Chapter 7-1

~~~

Hell is not a place decorated with fire and brimstone, where one is greeted by a funny, red-colored beast with pointy ears and a long tail. Hell is where the traumatic memories of youth come out into the open, like a morbid museum of moments put on display exclusively for you. It’s where the theme of your step-by-step demise is highlighted by a bright-red neon sign that hangs over the entrance to the pit and screams:

WELCOME TO YOUR HIDDEN PAIN.
WE’VE KEPT A ROOM WAITING FOR YOU…

He is moving forward through the scenes of his youth, and not by choice.

Scene one, through the eyes of repressed childhood: He is still a boy, although not for much longer. The ten-year-old comes home early from school. He is sick, and not for the first time since his mother started poisoning his food in small dosages two months ago.

The school nurse had called his house, but the phone bill hasn’t been paid and was now disconnected. He knows this, but lets the nurse call anyway. The boy makes up a lie, says he’s feeling better and wants to go back to class.

The nurse hates her job, and is just glad to have the kid out of her hair.

He is excused to go back to class, but leaves school instead, believing he can make the walk home before vomiting again.

The boy is now standing in the street in front of his small, run-down ranch home. The grass hasn’t been cut for weeks and the weeds have now grown tall enough to hide the front porch and the rolled up newspapers that have rotted there. The house was once white, but is now gray with neglect. Most of his neighbors’ homes show similar traits, but the boy knows that the difference between their homes and his is that life still resides within them.

He is oblivious to the house, to the neighbors, to the hot, oppressive May sun which makes his clothes stick to his skin, adding to his discomfort. The pain feels like a knife sticking in his stomach and continues to pang.

The boy is only focused on the sound of his father’s chainsaw coming from the garage.

He’s moving again, but not by choice. He’s looking in through one of the small garage windows, the one not completely covered by black trash bags. He sees the back of a man he knows is not his father. It’s the other man—the one his mother makes the ugly sounds with in her bedroom late at night when his father is away.

The boy is not supposed to know about the other man. His mother never talks about him, or those late night visits. He always knows better than to ask because his mother gets mean when the boy asks questions about things he’s not supposed to know about. The marks on his flesh are reminders of that fact.

The boy watches as the other man is using his father’s chainsaw. He can’t see what he’s working on because the other man’s back is blocking his view.

But he does see the blood… lots and lots of blood.

He wants to turn away, but is drawn, not by the normal curiosity of a young boy, but by the crimson pool on the cement slab between the man’s legs.

It is when the other man picks up the severed forearm that the boy no longer wants to look. That is when he no longer wants to be alive. As the other man places the arm into a trash bag, it’s the class ring on the hand of the severed limb that the boy will always remember.

It is his father’s ring.

He steps back from the garage window. His legs fail beneath him and he falls to the ground.

He is still looking up at that window when someone completely pulls back the trash bag and stares down at him.

It is his mother…

~~~

…Russell woke in the darkness, the disassociated memories fading quickly like the scream of a victim thrown over a cliff side—murdered.

He stared out through the shattered window pane of the Schuler garage door, the very one he just escaped through moments ago. He watched as the skeletal shadows of bare trees waved their long fingers toward the full moon, as if to seize it from the night sky. His chest felt heavy.

After a few moments, his disorientation lifted. Russell pushed the garage door off of him and slid out from beneath it. The explosion had blown it off the garage, knocking Russell to the ground, unconscious, but shielding him from the blast in the process.

Welcome back, boss. Where you been?

Where, indeed? Somewhere the other one could not follow. There was that small consolation, at least.

Hell was a solo trip.

Feeling indifferent to the realization he was still alive, Russell slowly rose to his feet.

They had made it just inside the woods before the house blew up. Russell could see the extent of his handiwork as the Schuler home lit up the night just past the first line of trees some twenty feet ahead of him. Some of those trees were burning as well, indicating the extent of the blast.

Not to interrupt your appreciation for your wonderfully new pyrotechnic skills, boss, but now that the animals have been put down, can we get back to the business at hand? You know, the part about guttin’ the bitch you seem to fancy?

Russell turned, cursing himself for forgetting the girl. He scanned the nearby dark woods, unable to locate her.

Should’ve listened to me, boss. Should’ve wasted that tainted meat when you had the chance. Now she’s gone and slipped away while you were nappin’.

Russell ignored the other one. He sighed with relief. Janet was gone. He’d been more concerned that she might not have survived the explosion than by her futile escape attempt. Janet Schuler was proving more resourceful than he ever imagined. Her stand in the garage was commendable, and now, with a broken ankle, she still had some fight left in her. Russell was disappointed that she didn’t try to kill him when she had the chance. That was to be expected, for only predators thought this way. Victims never thought about getting the upper hand, they only thought about fleeing. To Russell, the true definition of ‘prey’ was: ruled by fear. That is why they ran. That is why they died.

The beasts in the house had considered Russell their prey, and now it was too late for them to appreciate their erroneous assumption.

It didn’t take him long to find her trail with the aid of the bright moon above. With a broken ankle, she could not get far. Unfortunately, Janet was crawling farther into the woods and away from his intended path through the backyard and back to his van. This meant more time wasted. And time was the enemy of every predator.

You’ve lost your window, boss. This place will be crawlin’ with coppers any time now… especially since you left that bright-ass barbecue in the sky. Leave the skank—we’ll find another.

Russell would not leave her or let her wear the false label of survivor. For up until tonight, Janet had never known the meaning of survival until Russell forced it out of her. They had a bond now that few killers and victims shared before the moment of death. She was aware of him now as something tangible with purpose. Janet, like many others, could always sense her death as something distant, cold and foolishly forgotten. But now, she was acquainted with death and the eventual salvation in its eyes. He found this exhilarating. Like a secret admirer who’s found out by the object of his obsession, Russell felt liberated from the shadows and could now reveal himself to her openly and completely. He would not give up such a valuable opportunity—could not.

He deduced quickly what Janet might be attempting. To the south were the remains of the abandoned farm where he’d parked the van. She’d not go that way. Janet would want to find people. Her closest neighbors lived a mile in the opposite direction. Her long, private driveway extended to the north and she could reach the main road that way, but at the risk of being completely exposed if Russell were to wake up and find her before a car happened to drive by. That left the caretaker’s house at the edge of King Memorial Cemetery, a quarter-mile west, on the other side of these woods. A tough crawl through rugged terrain in the dark, but Russell believed Janet might try for it.

Don’t forget what ya’ heard earlier this evenin’, boss. It came from that direction.

“Your point?” Russell asked aloud as he began to follow Janet’s trail.

The other one laughed. No point, boss. None at all. But just remember, those things had to come from somewhere—had to track us from somewhere, too. Shit… we never even saw them comin’!

Russell said nothing as he continued with caution, making a mental note to himself:

From now on, pack an extra hunting knife.

~~~

When her house exploded, Janet had felt an unexpected, warm and violent gust of air right before the man who called himself, John, was knocked unconscious. She was thrown several feet before landing in a pile of dead leaves. Unfortunately, she’d rolled over on her broken ankle as a fresh fire of pain shot up her leg. She’d grabbed a stick, placed it in her mouth and bit down on it to keep her screams from reverberating against the night. Janet desperately fought passing out from the pain and tried to shift her focus elsewhere. That was when she saw her home in flames.

Oh, my poor garden! she had thought… and that was it. Janet had secretly enjoyed seeing the house burn as much as she’d enjoyed the thought of blowing up Gerald’s car; both were nothing more than grand symbols of status. It took a family to make a house a home, and that possibility burned up long before. She’d also felt a strange sense of relief, as though an ancient house of cards was finally coming down. Janet had half-expected to spontaneously combust before the night was finished—she and Gerald both—and then the charade would be over.

Janet had noticed movement to her right. Beneath the blown off garage door, Russell had begun to shake his head back and forth. He’d looked like he was having a nightmare.

Now’s your chance, girl. Get up. GET UP! She’d mustered what strength was left and pulled herself up on her good foot using a nearby tree. She didn’t know what this man’s end game was, but Janet did not intend to find out.

She had considered heading for the road, until she looked up at the full moon. If Russell were to wake, there was nowhere she could hide and the moonlight would leave her exposed. Besides, she would have to crawl for there was nothing to give her support once she reached the driveway. And God only knew how long it would take for someone to drive by and spot her this late at night.

That left the woods.

The trees had lost most of their seasonal foliage as the moonlight illuminated the leaves upon the ground among dense trees, which cast equally dark and elongated shadows. There was enough light to navigate the woods and cleave to the dark sides of the trees to avoid being found. The woods were silent—too silent. It made her imagination come alive as she believed someone was watching her from every shadow.

She’d remembered the old man, Mr. Clariton, who lived with his daughter and her family in the caretaker’s cottage just on the other side of the woods at the edge of King Memorial Cemetery.

They will have a phone. This thought inspired a spark of hope.

“Enough talk, let’s move,” she’d said, and began to hop from tree to tree, struggling not to lose her balance in the process. Janet tried not to think about the darkness because that brought her mind back to the strange animals that defiled her home. She included John as one of those animals.

After a half an hour traversing over rougher ground than expected, she was exhausted. Janet fell frequently, cursing at God for the invention of above ground roots, ravines and small creeks. She was also made painfully aware of her bare feet, beginning to go numb in the cool air. What made matters worse was becoming aware of how exposed she was in the torn and soiled, silk nightgown, which offered little protection from the cold and captured the moonlight. She’d often stopped in the shadows to rest and make sure she wasn’t being followed. If someone had seen her plight through the forest, they might have believed they had seen a ghost haunting the woods before dawn, desperately trying to return to the graveyard where lost spirits must remain under the light of day.

Perhaps I am a ghost. The strange thought brought an unnatural chill in the way one feels when something prophetic is uttered.

A few minutes later, she’d spotted a natural dome-shaped canopy of branches in the shadow of a wide oak tree that looked like sufficient shelter from the cool night. Janet had decided to rest within it. She’d crawled into the low thicket, pulled her legs carefully up to her chest to make room for her feet within the gown, and then made the mistake of lying down in the leaves.

Within moments, she had fallen asleep.

~~~

In her nightmare, the trees came to life all around her. Janet was frozen with fear, eyes locked open and heavy, as long shadows swayed within the moonlight like some demonic dance. What sounded like tortured cries filled the night, as barely human voices formed a horrific choir to complete a macabre musical of sights and sounds unfit for any stage and banished into the night where only the most twisted performers were allowed to act.

I am dreaming, she thought. Yet, the lie would not hold.

Feeling no sensation in her legs, Janet used her arms to push them straight. She immediately felt a million pins and needles attempting to revive her numb limbs.

It was the pain in her ankle that drove the truth home.

My God, please tell me I’m dreaming?

The pain was unbearable but she would not dare scream.

The source of the hellish shadows began to appear as men, women, and even children, slowly parading past her hiding spot, not yet aware of their audience of one. Their movements seemed exaggerated and unnatural. She heard horrible, strangled voices, like people rediscovering speech after a very long time of silence.

Dead silence.

The dark shape of a woman crossed Janet’s peripheral vision just four feet to her left. The woman tried to speak but uttered garbled sounds like someone choking on water.

It made the blood in Janet’s veins turn to ice. She stopped moving, breathing—she would stop existing if it were possible.

Wake up! I want to wake up… right… now!

As if hearing Janet’s desperate thoughts, the drowning woman, her bare back just five feet in front of her, the skin stretched so tightly that her spine had ripped clean through ancient flesh, turned her head on what sounded like a rusty hinge instead of a neck, and looked just over Janet’s hiding spot. The moonlight revealed what was left of the drowning woman’s face, the skin stretched beyond recognition around a skull with hideous eyeballs completely exposed—no eyelids. What was left of her mouth was gone, but the rotting teeth remained intact—opening, opening wider, until that choking noise became a hissing sound.

Janet wanted to claw her own eyes out rather than look at the drowning woman any longer.

After that horrifying face was forever branded into Janet’s consciousness, the drowning woman finally turned away, trying her best to keep up with the nightmare parade of monsters—fucking monsters—that ripped the fine line of sanity in two; all that was rational and reasonable in the world—destroyed.

Janet placed her hands in front of her face and let out a soundless sob. She felt like her mind had just snapped in half, the pieces falling right out of her head and bouncing into the darkness.

The monsters continued to march all around her.

Betrayed by her panic, Janet started to crawl out of the hole.

“Don’t move,” a voice whispered from the darkness behind her.

~~~

Next Episode 7-2

Previous Episode 6-3

~~~

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~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 7-1: Demon Night 2” Copyright © 2014, 2015 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares”.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Comments
  1. Aha! Cryptic, I know, but I remembered part of this. Nice to see how/where it actually fits.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sscherr says:

      Hey Michael,
      Good to see you around these dark, infested woods…lol. I had almost forgotten that the beginning of this segment was first posted at the coffee house/CW forums. Glad you remembered it and had a chance to read it in context with the rest. Seems like a lot of stories have had their debuts there ;)

      -Scott

      Like

  2. Connie Marchetto says:

    Can’t put this down! Just starting and am on Checking 7-2 now! Absolutely mesmerizing – love it.
    Don’t know what I’ll do when caught up & have to wait a week til next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sscherr says:

      Hello Connie, welcome to The Dark. I’m glad you’re enjoying it so far. I love to hear when it’s a page turner. Makes me feel like I did my job right. Not to worry, you won’t have to wait a week for the next installment. I post new episodes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This week I’m actually posting a bonus episode, so that makes four for this week. Thanks for the great comment, you made my morning :)

      Like

  3. oncegiants says:

    This has me so messed up!!! The horror! This is like Dexter, but worse! Great stuff again.

    Like

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