Barely a week passed since our parents disappeared. Our neighbours acted fearfully, my brother still behaved strangely, and I wondered how long it would be before I escaped the madness. The paranoia, the talk of sinister happenings, the old man staring out the window at night with his shotgun resting across his lap.
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I was too young and, whether I admitted it or not, was too scared to do anything but wait and let the adults deal with it.
One night, I woke up with a dry throat. I had barely a sip of water in my glass beside the bed, so in a sleepy state, I walked down from the spare room to the kitchen below. I didn’t realize how late it was because when my feet hit the bottom of the stairs, I heard a menacing mechanical noise. It was familiar.
I raised my eyes and saw the silhouette of the farmer, his shotgun aimed right at me. I was ready to cry in that instant, as I didn’t know if he saw me or not. I couldn’t move, like a deer in the headlights. I couldn’t even sigh with relief when he lowered the gun.
“What are you doing up, girl?” he asked gruffly. He wasn’t happy seeing us the day we arrived, he wasn’t happy that we stayed. Yet, he seemed understanding enough as well. It’s that understanding that made him accept our intrusion.
“I-I was thirsty,” I replied, inching slowly towards the kitchen.
I couldn’t tell his expression, but I could tell he was watching me. Eventually, sickened by the sight of me or simply disappointed with the answer, he grunted and turned back to the living room. It was easier for me to move once he looked away, so I walked to the tap and filled my glass. When I returned, I could see him a bit more clearly in his chair, staring out the window.
He looked so much older, his chin resting on his palm, the shotgun still across his lap. I realised how tired he must have been after several days of watching the darkness. Only one thing could drive him to do that and that was incredible fear.
“Sir,” I said, as bravely as I could. “What is it you saw that night, exactly?”
He didn’t look at me, but his eyes dropped a little. I think maybe he pitied me, or something close to pity.
“I saw lights, bright lights,” he murmured. “Not torches, not headlights. They flashed, flickered...then when I looked back, they were gone.”
“What if someone took my parents away?” I asked. “What mom and dad just...left.”
Something was stuck in my throat as I said my next words.
“I mean, I know they didn’t love me, or my brother. Maybe they just…”
“They did not leave willingly,” he grunted, his eyes now on me. “They were taken. I know it. I think they know it too.”
The old man gestured for me to come closer, so I did. He looked behind me, then his eyes returned to the window that had his attention for several nights.
“The kids...they know something, haven’t been the same since,” the man whispered so softly, I had to lean closer. His skin, even in the cool light, was reddish. The same as my father. “Digging...we’ve noticed, don’t think we haven’t. Gloria...she has nightmares now, nightmares of them and those holes they dig. She can’t look Peter or Sam or your brother in the eyes.”
His last words were laced with anger and sadness. He didn’t ask for all this pain. All that transpired the past week seemed to break him and his family, and he hated that fact.
“If I were you, girl, I would run,” the man whispered. “Don’t stay here another day, you shouldn’t stay if you know what’s good for you.”
“Where could I go?” I asked him. “The city? If I made it there, how could I survive?”
“Your chances at life are greater anywhere else, but here,” the man whispered angrily, frustrated with the conversation. He looked so tired when he said ‘here’.
There was a silent cue for me to leave after he finished speaking, so I walked away. I approached the steps and started climbing them, thoughts multiplying in my mind. That conversation was the closest thing to someone telling me to do something that I’ve wanted to do my whole life.
Yet, as I walked into the spare room, these thoughts vanished when I saw my brother climbing in through the window. He looked at me but did not cease in his movements. He marched straight to his bed.
“What were you doing outside?” I asked nervously.
“I was digging.”
“What are you digging for at this time of night?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? Then why are you digging?”
“They told me to. The people in mom and dad’s room.”
My brother turned away from his bed and walked over to the window and pointed towards our house in the distance. It was just a tiny block against a midnight sky. I could make it out easily enough and felt a little homesick looking at it. I left so many of my things there, much of what I wanted to take with me to the city.
I looked down at my brother, my mouth gaping like a fish. He only looked at me plainly in reply.
“Did-did you walk all the way there and back?” I asked.
He nodded. Looking down, I saw that he was barefoot, his feet darkened by dirt, as well as his hands. He seemed so calm, so natural about what he was doing and what he was telling me. That lack of emotion was what scared me the most.
I didn’t ask him anything more. Every time I did, I found myself with more questions than answers, not to mention a new level of fear in my heart. I couldn’t sleep in the same room with him and that realisation put me on the same level as the farmer. I decided to leave, going downstairs while my brother climbed back into bed.
I made my steps obvious enough for the farmer to know it was me, but quiet enough to not bother anyone else. The farmer saw me once I reached the bottom.
“I’m...I’m leaving now,” I told him, walking to the door to put on my shoes.
Once they were on, I reached for the keys and unlocked the door. As I turned the doorknob, the farmer’s large hand wrapped around my forearm. It shocked me, but he didn’t squeeze hard. I looked up to see his other hand had the shotgun.
“Let me look first,” the farmer said. “Can’t be too careful now, girl. We don’t know what we are dealing with.”
We. Did he plan to join me? If so, that plan changed quickly.
He opened the door slowly, the end of his shotgun raising to meet whatever was outside. Once the door was open all the way, the farmer looked all around, not that the moon provided as much light. It seemed he was satisfied enough because he reached for the truck keys.
“Do you have a spare battery?” I asked. “The one in the truck back home is dead, maybe-”
“We’re not going there, girl,” the farmer told me. “They are there now.”
“How do you know that?”
He gestured with his head and I looked towards the dark block in the distance. It wasn’t so dark anymore, lights blinking, darting here-and-there. I realized it was the house lights, but they were blinking in a sequence, room-by-room.
“Come now, we won’t get-”
“Where are you going?” a small voice asked behind us, interrupting the farmer.
The farmer’s sons and my brother were standing on the stairs, one in front of another, staring at us with the same plain expression. In the dark, they looked like triplets. I was scared, that deer-caught-in-the-headlights feeling taking over. The farmer snapped me out of it, grabbing my wrist and pressing the truck keys into my hand.
Before I could say something, he pushed me out of the house and shut the door behind him. I fell onto the porch, struggling up to my feet, the first gunshot going off. I was still frozen, shocked. I didn’t know what to think. It was only the second and third shots that put life into me.
I started running. The truck. It was pointing at the road. Waiting for me. A fourth shot. A fifth. Screaming. The farmer’s wife. I didn’t look back at their house, I just climbed into the truck. I put the keys into the slot, twisted. As the car revved to life, I looked towards home, the lights no longer came from home, but they were still there, moving closer.
I put the car into gear. There was a short space between the fourth shot and the next few. The farmer reloaded, the fifth shot cutting off the wife’s screaming. I feared the worst had happened. The truck was moving faster with each second. I was between the fields, nearing the road.
Something was missing. I turned on the headlights, seeing the holes in the last second. I couldn’t swerve to avoid them. The first couple shook the truck, the next nearly killed it. Just before the main road was a ditch that finished the job. The front of the truck dropped colliding with the ground.
Pain, lights fading, thoughts fading. So much pain.
“No, no,” I told myself. “Come on, get out.”
Saying my thoughts solidified them, enough for my hand to release the seat belt and open the door. I climbed out, rubbing where the seat belt rested. The lights had reached the house. I saw the room lights flicker on, then off as the next one turned on. It was as if someone was moving through each room quickly, checking them again and again as the sequence repeated.
I lurched on the road, stopping in front of the crumpled hood of the truck. I saw the battery. A plan formed in my delirious mind. I would have to walk several hours to get back home, but it was many more hours to walk anywhere else. I decided to risk it, reaching under the hood and pulling the two cables of the battery.
I had to try.
My legs and arms ached. It must have been the pain that kept me awake, the fear giving me energy. The battery was a lot heavier than I thought it would be but managed by resting it on my shoulder as I trudged onwards. I don’t know how long I took to get home, but I made it home.
The house stood there, dark and empty. Even in the rising sun, it didn’t feel right after all that happened. I thought of my parents, brother, and what could have happened on the neighbours’ farm. Sad tears joined the ones of pain. I couldn’t let my mind continue to torture me, so I approached the truck and hoped that doing something would distract me. It didn’t.
I suppressed my wailing as best as I could, wiping the blood and tears away as I replaced the battery. I left the truck keys under the old battery. I knocked the useless lump of metal over and grabbed the keys, opening the truck and climbing in. Inside the truck, I let it all out, only halting abruptly when I saw what was in front of me.
Ahead of the truck, several meters away, were the children. All three stood there, plain-faced, with broken bodies. One lacked an arm, but the other as well as my brother had a chunk of their torso missing. Blood didn’t seem to spill from their wounds, but what was inside them made it all the more horrific.
I stared at them, they stared at me. I continued to cry and then took the next step. With a turn of the key, the truck started. I put it into gear and pressured the accelerator.
“Leave me alone!” I wailed as the truck sped forward.
I closed my eyes, but my ears heard the impact. I continued, opening my eyes to see the road ahead. I turned the wheel to keep it on course and from barrelling into the wheat field. I saw three shapes in the rear-view mirror. I tore my eyes away quickly, focusing on what was ahead of me. An open road.
I stopped crying an hour later, the sunlight warming the countryside. I passed people, homes, a small town and another town after that. The engine began to argue with me hours later, but it didn’t matter. I had reached a third town, one close enough for me to walk to.
I went to the police. They went to my home and my neighbours. They returned, finding nothing but holes and a broken truck. They mentioned that my talk of lights was similar to the talk around their town. I gave them details of my family and neighbours, fear building in me again when they mention the reports of lights.
I lied about having family in town, leaving the station without an escort. I caught the next bus to the city and continued running. My dream to leave my old life behind was coming true, but I was far from happy.
I only wondered if I would ever stop running.
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