She woke suddenly to an unfamiliar terror. Her heart hammered, her limbs stiffened. Her eyes were leaden and hard to keep open. She could feel the weight of icy fingers clawing their way into her abdomen, twisting and pulling with a viscous force. A pain so intense, it left her weak and breathless and wanting to die. She was covered in a blanket of sweat and although she desperately tried, the eighteen-year old was unable to move.
Then as quick as it came, the pain mysteriously disappeared.
She immediately began taking in several deep breaths to calm herself when she heard the squeak of a door.
"Hey." she could hear the familiar voice from across the room and at once began to relax.
Just a bad dream. She told herself.
It was only when she tried to sit up that she realized it wasn't a bad dream at all. Her arms and legs were firmly bound with restraints. When she tried to scream out her voice was silent.
"Hey, it's okay." he promised. "Baby's coming a little early is all. Mama will be here soon to help, but for now I'm gonna give you a little something to help you sleep." She could only watch helplessly when the syringe disappeared into her arm, sending her into a well of darkness.
She woke to a tomb like silence. She was weak but able to move freely again. Everything around her was simply beautiful, she realized. She was dressed in a satiny, virgin-white gown that flowed well below sea level, and she was in her own bed again surrounded with several floral arrangements. A brilliant sun shone bright into numerous open windows surrounding her with a luminous light.
"My baby." she whispered.
As though just remembering, she gently placed her arms across her abdomen. Her stomach was flat, and to her amazement she was not in any pain. She slowly got out of bed and walked into the spacious bathroom. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and instantly froze.
The moment she saw the tortured look on her own face, she knew that she was already dead.
Mother Nature and all her cruel beauty was without a doubt forthcoming. What were only moments ago fluffy white clouds were now transpiring to multiple shades of sinister gray dancing mysteriously, churning like witches brew, each wicked swirl more menacing than the last.
It was nearly three months ago in August that century old oaks and extreme maples scattering the land were fully clothed in a brilliant foliage. Now raped of shield and color they were nothing more than skeletal statues waving teasingly, while silent breaths of bone-chilled air passed menacingly through each naked limb.
Shrouded in a sea of black, the dark-hooded figure sat crouched in a corner of the empty room nearly lifeless, staring wide-eyed through a severe gap in one of the many boarded up windows. Outside, darkness continued to rush in at an alarming speed while skulking shadows began to eerily dance on moonlit striped walls.
The old house had long since been abandoned. It was nearly covered in a fungus of ivy that had grown rampant over the years. Several wooden shutters that once decorated the glass encased windows now hung limp, barely clinging to life, while others had already met their demise littering the ground below, floating on a sea of glass, broken and battered. What had once been hundreds of acres of woodland and sprawling farmland was now nothing more that a cemetery of outbuildings crippled by years of relentless weather, surrounding a massive stone monument standing proud, clawing its way high into to now darkening sky.
The hooded figure sat for an undetermined amount of time before the first droplets of ice could be heard hitting the rooftop above. Shivering from the icy winds that slithered through the broken windows, the figure began rocking back and forth, head covered, in an effort to keep warm.
Or was it fear?
Outside, fierce winds could be heard howling in the now blackened skies. Pellets of ice whirled aimlessly in the raging fury and naked limbs were torn from their protectors without effort.
The hooded figure could sense someone or...something would be coming soon. Something more terrifying than being surrounded in the empty darkness. Something more terrifying than the tortured screams that could be heard echoing throughout the house...when no one was there.
Something...that would be able to cause great harm if it wasn't stopped.
As quick as the ice storm had started, it had just as quickly disappeared. Fluffy, white flakes of snow soon took over where pellets of hardened ice earlier began. Dark clouds danced their way across the sky allowing the brightness of the moon to once again shine.
It was the immediate silence that caused the hooded figure to look up from well insulated knees and glance towards the eerie moonlight shining bright through the splintered two by fours. Standing, then peering out through the closest window, it didn't take long to notice. Even through the falling snow, it was clearly visible. In the distance under the raging moonlight, shadows of darkness walked slowly towards the house.
The weather had taken them both by surprise. A wintry shower had unexpectedly changed into a viscous onslaught of ice without warning; chunks of it of slamming into the exterior of the old Buick. It's impact, no doubt causing serious damage.
The old country lane was barely paved. Potholes were quickly being filled with the assaulting hail.
Driving was turning dangerous, but for seventeen-year old Todd Maynor, it was sure to become disastrous. White-knuckled, he held the steering wheel with all the strength he could muster as the car began to swerve and jerk. His heart pummeled and landed with a loud thud in the soles of his feet. He could feel the fogginess of warm sweat invading his body, even though the air was icy. He took a hand from the steering wheel then quickly wiped a strand of long dark hair from his left eye so he could see better.
He hit the massive pothole without warning, before his free hand had a chance to react. The car landed with a deafening sound, then went airborne, flipping as it exited. The sound of shattering glass pierced the night as well as screeching tires and screams of terror. Immediately after the exploding sound of crashing metal the car came to an immediate stop.
"Mark...Mark...are your okay?" With his eyes fiercely shut tight, Todd rubbed his forehead and wondered if this was all just a bad dream. Hoping, praying that it was.
"Dear God! What have I done?" he whispered.
"I'm all...all right..." Mark finally managed. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah I'm fine. Are you sure your okay?" Todd asked again.
"Yeah, lets get the hell out of here."
It didn't take long to exit the wreckage. Nor did it take long to notice the silence that surrounded them.
"Guess the storm's over." Mark said almost sarcastically.
"Yeah...weird. Come on let's get back up to the road and find some help."
Once they reached the top of the hill their eyes widened in amazement.
"Who the hell are we kidding Mark? We aren't going to find any help out here in God's country! Hell, a cell phone wouldn't even be able to help us."
Every direction they looked, they were caged in with unknown acres of dense forest. The wind had settled to a light breeze and large flakes of white began to fall freely from the sky.
Todd and Mark shared the tattered wool blanket they'd found in the trunk of the car to keep warm. Wrapped like cocoons, they silently began walking down the road using only the light of the unsheltered moon the guide them.
It didn't take long for the road to become a blanket of white and the chilled air to freeze.
"Look Mark, I think there's a driveway or road or something up there." Todd stuttered, trying to ignore the numbness that stung his face.
"Come on, let's hurry."
"There's nothing up there Todd...or anywhere. Hell, take a look around, there's nothing anywhere! We're gonna freeze to death before we find help."
In minutes, they reached the large clearing, panting clouds of breath. It was Todd that saw it first.
"Look!" he pointed his finger and screamed with excitement.
"Look at what?" Mark said.
"There, down there, I see a light down there. Come on," he said grabbing his arm.
Although he had at least five inches on his older brother, Mark couldn't even come close to competing with his strength. Todd lifted weights on a daily basis, while he only shot a few baskets on occasion. He had no choice but to be dragged along beside him praying that the cold hadn't gone to his head and he was leading them deeper into nowhere.
At the bottom of the steep incline, a massive clearing was encased around them. Several hundred feet ahead they could see the towering structure clawing it's way toward the sky, shadowed in a bath of moonlight.
"I don't see a light on." Mark said nervously.
"Yeah, well maybe they shut it off. Let's just hope that whoever lives their has a phone. Come on."
"The place looks creepy." Mark mumbled. His heart began to frantically race.
"Come on." Todd repeated.
Standing nearly twenty feet from the building Mark suddenly stopped.
"Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Todd snapped.
"I...I don't know, a...a noise or something."
"I didn't hear anything, your just paranoid."
"I'm not paranoid." Mark said. "I heard some..." he cut himself off, and looked up towards the beaming light in an upstairs room.
He watched in horror, mouth gaped, forgetting the cold and falling snow.
At first he was mesmerized, watching her dance naked in front of the window. Her long blonde hair floated perfectly behind her with each delicate step she took, as though this same dance had been done many times before. Without warning her dancing stopped. It was as though she had just forgotten her most obvious routine, then as quick as a lightening flash, her perfect, delicate body fell backwards. The window was covered with an explosion of red.
A single scream pierced the night, erupting through the glacial air.
Mark dropped to his knees, instantly grabbing for his chest. He could feel the burning flesh where a bullet had just entered. He could feel the blood begin to ooze, then like a volcano, erupt in mass destruction.
Todd reached down, grabbed Mark by the back of his jacket collar and yanked.
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
He wasn't sure what he was feeling but it was gentle, like the soft touch of a newborn, comforting and reassuring. He rubbed his palm across his chest as if it were gently being guided, then easily peered into it.
"I said what the hell is wrong with you?" Todd had Mark on his feet and spun him around.
"What?...Get your hands off of me!" he pushed him away like he was nothing more than a piece of lint lingering on his jacket. "There's nothing wrong with me...tripped, that's all."
"Tripped? Standing still? That's a good one." Todd laughed.
Several inches of snow had fallen, leaving only a light lingering of flakes falling delicately from the sky. The moon was full and powerful, brighter than most. It's strength cast a radiant beam over ice-entombed limbs in the pearly distance. Looking out, you could see the lush trees reaching high, glistening like jewels, dancing between gentle puffs of cool, detached air.
Forgetting about the episode with his brother, Mark took his eyes from the beauty that enslaved them and instead looked at the looming house before him.
If that's what it was, he thought.
It's stone structure was massive in size and webbed with an overgrowth of vegetation. To him, it almost looked prehistoric, outdated, as though it had belonged in a different world, in a different time. The yard was overgrown with weeds that were able to withstand the cold, and littered with too many years of debris. Twin towers on either side searched for a way into the sky, only to disappear behind lower clouds, dark and thick. Doors and windows that were no longer able to withstand the forces of nature sat empty and black, yet inviting, while others remained boarded and impassable.
Straight out of a horror movie, he thought, unable to take his eyes from the past that was in front of him.
You should be scared to death! He reminded himself.
Yet, he wasn't.
"Come on let's go," Mark suggested. "No one lives here, that's for sure, and the place looks creepy as all get out, but we can at least keep from freezing to death."
"Yeah..." Todd said after a long pause.
Together, at a snails pace, they walked towards the dominating house.
Heart pounding, blood racing, the dark hooded figure stood motionless, well hidden behind the battered window, staring out into the moonlit night, watching the darkness that could be seen inching it's way forward.
No...not the darkness...people!
It was suppose to be safe here, well hidden from society...well hidden from people. And for the past two years it had been. If you saw a squirrel scampering in the spring trees, or a deer sitting peacefully before the dense forest, or even a bird singing a morning lullaby, you could consider yourself lucky. There was no civilization down in the valley. It simply had a life of it's own. A life of terrified screams echoing through dark, forgotten hallways, of footsteps running up and down stairwells, of lights flickering at will.
It was the perfect place to be.
"If you'd only walked a couple more miles," the voice was strong, powerful, seductive, and soft...very, very, soft. "you'd have been in town...well, you'd have had a phone at least." It was the first time, in a long time, that the dark-hooded figure could remember smiling.
Squeak...Squeak...It was the sound of the front door being pushed open.
"Wait for what?" Mark took his hand from the rusted doorknob, turned and faced his brother. "It's colder than a witches tit out here bro, and we need to get inside before we freeze to death."
"Since when did you become such the man?"
"Since I decided I wasn't going to die at the age of fifteen!" Mark turned away, placed his hand on the knob and pushed open the door. Together they walked inside.
The dark-hooded figured slowly emerged from the dark.
Forgive me Father.