Darker Than Night

Owl Goingback


Night came once again to the countryside. It moved over the land like a hungry beast, chasing away the fading embers of a setting sun. It filled the forest and covered the road with darkness, scurrying up the driveway to press its cold black nose against the windows of an old farmhouse.

Vivian Martin stepped back from her living room window, fearful of the night that pressed against the glass. Afraid of what dangers the darkness might contain. She stood in the center of a room where lamps and candles burned brightly, pushing back the night with their bright amber glow. It was a room painted a hideous dark green by those who did not fear the darkness as she did, preferring instead to ridicule an old woman rather than help her.

She turned away from the window and looked around. Somewhere in the living room was a sofa and two chairs, but they lay hidden beneath a cluttering of boxes and bags. The coffee table and most of the floor was also lost from view, leaving only a narrow pathway to navigate across the room from the windows to the hallway. The rest of the rooms on the lower level of the house were as equally cluttered, as were those upstairs.

A month ago, or maybe it was last year, she had sorted through dozens of boxes and bags, hoping to reduce some of the mess, but she just couldn’t find anything that she was willing to throw away. Certainly she could not part with her collection of old newspapers and magazines, for they might be valuable one day. And it would be foolish to throw away the bags of clothing, because the scraps would come in handy if she ever decided to make a quilt for her son.

A frown tugged at the corners of her mouth. She could not make a quilt for her son, because he was dead. He had died in a car wreck many years ago. His wife had died with him. She couldn’t make a quilt for the dead; that would be foolish. People would talk.

Maybe she could make a quilt for her grandson. He was still alive. Her grandson lived in New York City, but she had not spoken to him since he was a boy. He used to live with her, but the authorities had taken him away. She lived by herself now, but she was not alone. No. Never alone. The night brought visitors. Unwelcome, dangerous visitors.

Leaning her weight against a broken rake handle for support, Vivian slowly crossed the living room and stepped into the hall. She hadn’t always needed a rake handle for support, but three years ago she had slipped on a patch of ice and broken her hip. Since then it had been painful for her to walk without some extra support. Even with the handle she still had difficulty getting around, and she could no longer climb the stairs to the rooms above. Nor could she go down the basement stairs to turn on the furnace, which meant the house was always cold in the winter.

Sometimes it got so cold in the house that she couldn’t feel her ears. She had to wear a stocking cap when it got that cold, and a scarf, and three pair of socks inside her rubber boots. She didn’t mind the extra socks, or the scarf, but she hated wearing the stocking cap because it made it difficult to listen to the radio. Her hearing wasn’t the best, and she had to hold her portable radio tightly against her left ear to hear her favorite shows. Talk shows mostly; sometimes late night mysteries. The stocking cap always got in the way.

Maybe she should try to go down into the basement to turn on the furnace, but the steps were terribly steep. And even with the lights on the basement was always dark. She was afraid of the dark. Very afraid.

There had been a time when Vivian did not fear the night, or the darkness it brought. As a young woman living in St. Louis, she had loved to take strolls through the parks after sunset, or sit outside and count the stars. But then she had moved to the country and things had changed.

Using the money from her late husband’s estate, she had bought a piece of property for a price far cheaper than the land surrounding it. She did not pay attention to the rumors associated with the property, nor did she mind that most of her neighbors had already moved away. With the money she saved on the price of the land she could afford to build herself a nice two-story house, and a barn to go along with it. She even had enough left over to plant an apple orchard. She loved apples, and knew that she could sell what fruit she did not eat.

It had been a long time since she last visited her apple orchard. She no longer had the strength to get around much, and she was fearful of the shadows lurking beneath the trees. Her dog, Gypsy, had not been afraid of those shadows. Before she broke her hip, he had accompanied her on long walks through the orchard. Sometimes they even went into the forest together, but only during the daytime. Never at night. Not even Gypsy was brave enough to go into the forest at night. Nor would he set foot in the basement.

Vivian stopped in the hallway and picked up a revolver from where it lay on top of a box, checking to make sure it was still loaded. She had never felt the need for a gun when Gypsy was alive, but the poor old dog had died last summer. Something had killed him.

She had just picked up the revolver when movement caught her eyes. A small shadow had darted across the hallway, disappearing into the kitchen. Vivian made no move to chase after the shadow to see what it was. Instead she turned and fired the pistol, not bothering to even aim. The bullet struck the floor near the kitchen doorway, burying itself in the floorboard.

Another shadow darted across the hallway. Vivian fired twice more, the smell of gunpowder stinging her nose. From somewhere in the kitchen came a strange whispering that sounded almost like laughter. She started to take a step forward when the lights went out.

“Oh, no. Please, no.” She looked around, terrified of the darkness that suddenly engulfed her. There were no candles in the hallway, nothing to keep the darkness at bay. There were candles in the living room, lots of them, even a few in the kitchen and bathroom, but none in the hallway. None at all.

“I must have blown a fuse,“ she said, her voice sounding small and timid. Supporting her weight on the rake handle, she dropped the pistol into a box and hurried down the hallway to the living room. From the darkness behind her came the strange whispering, sending chills up and down her back. She dared not stop and look around, fearful of what she might see.

She entered the living room, thankful for the friendly glow of her candles. But as she stepped across the threshold something darted out from behind one of boxes. Something small, black, and very fast, flowing like liquid as it crossed her path. Startled she stepped back, landing her full weight upon her injured hip.

A cry escaped her lips as the brittle bone of her left hip snapped like a stale taco chip. She tried to catch her balance, but fell backward crashing into the wall. A second pain shot through the left side of her body, bringing tears to her eyes. It was the fiery agony of a weak heart pushed far beyond its limits.

Vivian placed the palm of her right hand over her chest and pressed hard, praying that the pain would ease off. But the pain only grew stronger, and she knew that her heart was about to give out. From the darkness in the hallway behind her came the whispered sound of laughter. She tried to look in that direction, but the pain was too bad. She could only lay there and clutch her heart, feeling the labored beating of a dying organ.

More movement caught her attention. This time it came from above her. Lifting her gaze toward the ceiling she looked upon the shelf that lined the far wall. On that shelf was her collection of Indian statues. As Vivian watched, those statues began to magically vibrate and move, turning around to face the wall — turning to face something that was trying to come through from the other side.

“No,” She whispered, feeling the beat of her heart beginning to slow. “No. No. No.”

Vivian Martin’s heart give a final beat then stopped, the angel of death coming to carry her away to a place without darkness. The tiny statues that lined her shelf continued to move.

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Copyright © 1999 by Owl Goingback

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Updated Monday, 13-Mar-2017 15:54:26 PDT