“Why’d you come back, Vey?”
Tunnel vision began to clear as my mind did the same. I opened my eyes and was immediately blinded by overhead lights. Lifting my hand to block them, I blinked and squinted trying to see clearly.
I thought I was hearing Beth’s voice. She sounded different than I’d ever heard her before. I couldn’t explain what made it different; I just knew it was. And behind that voice, or below it, or around it, were the voices of children. Many of them.
Beth’s voice continued, “I don’t understand why you didn’t listen to me. Why did you come back? Didn’t you believe me when I said you should go?”
My eyes adjusted to the brightness. As my vision returned, I realized I was in the sunroom. The lights in the ceiling shone brightly in my face. I blinked repeatedly to get accustomed to the room.
If I was really hearing Beth’s voice, she sounded irritated—and something else. And why could I hear children singing? Or were they reciting a pat-a-cake rhyme? That thought horrified me.
“Didn’t you believe me when I said you needed to go? I thought you’d listened to me when you left, but now you’re back. I don’t understand why. Why did you come back after I told you to leave?”
I became certain it was Beth’s voice. It surrounded me. Although she was clearer and louder than the sounds coming from the children, I finally understood why she sounded different. There was a weakness in her tone, a strain of some kind. Her voice even seemed hollow in a way I couldn’t put my finger on.
Am I dreaming again? I wondered.
I sat up and looked around. I was indeed in the sunroom. I knew I had to be in a dream. In the real world that room surely was filled with the darkness that had come to call on us. That glass-riddled room at the east end of Carr Beholden must already belong to the devil that poured in through the fireplace and porch door.
I glanced around me. Just as they were before, the windows showed nothing but blackness filled with unblinking eyes. They floated around me and stared with growing hunger that I could feel on my body and in my soul.
I was weak and afraid. I felt vulnerable. My previous experience in this place felt safer by comparison. Those ravenous eyes stayed away from me then, or at least away from the windows. They had floated out in the distance somewhere.
But not this time. This time they were right outside. This time they hovered around the glass as though the bodies that owned them leaned against the house.
Shouldn’t they be further away from me? Please make them get away from me…
Hope is just a fleeting promise
Darkness comes and is upon us
The children’s voices made a constant undertone. They provided the ambient sound around me and faded in and out of hearing. Similar to how Beth’s voice seemed different, the children’s voices also seemed different when compared to the previous dream. The dark song they sang was much closer, more powerful even, more real in the most dangerous of ways. The last time I was in this place, the children stayed away until the very end. Why is this different?
“Vey!” My dead wife’s demanding pitch grabbed my attention. “Listen to me. You can’t be here. You’re in danger and we can’t protect you anymore.”
I was still trying to come out of whatever fog I’d been in. “Beth? Is that you?”
“Babe, you have to help me. What’s going on?”
“I know about the darkness. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen what it can do.”
“You’ve seen nothing.”
It was so matter-of-fact that I was shocked by it as I would be a slap across the face. It denied everything I’d been through. That offended me. I felt like a child being scolded by a parent who needed to point out the terribly obvious when I already knew the terribly obvious.
“I’ve seen it,” I argued, “and it’s killed two of my friends already and who knows how many others. Don’t tell me I haven’t seen it.”
We make all your worlds
Burn to dust
The children seemed much closer still. The chorus formed from their joined voices made me think of hate and destruction. It wasn’t a happy song they sang even if they sounded happy about singing it.
“The darkness is yet to come. You haven’t seen it, Dave. We’ve been holding it back. Only now we can’t hold it back any longer. We couldn’t protect all, but we’ve protected many. Now we can protect no one.”
That thought disturbed me on so many levels. It pissed me off and confused me. “What the hell are you talking about? Haven’t you seen what’s going on? Nobody’s been protected.”
The eyes outside continued to shift around me. They were like tiny flames of hate dancing in the darkest of night. I felt more threatened by them than I had the first time I’d dreamed this place. Their closeness unnerved me. I felt their lust trying to consume me as it scraped all over my body with gross roughness.
My wife’s voice was firm yet not firm. “The darkness is upon us, but it’s not here yet. Some have fallen. Many more soon will. All will in the end.”
I loved my wife dearly. She meant the world to me before her death. Even in a dream state of consciousness, I would gladly die for her. But I was growing frustrated with the ambiguities.
I knew what I’d seen. I’d witnessed deaths. I’d endured horrors both gross and subtle.
“You’re not listening. The darkness is already here. It’s killed two of my friends and two practically sacred family pets.”
I assumed Brogan was dead although I barely wanted to acknowledge the violation I’d seen him subjected to by the darkness, being coddled and petted, being neatly folded together and carefully moved out of the house. For his sake, I hoped he was dead.
“Who knows how many others it’s killed around the world. Don’t presume to tell me—”
“You’re so blind,” she interrupted. “We’ve all been so blind. That’s why this is happening.”
I pondered that for a moment. Answers seemed in short supply, our world thrown for a loop with nary an explanation.
“Then tell me what’s happening,” I offered in hopes of gaining something from the conversation.
Her voice faded in and out in a way I didn’t understand. Mine seemed nervous and uncertain even to me. But hers… Yes, her tone sounded like the last flicker of a dying candle.
We are bringers of night
And dark despair
I glanced around the sunroom again. The children seemed right outside the windows. Eyes continued floating out there, glowing embers of emptiness staring back at me from mere inches away, hovering in the nothingness and moving about in disturbing ways. The darkness that encompassed them was complete and devoid of form. I recognized it all too well.
“You must go, Dave. I’m too weak. We can’t protect you anymore. You shouldn’t have come back.”
I was growing angry. Hell had come to planet Earth and some dream-form of my dead wife was trying to tell me I was in more danger while passed out than I was in the real world that had already proved quite deadly on its own. I couldn’t stand much more of it, so I demanded, “You tell me, Beth! You tell me what the hell is going on! People are dying. The world is bathed in black evil that seems capable of anything. The world’s dying and you want to play word games? Give me a fucking break!”
“So naïve. We’ve all been so naïve.”
“Ah, Jesus Christ, Beth. Come on already! What the hell is going on? I need you. Please help me. Please…”
We bring death to hope
And end of days
Angry red eyes viewed me through the glass. I could feel their rage and contempt. I could feel their hunger. I was on display, held up for inspection like a piece of meat. The predators were out there; I felt like feeble prey waiting for the deadly pounce.
“The darkness has come, Dave, and they can’t be stopped. It’ll be here soon. I don’t want you to be hurt and we can’t stop it anymore.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re dying. We’re already being hurt. It’s all around us and killing us off like stew fodder. If you have answers, I’d appreciate hearing them.”
I tried to focus on the underlying voices of children that grew louder in such tiny increments that it was almost negligible. And yet it wasn’t. Despite coming from what would otherwise be considered the innocent, those voices speared me time and again with overwhelming fear. I couldn’t hear everything they were saying, but almost…
Beth’s voice faded in like music from a tape player running on low batteries. “There are no answers. There are only truths.”
“Then give me the truth, goddamnit!” I shouted. I’d had enough. “Either tell me what the hell is going on or leave me alone.”
We are pleasure’s anguish
And pain’s desire
Her voice came feebler still when she said, “I’ll tell you what I know, but you must promise to leave as soon as I do. Promise me, Vey!”
I would have described her tone as petulant if it hadn’t been so weak, so pitifully small. I was frightened for that voice. I knew my wife was dead and whoever or whatever this was was just playing Beth, but I still felt sorrow for the growing anguish I could hear in her words.
“Then tell me, Beth. Tell me what you know and I promise to leave and never come back.”
I wasn’t sure precisely how I could keep that promise. Since I was dreaming, I assumed I had passed out from shock but was tucked safely into the office. It was a safe room because of the computer and security equipment housed inside.
I remembered telling my father to hit the panic button. If he did, the room would have sealed. The point had been twofold: provide a place to house my files and electronics and the systems that ran the house’s alarm and backup services, and also to be a place to keep me safe in case of a significant emergency (although I’d assumed that would mean a severe weather event, a thought that was not entirely lost on me under the circumstances).
If we were in that room, it had its own very limited power and water supplies, a small bathroom, and some semblance of isolation from the outside world. Having seen what the darkness could do, I didn’t feel confident that would be enough.
Hourglass sands are had in vain
“Oh, for fuck’s sake already.”
I was so mad and frustrated trying to listen to the children and Beth at the same time. Unfortunately, the children were beginning to override her voice.
I still couldn’t make out everything they were saying. Bits and pieces still filtered in however, and I tried to collect those items as they floated to the surface of my mind. I needed to know what message they were conveying. More importantly, I needed Beth to tell me something. I needed those truths. I needed them desperately.
My attention was abruptly diverted by scratching on the window next to me. I jumped from my seat and turned.
A pair of eyes nestled right against the window on level with my own. It stared into me. If eyes are windows to the soul, this demon peered into the depths of my being. It was the darkness’ own Peeping Tom.
I didn’t want to look into those eyes yet couldn’t look away for fear it would be a sign of weakness or an opportunity for it to act while I wasn’t looking. Despite its nearness, I could see no body that owned those horrible and death-filled flames that glared back at me from the empty nothingness beyond the glass.
Cataclysm is what we give
Darkness now is all there is
The children’s voices continued growing louder. Even as I struggled to listen to them, Beth’s voice continued to weaken.