Final thoughts on ‘Darkness Comes to Kingswell’

When I first began writing Darkness Comes to Kingswell six years ago, I had recently watched the approach of an ominous thunderstorm which left me with gloomy inspiration to write something.  Perhaps a day or two after the storm I sat down and reread Stephen King’s novella “The Mist” (actually, I reread the entirety of Skeleton Crew in which “The Mist” is the first story).  Thoughts of the thunderstorm quickly mixed with his work and pushed me to act.

At no time did I want to duplicate “The Mist.”  That is to say, my inspiration didn’t include thoughts of monsters hidden in the murk, but rather I considered an all-encompassing lightless tempest which itself would be the monster.  Yet even that fails to describe the idea as proved by the story.

Darkness Comes to Kingswell was to be threatening by way of the darkness itself.  But how to make that work was a question for which I had no answer.  That’s because my creative writing doesn’t come from outlines and notes and a fully formed story idea.  Instead it comes from ideas and inspirations that hint at stories untold.

So as I said of the story’s original publication, the digital novella was to be “an experiment … an online draft of a fictional short story” written specifically for my blog.  I intended to post it as I drafted it, a stream-of-consciousness tale shared live as it were, shared as it spilled from my mind.

Thus it was rough around the edges (to say the least), but it was also a mystery to me, though not as much as to those reading it.  As I already said, I had the inspiration and the basic idea, but I didn’t have all the answers.  I start a story then I let it grow, let the characters define themselves, let the drama unfold without adhering to predefined notions.  Sure, it’s not unusual to have certain events and truths that I want to include, but ultimately I take the overarching notion and let it become.

Since it was a draft—experimental at that—I restrained myself from editing the pieces after they were posted (aside from redacting story mistakes that would have derailed the novella if left unchanged).  Some name changes and other modifications likewise were made, yet in the end I did what I set out to do: write a creative bit of fiction and post it on my blog as it developed, sharing the first draft as I wrote it.  That meant I was left feeling unhappy about the final result because, as any writer will tell you, a first draft demands review and updates.

Near the end of my little experiment, however, I had already realized that Darkness Comes to Kingswell could be much more than it was, and I don’t just mean with regards to editing and make-ready work.  What started as a bit of fun had truly become, for the digital novella in hand no longer resembled the story in mind.  So I decided to turn it into a novel—my first novel.

Yet over the years during which I rewrote the story, turning ninety pages of text into more than three hundred pages, it remained true to its origins, in the end becoming nothing more complicated than a longer version of the same story.  Driven with more dialogue and better narration, punctuated with more characters and their related development, in the end the novel form didn’t impress me because, as I said, it was simply a longer version of the novella.  And while not sharpened and finished, the shorter version stood on its own already.  Thus I was left wondering what made the novel version better.  If in fact it was better.

In 2010 I finally stopped tinkering with the manuscript and called it finished.  I didn’t like it, mind you, but I was tired of messing with it.  More complex, better written, realistic and compelling, it nevertheless remained nothing more than a long version of Darkness Comes to Kingswell.  Despite that, I sent query letters to potential agents based on the manuscript as it stood.  And in the background where no one could see, the tale vexed me—continued to vex me.

More and more I wanted the blog version—cleaned up and improved, yes, but still that version—to live as it was born, to be what it became.  I want to include it in an anthology of my shorter works, but how could I do that if a longer version of it already existed in novel form?  What would be the point, especially if I thought the shorter version was inherently better than the longer version?

Diverting myself, I delved into an invigorating visit with old friends in the form of Greek mythology, from Cicero to Hesiod to Homer to Plato.  All the while my mind wandered back to the story I had abandoned.

Let me stop there and reiterate what I said in April of this year: “no one ever completes a work of poetry or prose, but rather they abandon it, for to do otherwise is to spend eternity on a single piece.  At some point a writer must walk away from it lest they tweak and edit and modify and redact until death.”  I point that out because when I say “the story I had abandoned,” I don’t mean abandoned in a good way because I never felt it had truly become.

So for a few months I enjoyed the company of ancient gods and heroes, tales of drama and tales of tragedy, stories of triumph and stories of loss.  Not once did I revisit the manuscript, though I heard from a few agents and considered it in that context.

Then it hit me.  What hit me? you ask.

When I decided to create Dreamdarkers from Darkness Comes to Kingswell, already I had decided it would be the first in a series of books centered on my little East Texas town (then called Kingswell, now called King’s Hope).  What the series entailed and how the first novel would kick it off are of little concern because those ideas are shelved.  (No matter the medium, an artist never truly kills an idea but instead sets it aside, even if permanently, for one can never predict whether or not a random inspiration later in life—even decades later—will revive an idea once thought dead.)

How did the original rewrite and its related series wind up on a mental shelf?  By the hands of Greek mythology.  And therein lies the answer to what hit me.  The explosive force of the idea was so overwhelming and so marvelous that I jumped back into the manuscript with visceral force.  The results, shall we say, will speak for themselves.  Not only did the answer give me all the ways to fix Dreamdarkers and thereby leave Darkness Comes to Kingswell to stand on its own, but it also gave me the entire series of books, now called The Breaking of Worlds.

From more than three hundred pages to more than 450 pages, from a long rewrite of a novella to the mysterious and ominous beginning of a dark fantasy series, from a fun blog experiment to my first novel, the answer to my unspoken question had all along been nothing more complicated than Greek mythology.  Thankfully I’ve always been a fan of such writs, ancient poetry and prose and beliefs beguiling me and, in this case, inspiring me, guiding me even.

And that, poppets, brings me to the novel, my first novel, a book called The Breaking of Worlds I: Dreamdarkers.  The solution to my quandary and the foundation for the manuscript’s rewrite and the series it kicks off came from nothing more complicated than the enjoyment of Greek mythology.  For as I realized whilst reading the likes of the Homeric Hymns and Prometheus Bound and the Odyssey and Iliad, if Greek mythology teaches a single unflinching truth, it is that mortals and gods never live peacefully together.

[Introduction | Part 17]

Darkness Comes to Kingswell – Part 17

How could we have known?  I keep asking myself that question as though it provides an answer.  I’ve always hated it when someone answers a question with a question, yet now I find myself using that same cheap exit strategy in an attempt to excuse the inexcusable.  How could we have known?

The history of histories is replete with dreamers.  Our particular species, Homo sapiens, once believed it was a holy and spiritual experience that no other creature shared.  Nightmares were thought of as direct-dialed calls from the devil himself while most dreams were so overly magical and incomprehensible that they had to be nothing short of gentle touches from whatever god or gods we worshipped.

It was by those primitive standards we found it sacrilegious to consider that any other beast could dream.  We assumed in our simple way they didn’t have souls as we did.  They didn’t pray.  They didn’t know what we knew.  And yet they did dream.  We all dreamed.

As we grew in our understanding of life, the simplest things proved our early assumptions incorrect.  Our beloved family pet lying at our feet whispering and wiggling in its sleep showed us that the experience was shared among many species right here on Earth.  The most basic creatures demonstrated in sleep what had long been the purview of humanity—dreaming.  We all did it.  All life above a certain level of complexity did it.

And we all did it because it was part of who we were.  It was no more an intentional act than it was a violent one.  So how could we have known?

Honestly, we’d grown up doing it, so how could we have possibly known that our actions were inflicting such horrific violence on others?  I can’t see that we could have known.  And as the dream-Beth said, even had we known, the experience of dreaming had grown so overwhelmingly delightful so early in our development that it became part of a shared genetic heritage passed down as part of our very being.  We didn’t go to sleep at night and subconsciously decide we wanted to dream.  We didn’t even decide consciously.  It just happened.  It was a part of who we were, so it just happened on its own.

Yet had we known what I’ve learned—what we’ve learned in the last 24 hours, could we have denied ourselves?  I doubt it.

In the lush forest or wide-open field that only he sees, chasing the prey that so enticed him, could the dog have denied its own nature in sleep and refused to dream?  Offered the opportunity to lounge in never ending sunshine meant to warm it to just the right temperature while insects buzzed lazily about, could the lizard have denied itself the opportunity to dream?  With prey aplenty and always willing to give just the right amount of chase before yielding the ultimate prize—the final catch—could the great predator felines have refused to slip into that world at every possible opportunity to enjoy flourishing savannas and always-comfortable trees where appetites could be satisfied as quickly or as slowly as one wanted?  Given the opportunity to fly without wings, to be young when our bodies were old and feeble, to once again sit by the fire with a loved one long since dead, and to see the wonder and beauty of great mystery, would humans have denied themselves the opportunity to escape into that world?  I don’t think any creature who’d experienced dreaming could so easily give it up even if they understood the repercussions that eventually would follow.  It’s just not our nature; it’s just not like the living to deny what is so desperately desired and readily available.

But even these considerations fail to define where I now find myself.  In a single day on a single planet in an obscure corner of a single galaxy, we’ve discovered the hard way precisely how much such indulgences can cost.  And we’ve likewise discovered that we are not alone.  That realization also carried a horrible truth: we’ve never been alone, and in that regard we were responsible for visiting horror on the world of others, terror we carried to their shores day and night, over and over again, and always with the same selfish intention.  We would take from them what we wanted.  We would enjoy their world as though it were ours and would do with it as we pleased.  We would leave it in mayhem wrought with destruction made by our own hands.  We didn’t think about it.  Why should we have thought about it?  It was ours for the taking.

So when the nightmares came, we ignored them.  They were nothing more than anomalies.  No one had ever successfully defined a dream or why it was what it was.  We didn’t understand the mechanics of how it created the wonderful escapes it so often did.  Under those circumstances, why would one little nightmare every now and then mean anything other than a hiccup in whatever process brought dreams to life?  Why would we have considered them anything other than the mind tripping over a brief obstacle on a path full of beautiful experiences without limits?  We could think of no reason.

As we’ve learned today, life everywhere came to the same conclusion: nightmares could be ignored as a short circuit in an otherwise fantastic oddity that took us each night to the doorstep of some new and great experience that was otherwise impossible.  Yet they were more than that.  They were responses to our incursions into someone else’s space.  They were answers to questions we didn’t know we were asking, and they were phrased using the same language we were using.  So why did we ignore them?  Because they were inconvenient, I think.

And look at the hell we’ve wrought.  In visiting that world and taking from it all the splendor it had to offer, we left behind the worst of who we were.  When the inhabitants of that place watched us and wondered why we were doing such a thing, all we showed them was our selfishness and darkest desires to satisfy ourselves at all costs.  When they spoke to us in our own language and asked us to leave and to stop coming back, we ignored them like so much white noise.

So they learned from us precisely what we ourselves taught them infinite times over infinite lives.  We taught them never to concern themselves with another.  We taught them always to take what they will for whatever reason they had.  We taught them to come and go as they pleased without worry for the harm they brought others.  We taught them eternal suffering.

How comes it then that we humans now stand on the threshold of the end of life on our own planet?  It’s by our own hands, I’m afraid, and even in that realization I have no great certainty.  I’m writing my assumptions based on experiences full of impossibilities.  Can one human mind truly understand the timeless nature of this conflict?  My own pride would like to think so.  I’d like to think I at least comprehend that much of this incomprehensible situation.  I assume even now that I know enough to feel this is our final justice meted out by the designs we ourselves gave to the darkness.  They learned from us …

Their world was a place of wonder.  We could do the impossible.  We could visit with lost loves.  We could always be young and beautiful.  It was timeless and ageless, never changing yet changeable by mere wish.  We took it by force.  We took it over and over again and ignored when its rightful occupants and owners tried to warn us and told us to leave them in peace.  I can’t imagine now trying to blame them for anything.  It would be nothing more than yet another example of our human arrogance to think it was good enough for us to do to them, but somehow it became unacceptable for them to visit the same upon us.

In the process of writing what I’ve already said in my account of this event as well as this final thought, I found myself pondering the question of who the dream-Beth might actually have been.  I’m afraid I have no answers.  She understood enough about me to know the name only she and my mother used.  How did she know that?  I can’t say.  She used endearing terms like ‘my love’ and ‘babe’ and the like.  The real Beth would have called me by such names.  Her insistence on providing me the original warning was heartfelt.  I couldn’t help but notice she’d put herself in danger during the second dream for no other reason than to give me information that ultimately proved unable to save me, yet her screams at the end told me she was subject to the darkness just as I was.  Or just as I would be.  I can’t help but think she endangered her own life—essence?  being?  something else entirely?—so she could warn me.  Why?  If she wasn’t my wife who died two years earlier, why take such chances?  Why put herself through such trauma?  Why face such a threat?

But I’m not alone in this question.  The news reports said billions of people had experienced the first dream.  Each of them confirmed they heard the warning from someone they cared deeply about that was already dead.  Even my own parents said the same with my father hearing from his brother Gary and my mother hearing from her father William.  Those people were dead.  Old George and Margaret gave silent confirmation they’d also heard from a loved one who was no longer living.  What essence provided those warnings and did so knowing they had to take the persona of someone from our past who we would most surely listen to?  What power existed …

Let me stop myself right there.  The question of what ethereal plane could be tapped that might also be able to access that kind of information from our own thoughts has already been answered.  The darkness proved that.  They certainly were able to reach inside us and get whatever information they needed, just as we’d done to them.  And not just us.  It seemed a shared space where all occupants were able to access information not otherwise available.  Or am I oversimplifying?  I don’t know.  I do know it’s beyond anything we could have imagined.

I truly have no answers as to who that Beth was.  I can’t possibly offer an explanation.  She made clear they—and who they are I don’t know&mdahs;they’d been holding the darkness back.  They’d been restraining it somehow to protect us.

Was it some benevolent race of beings out there in the vast expanse of infinity that took it upon themselves to act in the best interest of all creatures who dreamed?  Considering the implications of what the darkness really is, I can’t imagine why that would be a good idea.  Were they some entity or entities capable of reaching into us and drawing out the force of whatever good they could find that would have the most impact on us?  If so, where were they?  If they were that advanced in thought and morality, certainly they’d have known better than to push their opinions of what was right and wrong onto the darkness as it struggled for its own existence.  Was it some remnant of my wife that was left in the dream reality after she died?  Was it a piece of her soul perhaps?  Possibly, and I can’t honestly say why that would be contradictory.

It could also be the same of any number of lives touched by that place.  She said living beings everywhere had made the same mistake.  Nevertheless, I find the thought abhorrent that some part of the most wonderful woman on the planet has been forever caged in a world where she’ll suffer an endless death.  I prefer to think it was something beyond my comprehension.  That seems most likely given how much I’ve learned in the last day that fits that description.  In the end, I simply don’t know.  I wish I did.

Despite all other considerations, I decided to document the events of the last day.  I don’t know why precisely given what’s happened.  Hasn’t enough death and destruction been visited upon the world without retelling the tale?  It’s not up to me to decide.

Irrespective, I strongly suspect this text will remain forever unread.  And yet I still feel compelled to write it and am in this work answering that need.  A force that was ancient when our own universe formed has come to visit us and has given us a taste of our own medicine.  If every creature on this world who has ever dreamed is to be held accountable, I can’t imagine how long it will be before any living thing here is capable of reading this.  Still, I have to write it.  The author in me will have it no other way.

After I sat down on the couch in the office and began typing, I wrote the text you’ve so far read.  It’s an accounting of a simple day from a simple man living in a simple place.  I saw no need to write more than the events beginning 24 hours ago.  What difference would it have made?  None, I feel, and it certainly wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

Once I finished writing it and before I began this self-epitaph that will finish it, I sat in the darkness of this room and spoke to my parents about the last dream I’d had.  I explained to them what the dream-Beth had said.  I described how the darkness kept closing in on me and eventually broke through into the room where I stood.  I even tried to explain the overwhelmingly horrible sight I beheld as they came for me, called to me, told me I was to be taken.  Nothing could make that experience clear to anyone who’d not been there, yet I tried.  In the end, they didn’t understand.

My own mind had already determined what was to come.  She said what we’d seen thus far was nothing more than a tool that preserves.  The real darkness was in that other world.  It was the dream world where she grew so angry about my return.  Until I awoke on the couch with my father trying to calm me, I wasn’t certain why she was upset to find me dreaming again.  Yet I already knew.  I was denying to myself the unthinkable she was trying to communicate.

That was their world.  That was where the darkness lived.  That was where we’d hurt them for so long.  That was where we cast them aside when they asked us to stop.  They’d used the same imagery and language we’d been using to pillage their existence, but we ignored them.  It was their world, after all, and we’d been taking it from them and raping it for infinities beyond infinity.  They only wanted us to leave it alone.  We didn’t listen.  How could we have known?

After talking to Mom and Dad about what I believed to be happening, they thought for the first time in my life that I had lost control of my faculties.  What I was asking of them was not just unbelievable; it was unconscionable.  I tried to make them understand me.  I tried to help them really see what was happening.  The darkness had come as nothing more than a tiny projection of what was really waiting for us out there.  It would take but a moment to slip into that world where they’d have us forever.

But neither of my parents had seen the disgusting view of how it treated Brogan.  They hadn’t heard from Beth what was really happening, even if it was explained in the most perplexing and obscure way.  They hadn’t heard Helene’s screams from inside that realm even as I struggled to get out.  They didn’t know what I knew.

It was here to sustain us for the undying forever.  It came to take over and to stop us from invading.  But it wasn’t just interested in stopping us.  Remember, it learned from us.  We didn’t stop.  We inflicted eternal suffering on it.  They wanted to return the favor.

What came to our little blue planet was a preservative that would stop us from invading but would also keep our bodies alive while they dragged us back into their world.  You see, once they grew strong enough, they were able to take it back from us and change the rules.  It wasn’t going to give us the wonderful and impossible beauties we’d been taking from it.  No, they weren’t going to give us that at all.  Instead, once they’d regained control, it was theirs to do with as they pleased, as it should have been from the beginning and would have been had they not been so weak.

For all we’d subjected them to, they wanted to pay us back.  How would they do that?  They’d keep us alive in the physical world—preserve us—while they dragged us back to their world where the power of their imagination now rules.  Imagine the endless death you could visit upon someone in your dreams.  Imagine the horrors and suffering you could inflict on others in that place where wishes are real.  Now imagine the darkness using that gift against us.

It’s their gift, right?  Why shouldn’t they give us an eternal taste of what we’ve been giving them since the first being of thought dreamed its first dream?  I don’t even know when and where that might have been, but I’ve learned in the last day that it has very little to do with humanity.  The universe became a very complicated place, overlapping realities and existences, limitless places and beings that were older than time itself, and all capable of the cold reach of revenge on a scale I couldn’t imagine.  If the number of beings on our planet capable of dreaming was any indication, my mind failed to grapple with how overwhelming the assault on the darkness had been.

But I couldn’t make Mom and Dad comprehend that.  Their minds, I think, were unable to get beyond the basics of what we’d experienced.  Something had invaded.  It was evil.  It was virtually unstoppable.  Yet nothing was so hopeless to require the solution I offered.  There could never be a reason to go that far.  As religious people with strongly held Christian beliefs, I understood precisely where that was coming from.  I also knew it would lead them right into the hands of the darkness.  I couldn’t let that happen.  I wouldn’t.  I didn’t.

My father made certain he put the gun in a place where I’d have to struggle with him in order to retrieve it.  Mom stayed close to Helene as a means of protecting her from me.  In an instant of revelation, I’d become the enemy, the danger in our midst, the killer in a small room of four people trying to survive the eternally fatal.  Somehow, in a way I couldn’t comprehend, I was the bad guy for suggesting we not allow ourselves to fall into the …  I’d say the hands of the darkness but realize how silly that sounds.

Suffice it to say I’d suggested we not be taken alive.  That made me reprehensible in their eyes.  I was hurt by it.  I was hurt by their inability to understand I wanted the best for all of us and to accept that what I put forth was the best thing we could do.  I guess the darkness had already taken so much from us that could never be replaced.  My parents and their collective response to my proposal was adequate proof of that.

So I took it upon myself to protect them from the fate I knew was waiting outside the door and on the other side of sleep.  With my naked torso and soiled shirt in the corner as proof, I feigned sick.  I visited the bathroom and closed the door for privacy.  While I was in there, I turned off the air tank I’d turned on only an hour before.  And then I went back into the office and waited.

Again troubled by my lack of attention in high school physics, and even then biology, all I could do was bide my time.  I played ill for several hours more and would slink into the bathroom, close the door, and sneak a bit of air from the tanks as I pretended to be sick.  I couldn’t be certain how long it would take for the lack of oxygen to affect them—or is it carbon monoxide poisoning?—but I did know I could be patient.  And I was exactly that.

By the time both of them began feeling drowsy and started to dose off, the computer screensaver showed it was almost 11:00 P.M.  Perhaps it was the lack of breathable air.  Perhaps it was fatigue overcoming them from the day’s events.  It didn’t matter to me.  When my father lay back against the recliner near my mother and Helene, he closed his eyes to rest a bit, so I once again played sick and made my way into the bathroom.  It wasn’t all make-believe as it had been the times before, but I knew what I had to do.

The small room had nothing except a toilet and sink inside.  It wasn’t equipped for anything other than emergencies.  I was glad to find there was an old metal scale sitting in the corner.  It was something I’d brought to Carr Beholden from the house in Dallas, the house I’d shared with Beth.  I’d kept it because she liked it so much and it reminded me of her.  I took it in my hands, swung it around in the air as though practicing something …

Even now as I type this, I’m moved to tears about it all.  Needless to say, I did a bit of preparation before I stepped back out into the office.

The dim light was barely usable.  Even so, I could see my father resting on the floor against the chair where Helene slept and my mother began to doze.  Not wanting to allow them even a moment’s suffering in that other place, I stepped over to them and made my move.

The dull thud of the scale against my father’s head was a sound I’ll never forget.  It was horrible and pushed me to the edge of real sickness.  I knew I couldn’t hesitate though, and I swung it again as Mom stood up from the arm off the chair as she tried to reach him.  Afterward, neither of them could do more than squirm on the floor.  It was easy to retrieve the gun from the waistband of my father’s trousers.  I knew precisely where he’d put it.

As I stood over the three of them and contemplated what needed to be done, I finally became sick to my stomach.  After vomiting toward the bathroom door, I focused on the task ahead.

Blood streaming from Dad’s head was all too evident in the low light.  I had to ignore it.  I also had to ignore Mom’s flailing as she tried to lift herself from the floor.  I couldn’t allow any of them to live.  I couldn’t allow any of them to pass out.  We all had to die.

I made it happen as quickly as I could.  My father was first, followed by my mother, and finally Helene.  There were only four bullets left in the gun and I knew each shot had to count.  I made certain they did.  While I was no master of human anatomy, I’d seen enough movies to comprehend the impact of a shot between the eyes.  Death was instantaneous.

No child should be faced with such a task.  To bring death to those who’d given me life was as terrible an experience as anything I thought the darkness could do.  It had already taken so much, yet in my final act of compassion it took more.  I didn’t think it possible.

But that assumption was wrong.  There was terror waiting in their embrace that would overshadow the horror I’d committed.  I tried to use that to justify my actions, to explain it away by saying they’d have done the same thing for me under similar circumstances.  I was making a lot of assumptions though.  I thought I understood what Beth had said.  I thought I understood what the darkness meant.  I hoped I was right … I hope I’m right.

It’s been about an hour since that happened and I’m sitting at the desk.  I’ve been sick several times.  What have I done?  I can’t stop crying.  Through the tears and dim light I can see the darkness feeling its way under the door that leads to the hall.  So this room doesn’t seal off completely from the rest of the house …  No matter.  There’s still one more bullet in the gun resting here next to the laptop.  I’m going to save this document, send a copy to the printer I’ve just powered on, and finally I’ll do what I need to do.

I thought it was important to write this.  I thought it was important to document our ordeal.  I really thought it was important.  I’ve witnessed the end of the world.  I can’t help but feel I’ve done a moderately poor job of making clear precisely how terrible things have been.  I suppose at this point it doesn’t really matter.  I know what I have to do.  Now I just need to do it.


[Introduction | Part 16 | Final thoughts]

Darkness Comes to Kingswell – Part 16

I was screaming when I awoke.  I sat upright and wailed as though my life depended on it.  My screams sounded terrible to me.  They reminded me of George’s bellowing as he was ripped from the porch, and of Margaret’s bloodcurdling pleas before she was muffled by … by the unforgivable.  I was even reminded of Mosko’s horrific whimpers and painful howls as he disappeared into the darkness.  My voice sounding like those events was a terrible thing.

Tears streamed from my eyes and the wetness of them comforted me somehow by confirming I still felt something.  It was something the darkness hadn’t taken from me.  At least not yet.

Still, darkness was all around me.  It took me a moment to realize it was a lack of light and not some ethereal evil coming to visit endless death on me.

I shook my head as if trying to free myself from confusion.  There was only a small amount of light in the darkness, but it was enough for me to see I was in the office.  And then something stood over me and reached toward me.  I screamed again even as it spoke.

“Dave!  Stop it, son!  You had a nightmare.  It’s your father.  Calm down.”  He grabbed my shoulders and shook me several times to get my attention as he continued, “Stop it!  Right now!  Dave, it’s your father!  You’re okay!”

I started laughing.  My ears heard it as a sick demented laugh of the hopeless mixed with the cackle of the mentally ill.  I shook my head to clear my thoughts.

My father’s face was very near mine as he looked at me in bewilderment.  He wondered about my laughing.

I wasn’t sure it was enough of an explanation when I said, “No, Dad, we’re not okay.  We’re not going to be okay.”  Before he could say anything, I added, “Where’s Mom?  Where’s Mom!?”

“I’m right here, Vey.”  The voice came from across the room.

I looked around and located the source of the words.  She sat on the arm of the small recliner in the corner of the room.  Even through the darkness, I thought I could see Helene in the chair next to her.

“Is that Helene?”

“Yes.  She’s sleeping.  She was in shock but now I think she’s sleeping.”  The fear in my mother’s voice was discernible.

I looked around the room, around Carr Beholden’s office.  It was dark with a bit of light coming from the various computers and security equipment, and also the emergency light in the corner of the ceiling that gave some illumination, although it was in its final throws of death.  Losing power …

I looked at the computer that ran the security system.  Its screensaver always showed the time.  5:07 P.M.  It changed as I watched.  5:08 P.M.

It amazed me that it was only early evening.  Events had unfolded so quickly it seemed a lifetime of experiences had happened in a single 24-hour period.  Only six hours had passed since I first awoke in the sunroom after the first dream, the nightmare that scared me so completely.  It left me disoriented and confused.

Despite that, I had picked up and moved on with life.  If only I’d known then what I knew sitting there looking at the clock.

What a silly thought!  Did I really believe knowing what would happen over the next quarter day could have made a difference in the outcome?  Hardly.  I suspected nothing could have made a difference, at least if I was understanding a fraction of what had transpired in the latest dream.  I doubted anything could have made a difference.

“Are you okay, son?” my father asked.

I looked down and realized I lay on the old couch I’d thrown in the office.  I didn’t entertain in the room, but it wasn’t unusual for me to stretch out a bit while I worked.  Rather than discard it when I moved from Dallas and began purchasing new furniture, I’d thrown it somewhere it could be useful without being public.  It had nostalgic value I hadn’t wanted to part with … at least not yet.

As I looked at it in the dark, I assumed my father had laid me on it when he dragged me into the room.  Assuming that memory is even true, I thought.

“We’re in the office.  And out there …”  My voice trailed off with a nod toward the door.

“I assume it’s still out there.  We ain’t heard nothing.  Since we got no windows, we don’t really know anything other than what happened before we came in,” Dad explained.

Listening as he spoke, I continued looking down trying to gather myself.  With my head lolling, I became aware I didn’t have a shirt on.

How odd, I thought.  Wasn’t I wearing a tee shirt earlier?  I reached up and patted my chest and abs as I looked at myself.  It was if I thought the shirt was invisible and that I’d be able to feel it even if I couldn’t see it.

“We took it off you,” Dad offered.

My mom added, “It was covered in vomit.  We’re sorry.  You got pretty sick.  It’s over there.”  She pointed toward a corner of the room where I could just make out my shirt on the floor.

I thought I remembered vomiting as I watched Brogan’s violation and listened to Margaret’s body crackling and breaking as it was pulled up through the chimney.  I even thought I remembered having dry heaves.

I dropped my hands and let them rest on the couch next to my legs.  There was no use worrying about my state of undress.  Instead, I asked, “It got Margaret, right?  And it came in the door from the porch?  Am I remembering correctly?”

“That’s right.  We got the door shut as it was coming down the hall.  You said hit the panic button, so I did.  We’ve been in here ever since.  A couple hours.”

“I need to shut off some of these computers.  It might save us a little electricity.  If that emergency light is any indication, we don’t have much left.”  Again I was aware of the drain on power that was taking place.  I didn’t understand and, in the scheme of things, I realized it didn’t matter.

My father looked over his shoulder at the lights that dimly glowed near the ceiling.  There was a small red beacon flashing on the box that held the emergency bulbs.  He then turned back to me as I struggled to get off the couch.

I still didn’t feel sure I was in reality or that my body was working correctly.  I swung my legs off the sofa and turned to face the room.  A deep breath helped me collect myself.

Dad reached out and tried to hold my arm as I struggled to get up.  “You’ve been out for a couple hours.  Maybe you should take it easy for a minute.  You know, get your legs under you and all.”

“I’m okay.  Or I’ll be okay I guess.  How long as Helene been asleep?”

“A few hours.  Same as you,” my mother replied.

“Have you tried to wake her?”

“No.  We thought it best if she got some sleep.  She’s been through a lot.  Some rest should help her.”  But Mom had already picked up on the concern in my voice, so she asked, “Why?”

“Just curious.”  My wobbly legs finally lifted me from the couch and I stood.  Dad held his arms ready to catch me if I fell, but I was already feeling more stable.  “I’ll be alright,” I said as I touched his arm.  “Really, I’ll be okay.  Let me turn off some of this stuff.”

He watched as I turned off everything except the security computer.  It ran the emergency systems, including the lighting in the office.  I said as much to him as I worked but didn’t say anything about it also holding the door closed and keeping the vents sealed.

As a safe room designed to protect important equipment, the security system made the room as impenetrable as any human could design without building a bank vault.  It would by no means survive a nuclear attack or a direct hit from a bomb, but it would survive all but the most cataclysmic tornado strikes, floods, and even basic terrorist attacks like a biological or chemical strike.  The new world we’d been living in prior to the darkness had made those considerations essential.

I wasn’t sure what would happen if the controller failed.  The possibility of the door or vents opening was unimaginable even if I wasn’t certain either of those would happen.  But I did know a failure of the system would turn off the water in the small bathroom as well as all electricity.  Still, I was more concerned with the door and vents.

“It preserves,” dream-Beth had said.  More and more I thought I understood what that meant.  I also thought I was beginning to understand—already did understand what the darkness was about.  That’s why I’d asked about Helene.

“Do you still have your gun, Dad?”

“Uh, yes.  Why?”

“We might need it.  How many bullets are left?”


“Keep it close to you, huh?”

“Why, son?  What’s going on?”

“We’ll talk about it in a bit.  First, I need to get these systems shut off.”  I continued working and ignored his questioning stare that I could feel on the back of my head.  I didn’t want to voice my concerns, my assumptions.I didn’t want to share the horror I’d experienced or the truths I’d come back with, but I knew I would eventually.  I’d have to.

With all but the main security system powered down and my laptop still unplugged, I turned toward Mom and Helene and stepped over to the old recliner.  “So she’s doing okay?”

My mother peered at me through for a moment.  I suspected she was trying to read my face.  I was thankful for the dim lighting.  “I guess so,” she said, “but I’m not a doctor.  If she went into shock, I don’t know what that means for her.  She seems to be sleeping soundly now after a bit of a hiccup.”

“Hiccup?”  That remark chilled me.  “What do you mean?”

“After we the door closed and we got you two situated, I think she had a nightmare.  She squirmed and talked a little nonsense, even moaned and groaned a bit.  She quieted down though, and she’s been sleeping soundly ever since.  But who could blame her if she had a bad dream?  Look at what she’s been through.”

“You did the same thing shortly before you woke up,” my father added.

I looked at him closely through the twilight.  He was stating a matter of fact and not offering an explanation.  That was clear to me, yet I felt he knew I knew something more than I’d already said.  It worried him.

“You’re right.  The girl’s been through hell.  Who can blame her for a nightmare or two?”  I was intentionally flippant.  There was no reason to start blathering about my suspicions until I was ready to commit to what I thought—knew would be necessary afterward.

I glanced around the room in sudden confusion.  There was something necessary that had to be done when this room was in panic mode.  What was it …  “Oh shit,” I said as I walked to the bathroom.

“What?” Mom asked with newfound worry.

“Sorry.  Nothing critical, at least not yet,” I responded, “but this room seals when you hit the panic button.  It’s not supposed to get any air from the outside.  If we’ve been in here a couple of hours, I imagine we might need more breathing room so to speak.”

Carr Beholden was a work in progress.  There were a great many things I wanted to do with the place.  There were also a great many unrealized plans and incomplete additions I’d not had time to address.  I always thought I’d have more time …

One such item was the office.  If it was to be a safe room in case of a terrorist attack—as though Kingswell, Texas, would be a target, but you never knew where something might drift off to—the room needed its own air supply.  Luckily it had one.  Unfortunately, it hadn’t been installed and automated yet.

The tanks sat in the bathroom behind the door, disconnected and idle.  The idea was to have them controlled by the main system so they’d activate when the room sealed itself.  At least part of that process worked, but it was frightening to think it worked only in the worst way.  The room would certainly seal itself—in theory—yet it wouldn’t provide any refreshed air should someone be inside.  That was a later phase of work, a not yet complete phase.

I stepped into the bathroom and pulled the door away from the wall.  Three large green tanks sat silently in their place hidden away from most eyes.  They also sat unused.  There was nothing to release the air inside them.  There was nothing to keep the room breathable.

I turned one of the knobs and it squeaked as it rotated.  A rush of hissing gas began blowing out of the small nozzle.  I wasn’t certain how much it should release at any one time, so I opened it two turns and let it blow into the bathroom.  I didn’t want to pass out.  I suspected that was a very bad idea.  If we started feeling lightheaded, I’d know to open it further or open another one.  I also hoped it wasn’t too much, although I wasn’t at all sure why that would be a problem or how we’d know if it was.

With what I hoped was a reasonable amount of fresh breathing room for us, I turned and walked out of the bathroom into the office.  “I think that’ll do it.”

My father nodded in understanding as my mother turned her attention back to Helene.  The young girl’s breathing was normal and she sounded like a person in deep sleep.  For that reason alone, I was thankful for the dim light.  Mom knew enough to realize Brogan wasn’t normal when she’d looked at his eyes.  My suspicion was that Helene’s eyes would somehow be similar in a human way.  Mom would have noticed if she’d had enough light to look closely.

“Mom and Dad, listen to me.  I need to work on something for a bit.  I’m pretty sure we’re safe in here for now.”  Lying to my father for the second time in a day and to my mother for the first time during that same period was like an arrow to my own heart, but I knew an accounting of my sudden dishonesty was the least of our worries.  Instead of fretting about it, I added, “There are some snacks in the desk drawer.  I wish I had something more to offer than chips and candy bars and the like, but that’s all we have for right now.  If you’ll give me a bit, I’ll finish what I need to do.  After that, we need to talk.”

“Are you going to tell us why we’re not going to be okay?  That’s what you said when you woke up.”  His matter-of-fact approach hit me clearly.

“Yes.  We don’t need to talk about it now, but we will.  I need to do this first.  Please, it’s important.  Then we’ll talk.”

Neither of them responded aside from nodding.  They were very perceptive and I knew even then both of them were beginning to realize we were living our final hours.  There was no escape the way we came in.  There was no hope around the globe as far as we knew.  There was no promise of another tomorrow even if it were lived in the tiny space of my office.  Looking at them in the barely visible light that blanketed us, I didn’t need to see their faces clearly to know they were already facing the horrific truth.

I grabbed my laptop from the desk and sat back down on the couch.  I powered it up and began typing furiously.

[Introduction | Part 15 | Part 17]

Darkness Comes to Kingswell – Part 15

I tried to calm down before speaking again.  I took a deep breath, mental though it might have been, and said, “Okay, Beth, I’m sorry, but I could use some of those truths now.”

“Our time is short but I’ll tell you what I can.  You must listen then you must leave.”  She sounded like someone near their end.  Her voice grew weaker and more distant as each moment passed, more labored and frail.  My dream-wife was dying.  The thought upset me.

“No one knows where the darkness came from,” she began.  “They simply have always been.  It’s more ancient than time itself.”

I stared at the unblinking eyes that hung motionless outside the window.  They stared back.  An occasional scratch against the glass kept reminding me of their presence.

While I felt the eyes watch me as in the first dream, this particular set looking at me—into me had a far more devastating impact.  They didn’t float around out there looking into the house but perhaps not at me specifically.  No, these eyes were locked on my position, locked on my eyes, and their visual grip on me never wavered.  And the scratching as though intentionally trying to frighten me…  Well, it was working.

We are temptation’s hatred
Feed our lust

Something in the voices of those children I could feel in a way I didn’t understand.  The pat-a-cake song was somehow becoming physical and reaching out.  I thought briefly my head was beginning to hurt, but Beth’s voice diverted my attention.

She had paused for a second as though collecting herself—or itself—as though taking a deep breath in the hopes of finding strength.  Then she said, “It’s eternal in ways we don’t understand.  Calling them eternal limits them somehow.  They’re infinitely infinite.  But they’ve always been weak, and perhaps that’s how we hurt them for so long.  It couldn’t protect itself.  So we went on hurting them.  They began to grow angry after infinities of hurting.  The rage fed on itself as we went on wounding them.  As its fury grew, so too grew their strength.”

I thought I heard Helene screaming but disregarded it as a hallucination wrapped in a dream, and ignoring it I asked, “How did we hurt them?”

“We’ve invaded their world countless times over countless lifetimes through countless universes in countless existences.  We didn’t know we were doing it.  But since the first being of thought dreamed its first dream, we’ve hurt them over and over again&mdadsh;”

We are come for you, David Lloyd

It was a whisper piercing my flesh.  It cut me.  I could feel the gash even if I couldn’t see one.  Children from the Village of the Damned spoke my name, and it hurt me, yet their voices had already returned to a dull, indecipherable background noise.

I tried to focus on the eyes that stared back at me from the darkness and found it increasingly difficult to look at them.  The once-burning embers were now white-hot flames boring into my soul.  It was invading me somehow.  It was violating me.

I looked at it and mustered all the strength I thought I could find, and then I screamed, “Leave me the fuck alone!”

The glass cracked, a small split in an otherwise solid pane.  Still, it cracked right in front of those eyes.  I stumbled backward in terror.

What if the windows break?  What do I do if there’s nothing between me and them?  Oh shit…

We are bringers of night
And dark despair

Another window cracked to my left.  It was on the far wall, what in the real world would be the north wall of the sunroom.  It faced the lake if there was even a lake left.  The crack was another small one in the middle of the glass, yet it was there and I could see it from across the room.  More eyes hovered outside that window like all the others.

I worried the darkness in this place was finally going to come, and I worried it was coming specifically for me.  The thought of what I’d already seen sent shock through my bones as I wondered what it might be capable of us in this unreal dream world.  Their world?

Helene’s voice called out from somewhere in the house.  It was an anguished cry begging for mercy.  Or is she begging for death?  I think she’s begging for death.  But I knew Helene wasn’t in this dream.  This was my nightmare.  I was certain I was losing my mind.

Grasping at whatever this dream-Beth could share, I tried to understand her warnings in addition to what was happening in my own real world.  She’d said it wasn’t the darkness.  I didn’t want to argue semantics with her—or it—but I needed answers.  If there was any hope for us, she seemed to be the only way to find it.

“There’s little time left, Vey.  You must listen.  You’re in danger and we can’t stop them.  It’ll be here soon and your suffering will never end if you’re here.”

“Then tell me what you know, Beth.  Please tell me.”

Unwept tears misted my eyes, deep emotional distress welling within me.  It was the purest form of dread I’d ever known in my life.  It was building inside me like steam in a teapot on high heat.  It threatened to overwhelm me, but even that seemed tempered by the increasing pain I felt in my head.  Or was it my chest?  Or it could have been my whole body.

The hurt might even have been in some part of me for which there was no name.  Maybe it was in my soul.  Maybe they were reaching in there and twisting and turning and tearing at me.  Maybe they’d soon rip my essence right out of me like they’d ripped poor George and Mosko off the porch, or Margaret from the living room and right up the chimney, her old bones cracking and breaking the whole way.

Beth’s voice had diminished to a near whisper as she continued, “We didn’t hurt it intentionally.  We simply didn’t know what we were doing.  We didn’t realize they were here.  All we knew was their world offered us something none of our worlds could.  It let us experience the impossible.  Like them, it’s a timeless place where there is no death.  We came here and did what we couldn’t do elsewhere, we came here and visited with those who were no longer alive in our own existences, we came here and experienced what couldn’t be experienced anywhere else, and we came here and hurt the darkness.  Each time we invaded, we brought more pain and suffering to them.  We endlessly raped and pillaged its world.”

“Why didn’t they tell us?  Why didn’t they ask us to stop?”

“They were weak at first.  They were always weak and didn’t have the strength to reach us.  It never had to be strong before we came.  But all of that has changed.  Its anger made them stronger.  When it learned how to speak to us and gained the strength it needed to reach us, they tried to make us listen.  No one can deny hearing its warning from time to time.  They spoke to us with the same animosity we brought to their world.  And still we went right on invading.  The temptations they offered were too powerful.  We called their warnings anomalies and went right on hurting it.  We went right on destroying their world.”

We are manifest and dark alas
Into hellfire your gods are cast

I could feel the children’s singing.  It was no longer a question of whether or not it was hurting me; it became a fact of how much it was hurting me.  They weren’t children.  I knew that beyond any doubt.  They were it; they were the darkness.  I still didn’t understand how or why, but I knew that much with absolute certainty.

My own voice sounded pleading and desperate.  “Then we’ll stop.  Tell them we’ll stop.  Or I’ll tell them…”

I focused on the eyes outside.  I could see more of them in the distance approaching the house.  There had to be hundreds of pairs now staring at the windows surrounding me.  For just a moment, I wondered how it was possible to see them in the distance when nothing was visible in the black emptiness.

Because they’re one in the same, I thought, and I found that realization disturbing.  It is it and they as one, Davey ol’ boy, and boy howdy it/they are really pissed off.

I spoke to the eyes as I stared into the pair closest to me and boring its vision into me.  “Listen.  We know we’ve hurt you.  We know we’ve ruined your world somehow.  We’ll stop.  We didn’t know but now we do.  We’ll stop.  This isn’t necessary.”

“You can’t stop, Vey.  None of us can.  Their world has tempted life for so long that assaulting it has become part of the nature of living.  They know this truth.  They learned it from us like they learned so many other things.  They’re simple, innocent even, and we brought them all the evil and selfishness and anguish we contain, and we left it with them.  So they learned.  One of the things they learned is this: to stop the incursions, they must stop the living.  Literally.  Stop all living everywhere.”

That sent a shudder through me.  Stop all living everywhere?  “Do you mean they’re going to kill everything?”

“They’ve suffered infinite eternities of anguish at our hands.  Their wrath is so overwhelming they’d never kill us.  They plan to give back what we’ve given.  Forever suffering…”

I could make no claims to fully understanding what “forever suffering” might entail, nor could I make claims to a comprehension of what it really meant in the scheme of things.  The world I thought I knew had been thrown away and replaced with one wrought with perils so insidious and beyond human experience that my mind struggled to keep up with the deluge of new truths.  Nevertheless, I thought I was beginning to understand in the smallest of ways what all of this might mean.  It scared the hell out of me and I hoped I was wrong.  And forever suffering was indeed a darkness I could never live with.

“Then tell me this, Beth.  If the darkness hasn’t arrived yet, what the hell is killing everything on Earth?  What grotesque unstoppable thing is murdering everything in its path?”

“It’s a tool.  A mechanism, if you will.  Just as we couldn’t physically enter their world, it can’t physically enter ours.  But in the same way we’ve hurt them, they learned to hurt us by sending its essence into our worlds.”

“If it’s a tool, what’s it designed to do?  Kill?  Is that all it’s for?  It came to kill us?”

“It doesn’t kill.  It preserves.”

Preserves?  Preserves what?  Even as the question crossed my mind, I knew the answer and found it abhorrent.

I watched as more eyes filled the windows.  They burned so brightly and were so numerous that the light from them filled the sunroom more fully than the overhead lighting, casting my bloody shadow upon the wall.  Furious light is how I would have described it.  It burned everywhere it touched me.  It burned inside me.

And as I watched more approach and those already at the windows turn their focus entirely on me, I understood more clearly that time was running out.  I understood the darkness was knocking at the door and would soon let itself in the same way it had on the porch and in the house.  It wouldn’t wait for an invitation.  It was coming and I felt nothing could stop them.

For only an instant, Beth cried out.  It was a hurtful cry, one that told endless stories of pain.  Before I could respond, she said, “They’re bringing us suffering, Dave, and they see death as an end to suffering.  They want nothing to do with it.”

“Is it just us?  Is it just us, Beth?  Are we the only ones?”  I was frantic and desperately groping for answers to questions that I wasn’t sure I wanted answers for, yet I asked anyway.

“No.  It’s all life everywhere.  They’re not only taking back their world—they’re taking all worlds.”  Her voice was barely a strained whisper.

“Then tell me how we can survive?  Can it be stopped?  Can they be stopped?”

“Not anymore.  Their anger is too powerful, their rage too all consuming.  It’s made the darkness strong.  We could contain them before, but not now.  They watched us and learned how to follow us home.  Now it brings the undying forever to all of us.”

I again thought of Brogan’s condition and how he was treated by the demonic nothingness as it flooded into the living room.  I thought for a moment I understood why.  The concept rapidly spiraled into a horrifying realization that my mind was only barely able to see.  Preserves.  Endless death.  We invaded.  They followed us back.  It preserves…

“Infinities growing angrier made it more powerful.  Nothing can stand against it now.  The time of the living is over…”  Her voice seemed to fade into nothingness.  It sounded like the final gasp of a dying person trying to convey last thoughts.  There was more I needed to know.  More truths, as she put it.

Darkness falls
Darkness comes for you, David Lloyd
We are darkness

“Beth!” I screamed.  “Help me, Beth!  Please!”

The sound of the children was suddenly overwhelming.  The eyes in the windows…  And I could hear them scraping as they tried to get at me.  All the windows were cracking, spiderwebs of breaks cutting through the glass.

There were so many eyes that the brightness from them was like sunshine, although there was nothing warm or peaceful about it.  And the voices.  The children’s voices kept coming.  They kept getting louder and louder.  Suddenly I could hear their pat-a-cake song tempered only by Beth’s agonized screams.

We are pleasure’s anguish
And pain’s desire
We bring undying forever
To feed our ire
Hourglass sands are had in vain
Feel our dark heart bleed your pain

We are temptation’s hatred
Feed our lust
We make all your worlds
Burn to dust
Hope is just a fleeting promise
Darkness comes and is upon us

We are bringers of night
And dark despair
We are legions of hate
And cruel uncare
We are manifest and dark alas
Into hellfire your gods are cast

We bring death to hope
And end of days
We consume your spirits
On souls we graze
Cataclysm is what we give
Darkness now is all there is

The exploding pain in my head was equaled in impact only by the screams from Beth’s voice.  It was a horrible declaration of suffering.  I tried to respond but my body felt like it was burning from the inside, and that on top of explosive tearing of my flesh from top to bottom.

I fell to my knees and began crying.  I placed my hands over my ears in an empty attempt to shut out the singing.  But it was fruitless.  It wasn’t so much heard as it was felt.  It was ripping me apart.

As Beth’s wails of distress continued, I could hear more windows cracking.  It sounded like all of them.  They were breaking.  The eyes were finally coming.  They were coming and I couldn’t stop them.

We are darkness
We are for you, David Lloyd

The windows finally broke.  All of them shattered and exploded at once.  The nothingness flooded into the room and around me and over me.

There were no eyes.  There was only darkness filled with the face of hell of itself.  It was a ghastly sight I knew would blind me.  Not even God’s imagination could produce such a chilling countenance.

And its eyes…  Its eyes were so full of hate and destruction, so full of ire that it would undoubtedly push me into madness.  Horror swept over me as I finally saw the darkness.

“No!” I screamed, and I repeated it over and over.

The children’s singing was everywhere.  It was a song that would scare the devil, so dark and capable of inflicting so much pain.  The essence of it was death itself, but an endless death over a thousand infinities.

The sounds of windows breaking added to the abomination.  I was in the middle of it.  Perhaps I was even a part of it.  And in the end, there was only Beth’s final cry.

“Go, Vey!  Go and never return.  This is finally their world again…”

I could feel her pain in my ears.  It was equaled only by my own as the terror of terrors wrapped me in its darkness.

[Introduction | Part 14 | Part 16]

Little things and the follower

I have been remiss.  Not just recently, but over these past months.  Remiss in what, you ask?  In posting photos, of course!

Mind you, I’ve been busy.  I now live at our family farm in East Texas, thus I pull my weight with farm work each and every day.  Also, I’ve been somewhat myopic in my focus on writing, namely with regards to my first, second and third novels.

But none of this means I’ve disregarded my passion for photography.  Instead, it means I’ve accumulated an unhealthy number of photographs which have yet to be shared.  Then again, that describes my usual state with regards to pictures: I take far more than will ever be seen by anyone but me, and regularly I’m forced to delete vast swaths of digital data to make room for vast swaths of new digital data.

Oh well.

Lest I careen off the tracks of coherence and ramble ad nauseam about how little time I have, let me instead direct this train of thought toward my point.  Assuming I have a point, I mean.

Back in March of this year I ambled about our delightful haven tucked away in the Piney Woods.  With home nestled in the wild, it’s never difficult to find things of interest, and so it was on that marvelously comfortable spring day when…

An eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) crawling along a bit of dead wood (IMG_0426)

…I first discovered a veritable horde of eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) wandering throughout the farm, from deep in the woods to right outside the door.  Because they produce cyanide, the primary reason for their aposematic coloration, the chickens avoid them and Cooter, our miniature pinscher (or “min pin” for short), must be restrained from eating them.

He eats pretty much anything he can get in his mouth save broccoli, so we really have to manage his consuming ways.  It’s not uncommon for him to eat something and then spend several hours swelling from allergic reactions or vomiting from an upset tummy.  But anyway…

The tent caterpillars obviously had a good year given their abundance and everywhere travels.  And whilst snapping pictures of the little poisonous critter, something leaped over my foot and landed atop a bed of dry leaves.  Taking a closer look revealed…

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) sitting atop dead leaves (IMG_0469)

…a northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans)!  One of the smallest vertebrates in North America, with adults hardly larger than a thumbprint, these amphibians always bring a smile to my face.

Not just because they’re so small, mind you, but also because they’re quite vocal during mating season and because—at least here in Texas—it’s not difficult to find them throughout the year.  Assuming the weather cooperates, of course.

But I had walked to “the bottom” as we call it—where a natural spring and the old pump house hide in woods that stretch down steep hills—because I wanted to check on Mom’s beloved dogwoods.  Drought and fire had done in many of the trees.  Well, drought and fire had done in many trees period, but I had gone to check on the dogwoods, so let’s keep our focus there.

Much to my surprise and Mom’s joy…

Close-up of a bloom on flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) (IMG_0570)

…flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) had indeed survived, although their numbers stand greatly reduced.  And with the tent caterpillars lurking about, well, they’ve become an endangered species at the farm, hence I try to keep an eye on them and initiate action should they need assistance.

With dogwoods confirmed as alive and well, even if in small numbers, I left the bottom and made my way beyond the high pasture to the woods atop the hill, a hill whereupon one can see for miles.  And in the woods…

An unidentified seedling growing through a thick verdant carpet of atrichum moss (a.k.a. lesser smoothcap; Atrichum angustatum) (IMG_0470)

…atrichum moss (a.k.a. lesser smoothcap; Atrichum angustatum) had created thick verdant carpets of green amidst the lifeless detritus from the previous autumn and the just-sprouting greens of a new spring.  Several mosses and moss-like plants had reclaimed the forest floor in patches that promised “soon will” in a world of “once was.”

Each deserved attention and each received close inspection.  And near one of them…

A perforate dome (Ventridens demissus) meandering across a sandy plot of land (IMG_0490)

…wandering across a sandy clearing a perforate dome (Ventridens demissus) carried its abode as it journeyed through woods that made the snail seem microscopic, where trees dwarfed the mollusk, mocked it even with calls of “Hey, tiny!” and “Short people got no reason…”

Undeterred by the utter barbarity of these ligneous cretins, the miniscule creature never thought twice about my in-its-face photography, instead focusing on its trip to who knows where with the intent of taking care of who knows what.

With such a focus on little things that caught my eye, not once did I move through the high tree world without full knowledge of my follower, its song clear and constant, its presence often visible, its curiosity forever contradicting its name.  For never far from me and always within sight was…

A hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) perched on a branch (IMG_0560)

…a hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus), flitting about from branch to branch and tree to tree, calling here and singing there, perpetually gazing at me, watching, monitoring, interested.

Though I’ve seen this species of bird many times, never has one been so adamantly attached to my location, the avian security guard protecting nature’s mall.  Or at least the inquisitive feathered onlooker who can’t stand not seeing the lumbering ape walking the woods.