As the NOVELLA I published a while ago, ALL THE DARK PLACES, will be FREE on Amazon the next five days, starting tomorrow I’m going to publish a little teaser here. These are the first 3 parts from the first chapter.
I see the sunset behind the barn. The doors are open so I can see through it, the sun sliding down behind the horizon, vanishing for the night, or an eternity as it might be.
He walks through the barn, wearing his hat. His silhouette is perfectly black against the ominously red sky. His steps are slow, determined and the thud seems to shake the earth remarkably.
He is just one man, although a beast might be a better description. Or monster, and with his image comes fear we’ll never learn to live with. He is our torturer, our jailer, our tormentor and our father.
We’re mostly safe in the cellar at night. He won’t get to us there. He comes and he shakes the door. He tries the bars, and shakes them too. He stands there lurking, glaring inside to watch us huddled up on the floor. We hover in the corner, hugging each other for comfort and then we listen to his heavy steps as he goes back to the house in search of a victim.
And she will be waiting for him there. Maybe she will be hoping he won’t come that night, that we give her a break and let him chase us through the forest. Maybe she hopes that he does appear, so that he won’t be dragging us off to one of his dark places. It’s hard to tell with her, but I know she does her best. Despite everything, she really does her best.
The curtains in the kitchen hang a little crooked. I can see them through the bars in the cellar window. There isn’t much else to do in this place than watch the status quo outside. When the sun has almost set behind the barn I can see his silhouette approaching. He walks through the barn and towards the old-house cellar where we have locked ourselves in. He won’t be getting to any one of us tonight, but he’ll stand out there and he’ll huff and he’ll puff until he’s blue in the face and the next one that will get caught will pay for that. We are sisters, but that fear he instills in us makes us enemies as well. We try not to be, we pretend not to be, but no one wants to be his next victim.
At a weak moment Sylvia might sneak outside, but tonight she is strong. Tonight she will not be so stupid as to think that he’ll go easy on her because she volunteers. She is the best of us, she sacrifices herself for the rest of us and we all love her for it, but we know that sooner or later it will change her permanently, or get her killed.
Not tonight though, because last night it was her turn. He dragged her off into the dark woodworks beside the creek and when she came back, naked, torn and wide-eyed there was such fear in her eyes, and her body shook so violently, that we thought we’d never be able to bring her mind back to us. We thought he’d taken the last piece of her soul, pulled it out of her and devoured it.
I wouldn’t put it past him.
The dark silhouette with the hat and the pointy shoes comes closer, but before I see his features I look away. He is hideous, maybe not in appearance, but his being is so tainted that his outer looks don’t seem to matter.
He is grotesque. It wouldn’t matter if he grew tentacles and a thousand eyes.
I move away from the window, knowing very well that if I meet his eyes I won’t be able to control myself, I’ll taunt him and there will be hell to pay later.
Of course he knows we’re hiding here, because we always do. Every night before dusk we come here to hide. We’ve learned the hard way that there is always a next time though. Sometimes he comes out earlier than we anticipated and he surprises us, or the forest needs our attention and whatever it is, it can’t wait and none of us is willing to sacrifice the forest for our safety. There are chores, things that need to be done and some things are more urgent than others. We toss a coin if there are no volunteers.
I can hear him roaring as he pulls at the door. Of course, he knows it’s locked, it always is but he tries to pull and push for a while, threatening to do unspeakable things to us if we don’t open the door.
He retaliates whatever we do, so we don’t move.
He comes to the window after he has pulled the door for a while. He peeks in and he knows I’ll be sitting underneath it. His clawing hands try to grab me by the hair but I’ve learned how far down I have to slink so that he won’t reach me. I won’t look at him. I won’t be tempted to defy him. If he were to reach me, I know he’d pull me up by the hair, hold me there until there was nothing left of it but the strands in his hands and me on the floor trying not to scream. I try never to scream, but sometimes the body wants nothing else. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
He isn’t known for showing mercy either, but there is mercy in his hours. He sleeps during the day, like a vampire, he comes out at night to torture us. His little imps, he calls us. It’s his pleasure, a hobby if you will and he doesn’t have much else to do. Mother takes care of all the chores while he relishes his evilness. In the evenings he comes out reeking of spirits and something vile. He clings to the past like it is a treasure best kept close by, and he hardly ever speaks to us. He yells, threatens and then he does the things he does, unspeakable things.
The nasty things that can only be done in the dark places that are scattered around the forest, these places are soiled, defiled and unholy. These places are unreachable at daytime, as far as I know there’s a blockage but when he catches us he drags us there and there is nothing we can do about it.
Then he does the things he does. I don’t remember exactly what it is always, but I know there is pain involved, and humiliation. It’s his gasoline, his ecstasy and his great kick. What he does to us is what he needs to thrive, and like the rest of us might love ice-cream or chocolate cake, he revels in his food; our pain, our humiliation.
We call him The Vampire, never anything else.
I don’t know how it happened, but The Vampire surprised us in the forest. We were gathering wood and collecting herbs Mother uses in her teas. And then there he was suddenly. His rapid, yet heavy footsteps, thumping behind us and then he’s after me, but Sylvia is right up ahead of me and I know I have two choices. Bad choices. It’s a horrible decision to make, and decisions are harder to make when you’re on the run, the heart panicked. What will he do to me this time? What horror will he push upon the mind, soul and body of the one he catches?
My choices are impossible. I don’t wish hell upon my sisters, when the devil is on your tail you really wish it’s your worst enemy you’re running with.
But I can run a little bit faster, get ahead of Sylvia and be sure that he’ll catch her before he catches me. Or I can make sure that Sylvia isn’t caught this time around, I can be the saint this time. How can I make this decision with my heart pounding? With the monster breathing down my neck. How can I put Sylvia through yet another defeat? She’s the slowest of us, and she’s really bad at climbing trees. We’ve tried to teach her, and when it’s sunny, warm and cozy she does a good job, but when The Vampire is behind her, she freezes. She can’t help it, but we can help her from time to time and today it might be my turn.
I fall to my knees and realize that this is it, he’ll be upon me and he’ll grab me by the ankle and he’ll drag me into one of his pits and he’ll torment me in ways I haven’t even been able to imagine before. He will do to me the things I dare not even think about during the daylight hours, because it would darken my world, it would darken the forest and the world.
But he’s not upon me yet. So without making a decision I catch up with Sylvia. She looks back and stumbles on a tuft and we both fall. I become immediately and fiercely mad at her.
“Run,” I scream at her, but she pulls me up and we start running again. Stupid girl. Stupid Sylvia who never thinks about herself. She’s been in the dark place at least twice as many times as I have. She should be running.
We choose a tree and start climbing, foot here, hand there and we’re up in the branches. She’s behind me, but then all of a sudden she’s not. I hear her screaming. He’s caught her by the foot, and then he’s dragging her off by the hair. She’s screaming at me to help her, while he’s pulling loose hair as she tries to get away. But it’s no use. He has her now. And I know she doesn’t really mean the things she says. We all scream horrible things while we’re being dragged off into the pits. We scream for help, beg and then we threaten. It’s the same old story, and nobody talks about it afterwards. We know there is no help forthcoming. If I try to help her now there will just be twice as much fun for him in the pit tonight.
I hear her screaming all the way to the dark place by the clearing. Then the sound of her suddenly stops and I know why. I know it’s not because she isn’t screaming anymore, but because these places are protected somehow. You can’t look in, no sound escapes them, there is only darkness and empty desperation there. But somehow The Vampire thrives there. They are a part of his being, his home.
I sit in the tree until I hear the others approaching behind me. My sisters swear and growl about how he could have surprised us like this. We ask ourselves why he was out so early. They are all speaking at the same time, no one is listening to anyone else and we know there are no real answers to these questions. These are questions we’ve wondered about before and it’s the way it is, sometimes he surprises us. Maybe we are just afraid that we will hear Sylvia’s screams from the pit, although we never do. Maybe we want to overwhelm the mental malady that comes with our sister being tortured at this very moment. We are completely useless and unable to do anything to help her.
I don’t join in though. I just sit in the tree and I try to listen above their piercing, screeching voices. I try to listen to the wind, try to hear if the forest sounds like it always does when one of my sisters is in one of the dark pits. It’s as if the wind hits the trees differently during these moments, creating a low humming sound that I never hear otherwise. If you listen really carefully you can hear it like the voices of thousand monks chanting, in hushed voices, to themselves.
I imagine men in dark capes, like the pictures on the cover of the music CDs Mother sometimes listens to. She likes to listen to chants and music that gives a sense of tranquility. I guess we do what we can to keep ourselves calm, to keep our nerves down and Mother needs that. She takes the worst from him, if we think our lot in life is bad, then we look to Mother.
I jump down from the tree and look away towards the dark place. Sylvia, poor little Sylvia, what are you going through? What is he doing? What are you enduring? How much will you be able to take before you crack, break under the inhumane pressure that’s been put on you? This time is on me. This time it’s my fault. I could have gone slower. I could have made sure it wasn’t her that got caught, but I didn’t. How low can we sink before we all drown in the quicksand?
Or are we there already with only a hand above the surface?
We walk slowly towards the cellar. We know better than to be here when he comes out again. We know better than to try to get to Sylvia. We’ve tried that a thousand times. It’s impossible to enter the dark place without him. And it’s not advisable to wait for Sylvia, to help her home because his appetite is never soothed, he can always go for more and staying is like offering yourself.
We head down into the cellar. Marietta pulls the string on the lightbulb in the ceiling. I go to the window and look between the bars. It’s dark now. I can hardly see the barn from here. And I fall asleep on the rough, hard floor. I don’t deserve one of the mattresses. I don’t deserve to rest easily. I deserve the nightmares and the gritty moments of panic and heartbreak when I wake up knowing that Sylvia is lying naked in the clearing by the Dark Place, waiting for us to come get her.
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