Dreams of Shadows Chapter Seven - COMPUTER SCIENCE CENTRAL

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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Dreams of Shadows Chapter Seven

More of Us?

Munster slid to the side of the window, stuffed the gun back into his waistband, and tried to lift the sash open. It wouldn’t give.
“Crap.”
Well, if I was a farmer and was scared to death of intruders, the first thing I’d do would be to lock all the doors and windows.
“What now?” I asked too loudly.
He didn’t answer, just crawled to the end of the porch and slithered over the rail, landing with a thump on the ground at the end of the building. I hurried to join him.
We crept along the wall there, and he stopped for a second at every window he came to in order to give it a push. Each one was the same as the one on the porch. Discouraged, I finally offered a solution at the last window at the rear corner.
“Maybe you should break it.”
“Yeah, right. Though with all the noise you’re makin’, no one would notice anyway. Just be quiet. I’ll find a way in.”
The rear of the house had just as many windows, and I peeked into two of them, my eyes and nose barely over the sills. Only shadows of furniture and an eerie glow of windows at the front of the house.
We came to a long, covered patio with a stone path leading from it to a gigantic swimming pool. In the darkness it was hard to see the water clearly, and so I left Munster for a minute to peer into it. What I saw shouldn’t have surprised me, but somehow it made me reel.
The water was filthy. Leaves and debris floated like dead fish in a stagnant pond, and near the edge I saw three bloated bodies lying face down. I was finally getting used to seeing dead people, but this time it made my stomach turn even more. One was a child. Another somewhat older. A girl in a swimming suit, her long hair spread out on top of the water on either side of her head. The last was fully clothed, the dress she’d worn spread out like a sideways curtain. Had this woman been standing at the edge of the pool smiling, and talking to her kids when the blinding flash of light struck? Fallen into her grave of water mid-sentence? Where was her husband? What became of him? Is his rotting corpse still lying out in the orchard somewhere, or…?
I heard a crash—the breaking of glass. Munster had finally taken my advice and broken one of the small panes of glass in the rear door, although I think he needed no advice in that department. He’d probably planned on getting in by smashing the glass if the door was unlocked. By the time I returned, he had already opened the door and was walking into the room. Crouched low, gun in hand extended forward.
I expected—what? An army of shimmering alien beings to descend from the ghostly image of the staircase not far away at the front of the house? The farmer lying in wait just beyond the archway, ready to smash Munster’s head the second he walked through the opening? No, what I didn’t expect to see was the master of this home. Something told me if he were alive, his family wouldn’t be rotting in the pool just outside.
I was way off the mark about the first two parts, but I knew we weren’t alone.
The silence is what gets you. A quiet inhabited by any manner of dangerous things. The ghosts and bogeymen that hide under beds every night, or lurk in the darkness of closets every hour of the day—the fears of six year-olds. They don’t speak, or even breathe, but they’re there, waiting for the right moment. We grow out of that paralyzing fear, or at least we pretend we have as we grow older. Even now, years later, the strange and momentary rush of dread and uncertainty still greets me like a huge neon DANGER sign flashing on and off whenever I’m alone. I freeze, and wonder what’s behind that dilapidated fence ahead, or that rusting hulk of a car, knowing full well that there’s nothing but more weeds, decay, and the melancholy of silence and aloneness.

I stayed several steps behind Munster just in case. He walked almost casually through the arched opening—but of course he had his gun with a single bullet stretched out in front of him for protection. No more crouching. With every step he seemed to gather up more courage. I can’t say that I did.
One thing Munster was good at was moving like a shadow cast behind him on the sidewalk on a bright, full moon night. We—or I should say he—searched every room on the main floor. Nothing out of the ordinary. Laugh. Yet, every piece of furniture stood undisturbed. Lamps on tables. Pictures still hanging straight on the walls. Dinnerware set neatly on the kitchen table. The only thing missing from this peaceful photograph of a family dwelling was light and the sound of happy voices.
When he stepped out of the last room he merely shook his head no. I quietly pointed to the obvious—the staircase. He nodded, and we left the main floor side by side.
The top of the stairs ended at a landing extending right and left, doors leading into more rooms in each direction. He went immediately to the first door a few feet to our left, but I grabbed his arm. He turned with a question mark on his face. I pointed down the hall to the room from which he’d said the light had emerged.
“Yeah,” he whispered.
The rain’s intensity had grown during our search of the rooms below. I could hear the now-steady pat-pat-pat of it clearly on the roof above us. I flashed to Lashawna and Jerrick back in the Flamemobile, probably wondering if we were still alive, and what their next move would be. I dared not run back to them until Munster and I discovered who or what was in the room we approached, or, if like Munster had said, my imagination had conjured up the image.
 Just a few more minutes, Lashawna.
One bullet. Dear Saint Andrew.
I let Munster go in by himself. I stood outside, my eyes locked tightly closed, and my fingernails clenched against the palms of my hands. I waited. A minute, then two, and then at last the silence was broken.
“C’mon out of there.”
The husband? Hiding in a second floor bedroom from four kids approaching? I opened my eyes and rushed in. The bedroom was beautiful, even in shadows—a canopied bed with a ruffled top. A white dresser with a white-framed mirror just inside the door. Posters and pictures. A closet with louvered doors. And the window.
Munster stood with the gun pointing at one of the floor length curtains. Between the bottom of the curtains and the floor I could see even in the dim light what he had no doubt also seen. The tips of a pair of sneakers. Small. Definitely not those of an adult. Not Farmer Brown’s. I heaved a sigh of relief.
The curtains rustled ever so slightly, and then a face slowly emerged, that of a child, much younger than me. A girl. Her face was round, with what I could see were smudges of dirt dappled carefully on her forehead, along her chubby cheeks, and beneath her deep set eyes. Like she had purposely put it there, trying to paint herself up with mud to look like a soldier crawling through a swamp into enemy territory. A second or two later she stepped out, and at last I understood the source of the light Munster had seen back in the Flamecar. A lone candle sat snuffed on the nightstand. Like me, total darkness no doubt frightened her. A pair of binoculars dangled on straps at her chest. Whoever she was, she’d been looking at us when we’d arrived.
I think she wanted to say something; her little mouth began to quiver, but Munster spoke first.
“You alone here?”
She slowly shook her head yes.
“What happened to your mom and dad? They dead?”
Munster! What a dreadful question to ask! He hadn’t seen what I had, the bodies floating in the disgusting swimming pool, but even so…
The little girl began to sob, and before my thoughtless friend could throw another cruel question at her, she whimpered, “Are you going to kill us?”
“Us?” Munster fired at her.
“Put the gun down, Munster! Of course he won’t shoot you, little girl.”
“You just said us,” he went on, “Who else is here?”
“I meant me. Everyone else died. Do you know what happened?”
Of course we both knew she was lying, but for the time being that was all right. How many others were hiding in the grand old house, and exactly where they were, it made sense that none of them were adults.
I crossed the room and took a knee in front of her, pushing the blond curls off her teary eyes.
“It’s okay. Don’t cry. He wont hurt you. Where are the others? Please. You’re all safe because my friend has a gun, and he’ll protect all of you.”
She hesitated. “Downstairs. Do you promise not to shoot us?”
“Promise,” I said.
“They ain’t downstairs ‘cuz I searched every room.”
“The cellar,” she answered. “I saw you drive the car in and get stuck in the ditch, and so I made everyone else run for the cellar.”
“Where’s the cellar?” Munster asked.
“Downstairs.”
“Yeah, I figured it ain’t up here. Where downstairs? I didn’t see no cellar.”
“You have to go outside to get to it.”
“We was outside!”
“Munster, stop it,” I scolded him. “Little girl, what’s your name? How many others are here with you?”
“Jacquelyn Marie Conklin. My friends just call me Jack, but I’m not a boy. I’m eight, and we’re all so scared. What happened? Why did Momma fall into the pool? And Terese and Jeremy. They were dead! Did Daddy die in the south orchard? That’s where he and the workers were, but we never found them! What happened to the lights and the phone and…”
She unloaded, wanting desperately for us to answer these and many other questions, most of which we didn’t know the answers to ourselves. I tried to calm her down; led her to the bed where she sat and waited for us to explain the unexplainable.
“Munster, you stay here with Jack, okay? I’ve got to go back and get Lashawna and Jerrick. Don’t you think we’re safe?”
“Yeah, guess so,” he said. “C’mon, Jack, show me where the cellar is. If you’re lyin’, though, I’ll shoot ya’.”
“Munster!” Of all the things to say! I punched him for his cruel statement. He could be so stupid I was learning.
Jack started to cry openly. I glared at Munster, and then turned back to her.
"I was just kiddin."
“No he won’t, Jack. Munster is just mean sometimes, but I promise you, he won’t shoot anyone, except someone who wants to hurt us. Go with him. Show him the others. I’ll be right back. I have to find our two friends and get them out of the rain. Okay? Will you do that?”
Jack shook her head, sobbing, and then eased herself off the end of the bed. “You’ll come right back, won’t you?”
“Yes. That’s a promise.”

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