go get some breakfast.”

They walked back to the house through the rocky, barren field and Donnie wondered how long Frankie could keep up the fight.  Would they really be able to kill the monster that stalked their mother’s soul?  Would they be able to even keep it at bay, and for how long?  He thought about asking Frankie those questions, but he feared that his older brother didn’t know the answers and that scared Donnie terribly.

 

The Roaming Darkness Part 3 of 3 By Mark E. Deloy

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.”

“I can’t.”

“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.

 

 

END

 

The Roaming Darkness – Part 1 – A Serial by Mark E. Deloy

The Roaming Darkness

Part 1

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

 

Heartland – Flash Fiction – Mark E. Deloy

The boy trudged across the blood-splattered, waist high wheat field, moving toward the decrepit farmhouse in the east corner of the property. He wore grungy overalls with no shirt underneath. His boots had bone chips embedded in the soles. The wind blew his maple colored hair across his delicate face. He had been lovely once, fragile and androgynous in his adolescence. Now he felt old beyond his years, spoiled by things that he had seen, things that he had done.

The night was descending on this lost plot of Kansas land like a blanket of velvety darkness. The boy knew how dangerous it was to be out after dark, especially so close to this house, but he had already seen lovely fear today, faced her, and then killed her. He had once called her little Sissy. He used to let her hold his hand when they crossed the street. Now she was a pile of bloody ruined skin, her heart punctured like a ripe tomato, her head torn off and buried in the churchyard to save her fragile soul. They had sent her, the ones who slept by day and hunted at night. They had stolen her, fed on her and then turned her into a demon, like them.

Bats circled the house’s apex, looking for a way in, bouncing off sun bleached shingles and chimney bricks.. Termite eaten wooden siding, once white but now the color of dust, covered the structure like rotten armor, shielding the slumbering undead within from the sun.

There was a graveyard in the back yard. It had no stones, no crosses, just mounds of worm-ridden soil in which the unnamed dead bathed. All who were buried there were victims, played with, tortured then discarded, covered with earth and rock to filter their stink and hide their rot from anyone who came around looking for them.

A shortwave radio antenna had been lashed to the porch with barbed wire. It was rumored that the vampires talked with their brothers in Hungary, Russia and Italy. Late at night, lonely truckers driving past this stretch of hellish heartland would sometimes hear boisterous tales of slaughter and bloodletting, stories of hunger and need.

A warm, foul smelling breeze flowed past the boy as he emerged from the fields and stepped into the dusty dooryard. A dead dog, still chained to the porch was being picked clean by two blood matted vultures.

As the boy put his foot on the first splintery porch step, he knew this was his last chance to turn back. Instead, he gripped the rough wooden stake even tighter in his small smooth hands, took the last two steps in one stride, and pushed open the rusty screen door, letting in a puff of warm Kansas air. To the boy, it smelled like vengeance.