Dreams of Shadows Chapter Eight - COMPUTER SCIENCE CENTRAL

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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Dreams of Shadows Chapter Eight

By Candlelight

I ran out of the bedroom like the wind. Down the hall, the stairs, and out the front door. The rain was coming down in a steady sheet now, something I was used to in the winter months. Something I enjoyed before all this. When I could sit on the window seat for hours in the comfort of my home. When Mom would be singing in another room. When Daddy would be driving down the street at any minute, and I’d hear the garage door begin to open.
When no one was hiding outside in an abandoned car. We were safe at last I was certain. I threw caution to the wind halfway down the road and called out.
“Lashawna! Jerrick! It’s okay, you can come out. Hurry!”
I ran. I slipped twice on the crown of the muddy road, and fell sideways once, that last time. Lashawna appeared as I scrambled to my feet, fifty feet ahead of me.
“Amelia?”
“Yes! Get Jerrick. Everything’s okay. We have to get out of the rain. You’ll be warm inside.”
Without answering, she disappeared once again, and seconds later reappeared, leading her brother out onto the road.
“Ditch, Jerrick. Be careful.”
After what seemed like hours, we made it back to the house. Lashawna peppered me with question after question all the way. What did you find? How many are there? They’re all children? What happened to their parents?
The same thing that happened to ours.
We entered, and I called out to Munster, “We’re here! Munster? Where are you?”
He didn’t answer, but straight ahead, down the hallway leading to the kitchen, I could see the back door we’d come in through thirty minutes ago standing open. Below us somewhere was the cellar. I wondered how many kids—I assumed they were all kids—he’d found?
“This way,” I fired behind me at Lashawna and Jerrick, and then darted across the expanse of the room, through the kitchen, and out the back door. I stopped on the stoop and looked down along the exterior of the house to my right. Jack said that the entry was outside. You have to go outside to get to it, she’d told Munster and me. I guessed it had to be attached to the house in some way, but…
There! Of course, just like in The Wizard of Oz movie! The coincidence of that struck me. Dorothy’s family had gone down into a cellar, too…to hide from the horrific tornado. The difference was, I had no desire to leave Kansas—or California—and travel inside a whirling cloud to another fantastic but dangerous land.
The door leading to a room beneath the house protruded almost flat, thrown open, exposing the cement curb and cement steps leading down. I left Lashawna to guide her brother along the walkway behind the house and ran to the entrance. When I peered down the steep steps, I nearly fell backward in shock. I could hear the sound of muddled voices issuing forth from somewhere in the subterranean chamber, but what jarred me was the glow of light that illuminated that part of the interior I could see. It wasn’t thrown from a single candle—soft and dim—rather, it was bright, as though it originated from a thousand candles, tiny shadows flickering on the floor below. I stood staring down until Lashawna and Jerrick caught up. I didn’t say a word when they finally arrived; just pointed. Lashawna gaped for several seconds, then turned to me with a question mark on her face.
“Let’s go see,” I said.
Literally see.
The stairs led to a wide, long chamber that opened into three different rooms. Two on the right, the other to my left. Along the masonry walls to the right, candle after candle stood on boxes of different heights, still more set into roughly carved niches high above the boxes. The main source of light poured out of one of the two rooms farther away, and from within, the voices became somewhat clearer with each step I took. A conversation.
“Nah…they were…until…”
Munster’s voice, low enough so that whatever he was saying was split into little clumps. I stopped, waiting for Lashawna and Jerrick to descend the stairs, dripping like two rag dolls hung outside for hours in the rain.
“We…know, we don’t
Jack?
“Hurry!” I called to Lashawna.
“We’re going as fast as we can, Amelia.”
It should have been easy going for Jerrick once he managed to get down the stairs, but he took every step on the level floor tentatively, Lashawna a step in front of him, his hand in hers.
“Ohmagosh, the light! All these candles!” Lashawna said.
Jerrick finally spoke as we walked quickly down the hall toward the room with Munster’s and Jack’s voices. “A wine cellar, ‘Shawna. We’re in a wine cellar.”
I stopped and looked back at him.
“How would you know what it is? You can’t see a thing…or can you?”
“I can smell it.”
“What? I don’t smell anything,” I said.
“You aren’t blind, are you?”
Well, what would I know about the senses of blind people?
We moved on, Jerrick with one hand stretched forward, kind of waving it back and forth, I supposed, so that he wouldn’t run into a rack of wine and bring it down on top of all of us. I could do better without a great nose for anything out of the ordinary, but on the other hand, it occurred to me, we’d be on equal ground in a pitch-black room. Except I’d crash into anything and everything. Unlike him.
We entered the little anteroom ablaze with color and light, and, to my astonishment, five children. Two were sitting cross-legged on the frayed carpet listening to Munster and Jack. An older girl, about Munster’s age I guessed, stood beside Jack with a concerned look on her pretty face. The last had stationed himself in a corner with his arms crossed. Everyone turned their heads the moment we stepped in.
“They’re here!” one of the two youngest kids blurted. She jumped to her feet, followed by the other little guy who had been sitting quietly.
“Hello,” I greeted them. “My name is Amelia McDougal. This is Lashawna Freeman, and that’s her brother Jerrick,” I said with a twist of my head.
The younger ones seemed fine with our invasion of their home, and ran to us, inspecting each of us curiously. The boy stared silently up at Jerrick for a moment, then shifted his eyes to Lashawna, then me. After a few more uncomfortable seconds he walked back across the carpet to the girl’s side who was standing beside Jack. He latched onto her arm.
We eased a few steps farther into the room; a room about a third of the size of the kitchen somewhere above us. Unlike the room we’d just come from, this one was lined with open shelves, stacked with jar after jar after jar of food. Canned goods as well. It was some sort of underground pantry, and unless my eyes were playing tricks on me, there was enough food to feed all of us for a hundred years.
But, my burning questions were, who were these kids, and how had they come together? Jack had asked Munster and me upstairs in the bedroom if we knew what had happened to the world. Until we met Lashawna and Jerrick, and then the two men outside the rectory, we thought everyone but he and I had died. A short while ago we had to add Jack. Outside in the pool three bodies floated, decomposing, and two of them were children. Jack had survived the flash of deadly light, and so had these other kids down here. Like us, how had they done that?
Seems the number of survivors continued to grow, maybe grow even larger as time crawled slowly onward.
Jack opened up immediately, making the introductions rapid fire: Peter standing beside his sister, Cynthia, now. She standing near Jack, Mari and Ashton, the youngest of the group. After this she told the story of how the survivors came to be in this house that day, but she had no idea how or why they’d been immune when Mrs. Conklin and one of her two daughters had died.
“It was Terese’s birthday. She and Jeremy and me were playing tag in their pool when it happened. It was horrible! The light came, and it blinded me, but there was no sound at all, except when Mommy fell into the water. After…after…I shook my head and…They were just floating! I didn’t know. ’Wake up, Terese!’ But she didn’t.”
So the others in the chamber there below the grand old house had gathered for a birthday party—the young host not spared in some cruel irony; a vicious twist of fate. It was Jack’s mother who lay dead in the pool alongside her younger sister and a friend. Not long after coming to their senses in that new, dead world, the eldest of the survivors latched onto every cell phone they could find in order to call their parents. 911. Anyone. But everything was the same as I found it moments after I discovered something horrible had happened.
Peter and Cynthia lived on a neighboring orchard farm a few miles north of the Conklins, and within hours after the catastrophic event, ran to the Conklins’ home to find help. Of course they found a scene similar to the one they’d just left.
And then the appearance of the strange invaders far out by the main road leading in. The specters moved among the trees, crossed the drive, back into the trees on their frightening approach to the house. By then the children were crying, sitting inconsolable in the living room. Jack and Peter stood together on the porch, just outside, peering out over the orchard when they caught sight of the strange swirling phantasms.
“Inside, quick!” Peter had said to Jack.
Peter. The older brother I always wished I’d had. At least back then when the only other choice was Munster the Impetuous. Solid, beautiful with his dark hair and inquisitive blue eyes that belied the indifference of his quiet manner. He was the cement that held the other kids together when the natural inclination was self-destruction by exposure. Munster’s age. Munster’s opposite.
Like me, Jack had no idea who or what the creatures out on the drive were, only that their appearance in the wake of capricious death caused her to freeze.
“Inside, quick,” he had said.
The creatures, or things, whirling around outside would soon enough float into the house. Plainly, to him anyway, their presence was linked to all that had happened in the preceding hour. Hiding in one of the rooms wasn’t an option, he knew. Locking the front and back doors; yanking the drapes closed had probably been useless, given that they moved like mist through the orchard trees. Add to that the fact that the younger children were sobbing and crying, he knew he had only two options, and the decision would have to be made instantaneously. Grab his sister and the children, and then flee through the back door and hope they wouldn’t be spotted, or gather the children up and hide somewhere halfway safe inside the home. The second option had an addendum or two: find the safest room to hide in, gather them up, and then keep them together and quiet until the danger passed.
The cellar. He’d seen the prostrate door, but would the creatures notice it? Could they even? Surely, he reasoned, they possessed some sort of vision. How else could they travel about? In that second when a mind works a million times faster than a computer, he thought all this, and put the escape plan together.
“Jack, go outside and open the door to the cellar. Hurry!”
“What are they, Peter?”
“Just go!
“Cyn, help me.”
Jack left. The brother and sister corralled the terrified children, and in what seemed a snail’s pace, managed to herd them below the house.
He closed the slanted door behind him and rushed down the precipitous stairs. The unlikely survivors stayed below the house for two days and nights, softly sobbing, but undetected.
Everyone thought.

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