A short story

Out of Darkness

The sun set low over the horizon, casting everything into an orange glow, illuminating my white shirt and faded jeans. I approached the front yard from the side, which the lawn – even in the light – was dead and yellow but overgrown with shrubbery. The path was obstructed with weeds everywhere. The trail of decay went straight up to the porch, coming to a paint-chipped red door. The structure itself was old and rotting; the door was not the only thing peeling paint. This was the so-called ‘Damned House.’ It was here my best friend, Johnny Stalwart, the type of kid who liked exploring every tunnel and the underside of bridges, talked about before he disappeared a month ago, and two weeks before summer vacation.

A lot of people around school talked and speculated he felt like leaving to become a vagabond. Others assumed he ran away from home because his parents were no good addicts. But the police station downtown was beginning to pile up a yard high stack of missing persons since the last fall and becoming more prominent since the beginning of the year.

The sun was now lower, the warmth ebbed away and the lamp posts brighter. I took hesitant steps toward the looming willow tree, branching like a curtain over the house. I could smell nothing but dirt and mold. As I stood there behind the tree, I debated which way would be better to go through, the front or backyard way. My energy was beginning to leave me, the sun was gone. Lingering behind the tree, I thought to get someone to come with me or leave altogether, my fingers played with the tips of my hair. I sucked in a long breath before nudging away from the tree toward the porch; my body felt rigid and feet like stone.

The door bell rang like any other bell. I waited, and glanced around, eyes darting from cobweb to cracks to some weird yellow substance growing out the mailbox. How is it that a year could change a house so much? My body snapped when hearing the door opened, and there stood a boy, I think a high school freshman, dressed as simply as the sterile background, a black and white tee. His round rimmed glasses slid down his nose, in which he readjusted, and interrogated me with his eyes. “Yes?” he asked slowly.

“I’m looking for something,” I replied. I steadied my gaze and moving my hands to side and planted them into the jean pockets to keep from fidgeting. I gave a little cough, “And I think you might have it.”

“Who’s at the door, Billy?” a voice came through the door, a head of dark brown popped out from behind. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “Hello, are you Billy’s friend?” she asked. She stepped more fully into view and glanced at me. She smiled affectionately at her son and me.

“Yes,” Billy answered before I could reply. “We just met. He can stay for dinner right?” He looked up at her, and readjusted his glasses again.

“Sure, if he wants,” she looked at me, “What’s your name?” Her smile widened.

“Patrick Bail, I live nearby thought I’d drop by on Billy,” I smiled courteously and turned to look into the strange boy’s eyes.

And then she realized I was standing in the doorway. She allowed me entrance and her smile extended even more while Billy moved aside. I patted his shoulder.

“Dinner is not ready yet, why don’t you show Patrick to the living room?” She closed the door behind as they walked in. “And Billy, help me in the kitchen,” she turned away as she called out.

I was lead to sit on a rocker in the living room with its white walls, a couch, T.V., and a coffee table with a pile of magazines for women, the first being Allure. “The T.V. remote is on the coffee table,” Billy pointed out. “Make yourself at home.” With nothing else to do, I grabbed the remote and turned the T.V. on and tuning the volume down on the news channel. As I sat on the rocking chair, it creaked lightly, but the sound drawled out more as I was fully seated. And it squeaked with every rock that was made. With a start, an old woman sat up straight on the couch; she was asleep with a blanket over her. She muttered something and looked lost.

I sat confused, but finding courage I said aloud, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you, ma’am. I didn’t know the chair creaked so loudly.”

Giving me a long hard look, she finally asked, “Have you seen my son?”

“Who’s your son?”

She glared and asked with suspicion, “Why are you asking about my son?”

This lady was crazy, “But you just said, ‘Have you seen my son?’”

“So! You’ve seen my son?” she asked again.

“No,” raking my fingers into my hair, messing it more. “I haven’t…. Never mind,” I sighed. “Yes, I’ve seen your son,” I said playing along.

The old woman, in her cap and nightgown, stood up and began pacing back and forth around the room. “I’ve also seen him,” her voice half muttering and low. “It was about a year ago that my boy went outside to test out a theory, something with electricity. He took a kite outside during the summer when the thunderstorms were at the best.” Her voice lowered, “He was careless and was electrocuted right in the middle of our back yard,” she pointed outside. The backyard was seen clearly through a glass door, but there was nothing clear about darkness. For a moment, me eyes deceived me to believe a pair of eyes looking through the glass, straight at me. Feeling a chill, I shook it off.

The old woman had gone back to sit on the couch and forgot everything else, focusing only on the small television set, which was still on the local news channel highlighting the missing children around the area.

Billy came into the room announcing dinner. He helped his grandmother up and walked her towards the dining room. “You talked with my grandma?” he asked. I nodded and went after them.

Dinner was the size of a banquet. I found a seat next to Billy, finding senile old people to be a discomforting.

The woman began to interrogate me with questions pertaining to my residence, my family, who were my parents, what their job was, if I had siblings, what school I went to, who my relatives were. It was as if we were no longer sitting in the dining room, but inside a police station. I disliked the woman for her questions but smiled anyway.

After dinner, I was lead into Billy’s room. It was full of nothing but white walls. The room itself was modest, something like ten feet by 16 feet. And he had a cot, with brown sheets and a white pillow, for a bed. There was a desk table in the top left corner, a flat wooden board with some legs nailed together. At least his desk chair was a black cushioned one you’d find in any home, it had a back support up to the mid-back. The window above the cot had no screen on it, so when the wind blew in a draft, the curtains lifted up like beckoning hands and then falling limp. I stared out into the streets longingly.

Billy took a seat on his bed cot, “Sit,” he motioned at the desk chair. I did so. “I’ve been outside a few times, and I know the rumors very well. What are you doing here?”

“I told you,” I looked him straight in the eyes, it took a lot of will power to stand up to this kid, “I’m looking for something.”

“The police have been here more times than I can tell you. And each time they leave, they have even less evidence to accuse us of injustice. So I assume you must be a perceptive type of person,” he trailed on.

“I’m not accusing anyone of thievery,” I said, showing my annoyance.

“I didn’t say you were.” He stopped. “We had a visitor a month ago. He was an interesting character, but unfortunately, he has become a fallen, I guess it was too hard. And you’re in the same exact position he is in now,” he said with his stoic facial quality.

“What? What do you mean?”

“I would have thought you knew what you got yourself into by accepting to enter the house. Your challenge is to find your lost object by midnight. If not, then your being is no longer yours, instead it will belong to us, my father’s.” I raised my eyebrows. “I know what you’re thinking, and yes, he is part of the living. My mother made a deal with the devil for him to be resurrected. And there was a price for us to pay.” I became unsure of the situation and this cult of evil. I began to fidget in my seat and knowingly touched my hair. “Now, are you ready? There is still time to back out.”

I had always admired Johnny’s wit, and sense of adventure, and this was a moment that I had to choose the kind of person I wanted to be and who I am all ready. I wavered for a moment, thinking deeply if I had another person with me, what they would do. But finally, I conceded, “I’ll do it. I’ll find what I’m looking for, and then I’ll leave right away.”

“Good, then follow me.” The boy got up and went out the door, into the living room and stopping in front of the back yard door. He slid it open, and stepped out into the cold, I followed close behind. In Billy’s hand was a flash light, with it, he pointed to the dirt.

“This is where my father is. And it is also where you will be searching.” With his foot, he nudged back the top of what was an entrance into an abyss. Leading the way down the stairs, they entered a dusty underground cellar. We stopped at the very bottom of the step, and Billy, using the flash light, illuminated in front. This place looked to be a storage room with boxes and crates everywhere. It was also very cramped with a low ceiling, but expanded deep like an underground cavern.

Billy handed me the flashlight and a large ring containing a hundred and something keys. “Until midnight, and no later, else you’ll suffer the same fate as them.” The boy in stripes walked back up the stairs and left the entrance open.

My body jerked with every little sound and feeling brushed up against my skin, possibly a roach or ant. I reacted violently to the constant feeling of chills, but it was too late to go back now. In the darkness, there were small thuds, movements all around, and small moans every now and then. I checked the inside of the closest crate. My breath caught in horror; inside it was a hollow child, pale and weakened to the state of a zombie. The body did not move, but the kid’s eyes followed me, questioningly. Looking away quickly, I found more eyes and more hollows. With their eyes, they beseeched any creature thriving in the light and could only moan. The cellar was vast, and I felt drained, they were all taking my essence, what more could I do but find my friend. It was a long time, somewhere unfathomable inside the cryptic place before I finally came upon a crate that stood out against the rest, nothing peculiar, but I felt a stronger presence resonating outward – just barely. I peeked between the wooden bars to find a crouching boy, with blonde hair. He still had some color to his face, but frail looking.

“Dear God, Johnny, is that you?” I whispered.

The boy inside opened a slit of his eye. “Pat? Pat?” his voice raspy, “I’m not imagining this am I?”

“No, I’m here to help you out.”

“You have to leave immediately… the monster they let out is a real beast from hell.” He sighed, waiting for breath. “It steals our life force to keep itself alive – it’s not human anymore…. But I’m so tired, Pat. So tired….”

“Wait, I’ll… get you out,” I said while scrambling to find the right key. I randomly inserted them and hoped it worked. However, the process was long and tedious; the hours ticked away. With this many keys and it was possible to have used one more than once unable to distinguish between them.

And there was click, I breathed a quick breath, elated, “I got it!” I pulled Johnny out of his tight cage, he felt weightless in my arms. I took one limp arm and wrapped it around my neck while supporting the other side by the waist.

“Wait,” Johnny breathed deep, “I came here looking for my little brother.” He pleaded, “Please…”

“I’m sorry, I can’t. There’s not a lot of time left, we can come back for him when you’re stronger. And we’ll get the police, they’ll get everyone out.”

As we made our way back inside the house, the living room remained lit, and the back door still open, but no people. Getting away seemed too easy, but I didn’t care. Leave the house by midnight, that’s all they said. I went as quickly as I could, going for the front door. A relief flowed through me as my hand twisted the knob and opened the door to freedom.
But from behind, the cuckoo clock sounded with a series of “cuckoo, cuckoo.” The light immediately went out, and my body jerked and was dragged by the neck and back. Johnny fell to the floor and whimpered. He tried to get up, but his limbs failed. My fingers desperately clawed at the grip but there was no letting up. Breathing was beginning to become difficult, coming in short and in quick reps, and only came out faster when the hold on my neck tightened. Even more so, I felt a cold looming figure from behind that made my spine go rigid. I let out a whimper feeling the goose bumps forming on my neck.

“I said midnight and no later. You’ve failed Patrick Bail.” My eyes strained to look to the side and I could see them in their black hooded cloaks, the son and the mother staring at me intensely with black eyes.

As the fear overtook my body, overcoming my senses — my mind; I could think of nothing else but that feeling. My vision began to fade away into a void. And there was a darkness creeping into my body, feeling exhausted my knees buckled, only I was still held by the neck. And yet, there was ringing in my ear, it told me, “Your pockets.” In a trance, I was intensely aware of my spatial body, but as I reached for my pockets, the thousand keys rang loud.

It could have been the keys, it could have been an angel, but a white light began to shine from my hands. Too quick to register, I twisted around with those keys and my entire arm was lodged into whatever was behind me. I saw none of it happening, and I didn’t hear the scream because that white light expanded so much that there was implosion, and I was blasted far, far away. Reawakened, I looked to my left at Johnny lying on the ground next to me and then the house – it was in a white blaze. We looked from across the street.

“Is it possible that we were both flying ten feet in the air and landed safely?” I looked over at Johnny and shrugged at him. On the ground, I saw a white feather, sitting neatly between my sprawled legs.

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