I opened the screen door and stepped onto the porch (or is that ‘into’ the porch when it’s enclosed?). With the four six packs of beer and a fresh supply of confections pulling my arms in what must be unnatural ways, I approached the main door, unlocked it and stepped inside. The rush of cool air-conditioned breeze that greeted me felt most welcome. It was hot outside; quite hot, in fact, although it was by no means very hot by Texas standards. It was summer after all. Nevertheless, I took great comfort in the onslaught of cold air pushed against my sweaty skin by both the ceiling fans and air conditioner.
After making my way to the kitchen—a room I’d only recently completed in my continuing upgrade of Carr Beholden—I put the beer in the refrigerator. Before closing the door, I grabbed one of the lukewarm Coronas and put it in the freezer where it would more rapidly cool. Immediate consumption of alcohol was blazingly fresh on my mind despite knowing I’d soon be eating far too many processed desserts.
I then turned and dumped the bag of sugary goodies on the island behind me. Only with full view of the sweets spread out in that manner did I even realize I’d gone far overboard in preparing for my end-of-book fix. It didn’t matter; at least I knew I was prepared. I grabbed a package of Hostess chocolate CupCakes and set it aside before sweeping the entire mass into a pile that I immediately tossed into a cheap basket pulled from under the counter. I set that aside, made special note of where the first victim of my sweet tooth was carefully laid, and left the kitchen.
My laptop was in the office and would obviously be needed if this evening was to be productive. I jaunted down the hall and into my working space, unplugged the Dell from its power and network connections, then returned to the kitchen and retrieved my insult to diabetics everywhere. Chocolate would kick off the event, followed by the next item that grabbed my attention.
With sugar coma-inducing afters and computer in hand, I walked to the sunroom and found a cozy spot in the northeast corner. This part of the original wraparound porch faced east, the screened-in portion west, and the open deck north where it had full view of the lake. With my new spot chosen, the sun hung directly overhead and moved toward the other end of the house. I could avoid direct sunlight in this location.
Given the plethora of trees around the old hotel, it was possible to avoid direct sunlight in all but the most remote corners of the sunroom in the morning and screened-in porch in the evening. The open section of the deck never received unwelcome sunlight except indirectly in the late afternoon before the sun fell behind thick foliage on that side of the house.
Standing in the sunroom placing my laptop and sugar fix next to the couch resting against the east-facing windows, I was amazed at how cool this room stayed despite its openness. Then again, it had full air conditioning, three ceiling fans, and only received morning sunlight filtered through the trees. Unlike the screened porch on the opposite end of the house that was exposed to the hottest part of the day and faced the hottest part of the sky, this room was an escape from the weather that equally let me enjoy every nuance nature had to offer.
After placing the laptop on the small table in the corner and dropping the cupcakes on top of it, I returned to the kitchen to fetch a large glass of ice water. I hadn’t realized how hot and thirsty I’d become until I consumed the first glass before making it through the kitchen door to the hallway. I spun around, made another full glass, and headed back to the sunroom where I made myself comfortable.
The laptop whirred to life. I logged in, opened the manuscript for Compassion in a Sweet Caress, and scrolled down to the bottom of the document. I fetched the chocolate goodies from the table and opened the package, retrieved one of the cholesterol-increasing cupcakes, and took a bite from it before putting it to rest on top of the other one, and all of that was in preparation for completing a single book.
I reread the last few pages of the novel to regain my position in the story. The unwitting hero, William, had only just discovered the nature of the alien visitors invading his world. He was on the verge of realizing a great truth: they were the very gods our species had worshiped throughout history. In fact, as he was about to discover, their names, mental images projected by them as their means of communication, resembled in disconcerting ways the names of all of humankind’s major deities.
Ah, yes, this should really piss off the citizens of Kingswell, I thought. I’m insulting their religious beliefs and making a mockery of their favored god. Oh well.
My fingers rested easily on the keyboard and immediately found the rhythm necessary to complete the story. William would make his discovery. He and those around him would experience a great epiphany regarding the nature of the universe, of humanity, and of religion. The aliens would offer a final decision to mankind, a choice between discarding the ways of the past in order to reach the future or knowing their destruction was insured, and the story would end with a big question mark about the fate of humanity. An armada of non-corporeal ships would surround Earth, vessels impervious to the weapons of that time, crafts invisible to technology and bearing power unlike anything imagined. Panic would grip every corner of the world. The choice would be unavoidable. And there it would end.
Perhaps 45 minutes later both cupcakes were gone and the glass of water was empty. That’s when I realized I needed more fuel. William was in danger of petering out before his time.
I closed the laptop and picked up the discarded confection packaging before returning to the kitchen. Once there, I tossed the wasteful plastic container into the trash. I then filled and consumed a fresh dose of water before preparing another helping to take with me back to the sunroom.
But something was missing. Oh, the beer! I opened the freezer only to discover the Corona was entirely frozen.
No matter, I thought, as the others are cold by now and this one hasn’t exploded, so it can be returned to the refrigerator to melt. I put the bottle on the top shelf and retrieved one that had not converted to alcoholic ice. I also grabbed one of the Mrs. Baird’s Fruity Apple Pies from the basket before heading back to the east wing of the house where my latest novel lay incomplete in digital form.
Several hours, several beers, and several sweets passed as I completed William’s journey from ignorant primitive to confused and informed hominid facing the end of all he’d ever known. The sun had set at least a few hours before. I was moderately drunk and running on a sugar high that would have killed most humans. The basket of confections in the kitchen was nearly half-empty. At least one full six pack of beer was gone and another was teetering on the edge of oblivion. I was ever so thankful I didn’t have to drive anywhere to find dinner, although I wasn’t sure I could stomach anything for a late-evening meal considering how much junk food I’d consumed.
After typing “The End” in the digital version of my latest work and feeling a horrific loneliness in knowing Beth was not there to share the event with me, I sat in the corner of the sunroom with the document saved, the laptop closed, the glass of ice water empty, and a half-full bottle of beer resting on the table. I nestled back on the couch to enjoy the darkness that encompassed Carr Beholden. I could see the moon reflecting on the surface of the lake to the north, a glass-like sheet of water that offered very little motion in the still night. There was no wind and not a cloud in the sky and the lake seemed like a solid patch of black ice.
“Dave, you have to run. Go now.”
It sounded like Beth’s voice. What in the hell was that about? Chills ran up and down my spine as I listened intently.
“Go now, my love, before it’s too late. It may already be…” I was quite certain it was Beth’s voice, but how could that be? She was dead—still dead as far as I knew.
I glanced around the dark sunroom and realized innumerable pairs of glowing eyes looked back at me from the darkness. Had I been on the screened or open porch, I’m sure I would have wet my pants at that point. The glowing embers floated unblinkingly in the blackness. They were red and amber and piercing jewels that seemed to see right through me. They’re hungry, I thought, and they’re licking their chops while sizing me up. I felt trapped within my little world. What was happening?
“Babe, you have to go now. You have to leave,” the voice said. “Don’t hesitate. Don’t think about it. Just go.”
I laughed, but it was the kind of demented laugh one expects from the mentally ill. I knew Beth was dead and I knew she couldn’t be talking to me. Yet she was.
I looked through the glass that contained me and realized I felt like a fish in a tank, a piece of food on display, perhaps a lobster sitting in the tank at the entrance of a seafood restaurant, a desperate animal that wanted nothing more than to live yet was offered up in public display as an unintentional entreaty to eat me.
The eyes… They were all around me. They stared at me as they slowly changed positions with each other, a bizarre waltz performed by the hungry dead that contained them. They consumed me without being near enough to do so. They scared the hell out of me.
“Vey,” the hidden speaker said. Vey? While everyone on the planet called me David or Dave or, like Old George, Davey, there were only two people on the planet who called me Vey: Mom and Beth. One of them was dead and the other certainly was not in my house.
The voice continued: “Vey, listen to me and listen carefully. There’s no place to hide and there’s no safe place. But you still have to go, and you have to go now. Get out. Get out!” The imperative at the end of that sentence frightened me like nothing ever had before. It sent a chill throughout my body the likes of which very few people have ever experienced. I was certain of that. The emotional plea was like a knife cutting to the core of my being.
“Who are you?” I asked. I felt silly for asking. There was no one to be seen. The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. I was alone.
“Go!” it shouted back. “It’s coming. They’re coming. Soon, my love, all too soon, the darkness will come and it will be too late. You must go now. Now!”
I wasn’t sure at that point if I’d taken leave of my senses or if I’d taken leave of my senses, but I was sure it was one of those two options. “It” and “they” used interchangeably? “The darkness” as a threat? I suspected I was finally losing my mind. I’d never before heard such rubbish. It made no sense. And yet I felt a level of fear the likes of which I’d never before experienced.
“Vey, listen to me. The end is here. The time to escape may already have passed. You must listen to me, my love…”
The sound of children singing began to overwhelm the—her voice. They drowned her out with increasing volume. They were everywhere. They were inside the house. They were outside. They were in my head. It was the recital of some pat-a-cake song youths would sing while clapping their hands together.
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
I awoke with a start. Morning sunlight shined in through the windows. I blinked repeatedly as I tried to comprehend where I was and when I was. I bolted upright on the couch in the sunroom and glanced around in all directions. The laptop sat quietly on the table, a half-empty beer bottle rested next to it, an empty Twinkies wrapper lay on the floor where it undoubtedly had been blown by the ceiling fans or air conditioner or both, and the world was as it should be. There were no eyes surrounding the house. There was no voice calling out to me from an ethereal plane. There was nothing but my sweat-soaked clothes clinging to me as the morning light revealed the same world that existed before I passed out the night before. And yet I could feel Beth’s presence. Her voice echoed in my head as I tried to understand.
It was all a dream, I thought. All a dream…
How odd. Why would Beth’s voice come to me in a dream when I wasn’t remembering something that had happened in the past? And what was up with the warnings to leave and the eyes in the darkness? What was that about? What did the children’s rhyme mean? What was ‘the darkness’? Who were ‘they’? What was it all about?
I was more than discomforted by the experience. I’d had dreams before. Who hadn’t? But this was different. I normally dreamed of real events. I couldn’t remember ever dreaming of something as extraordinary as voices from the darkness along with eyes that seemed to belong to no physical body.
There was no way I could explain how that made me feel, how completely out of touch with reality I was as I lay there on the couch in the sunroom on a perfectly normal day. It was as though the universe had changed while I slept, had somehow transformed into something quite different from what I was already familiar with. It was like the world ended overnight and I had missed it.