After Brian leaves, Neil feels a strange vibe in the air. As he closes up the house for the night, he sprinkles holy water. Still not satisfied, he gets out the blessed salt and cumin, lining the doors and windows with it. Cynthia feels a little odd, too, so she’s just as glad to see him doing it.
Snuggling up against Neil, Cynthia fell asleep. He lay in bed, listening to the night, exploring the noises. They may not be entirely familiar anymore, but he remembered the sound of the woods, the trickle of the stream behind the house, the wind in the trees, the scattering of leaves and pine straw. The clack of heels on the wooden deck….
That wasn’t an ordinary outdoors sound. That was a typically human sound. The clack was followed by something dragging and clumping. Suddenly alert, Neil eased away from Cynthia, reaching into the drawer by the bed, for his handgun. He’d learned early to bless his bullets and packed his own shells, with a special blend in the powder. Each of his weapons was cleaned with gun oil he’d had blessed by a priest. Some folks thought it was superstitious, but he’d seen weird things in the desert. Since it worked for him and kept his buddies alive, he continued the practice in civilian life. He wasn’t taking chances with their safety.
The footsteps clumped around outside, stopping from time to time. He could tell that whatever it was, was looking for a weakness in the defenses. Neil hoped that the salt and holy water would do the trick. He’d reset the wards around the property when he moved in with Cynthia. They should have repelled whatever this was, meaning this wasn’t the usual something. Meaning, it was either very different, or very powerful. Or both. Neil heard rattling across the deck, like furniture being dragged. He tried to see out the window, but the angle was wrong. The noises finally died away, drifting into the night and Neil went back to bed. He’d just lain down when he heard an unearthly screech that echoed several seconds before it was repeated. Sitting up in bed, he yelped, waking Cynthia.
“What’s wrong, baby?”
The sound repeated.
She listened as it sounded once more.
“Oh, honey, that’s just a fox. You must have heard them a million times before. They’re all over the place.”
“A fox? That’s not a fox, that’s—that’s hell screaming.”
Cynthia patted him on the knee, curling against his side, pulling him down next to her. “Why do you think the Irish thought they were banshees? It’s all right, sugar. Go to sleep.”
It took a very long time for Neil to relax and sleep. The fox continued for nearly an hour. Every time he thought it had wandered off, it screeched and barked again. The clomping didn’t return, but the animal noises seemed louder than usual. Not only the fox, but the old hoot owl that had its home not far from the tree house, was in rare form. Neil hardly slept, finally dozing off around dawn, when the animals took to their homes once more.
Cynthia let Neil sleep in. She knew he’d kept an uneasy night. Hers had been slightly better, but she was familiar with the nightly noises. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the activity increased. She wasn’t troubled by it. She got up and went downstairs to fix coffee and a bagel. What she saw on the deck outside the kitchen made her gasp. Stifling a scream, she approached with caution. Some time during the night, someone had taken all the heavy deck furniture and piled it up in a bizarre configuration that reminded her of something archaic and troubling. She couldn’t put her finger on it, couldn’t give it a name, but it bothered her. Her first impulse was to go out and move things back, but she knew that Neil and the members of their Circle needed to see it.
“And Brian,” she whispered.
This was a message, but who it was from and who it was for, she didn’t know. She took pictures of it before closing the drapes across the unsettling sight. Hands shaking, she prepared her breakfast and sat in the dining room to eat. She generally ate in the sunny kitchen, but its cheerfulness seemed dimmed by the unwieldy grotesque on her deck.
“Cindy Lou?” Neil called from the kitchen.
“In here,” she called back.
“What’s going on, baby? Why are you in here?”
Neil saw Cynthia’s pale, drawn face and stopped in his tracks.
“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” He dropped at her side, examining her carefully.
Leading him to the kitchen, she pointed to the drapes. Neil opened them and Cynthia turned her back on the display. Neil’s sharp intake of breath told her he knew it was significant, too. He exhaled slowly, his breath shivering somewhat.
“Well, that explains what I heard during the night.”
“What is it?”
“I can’t remember what it’s called, but it looks rather like a gibbet, for executions, to me.”
“What do you suppose it means?”
“I think it means shit’s gonna hit sooner than later.”
© 2018 Dellani Oakes