He stared into the night as if it were the first time he had ever seen it. On a farm where your nearest neighbors are fields and forests and the creatures that inhabit them for three miles in any direction you can truly get a peek at it in its purest form. So black and encompassing, it looked to be a vast abyss yet to be discovered, not just seen, but truly explored. Even though the darkness was nothing new to him, this night seemed to be different. The porchlight flickered as he sat gazing into the nothingness, and upon each moment of pure darkness it felt like an old friend he had not yet truly met, recognizable in the back of his mind, but unable to associate a name. The night seemed to be mesmerizing him, calling him to come out and finally introduce himself. It was seductive in a way. He felt a sense of longing coming over him that he had not experienced from anything within his sixteen years of existence. A feeling of need greater than that of any object, or the lust for any girl he had ever met, or even the urge to piss after dinking too many cans of his old man’s Budweiser down on the banks of Dogwood Creek. The night air was brisk for Kansas this early in October. Biting at his ears and neck in a way that seemed more playful then annoying.
“Bubba, what you doing?” a young voice asked from behind him causing him to shake his head and smile as it always did when Rose called him Bubba. He wasn’t fond of the nickname but he loved her too much to correct her. The screen door squealed the cry of old metal in dire need of an oil fix as she opened it and he could hear the wooden planks of the porch creak lightly under her bare feet as she stepped toward the rocking chair he was sitting on.
“Hey kiddo.” He said taking in a deep breath of the cool night air as he picked up the petite three-year-old girl standing beside him and sat her on his lap. “Just waiting on Sammy to get around so we can head back to the campsite we set up earlier today. Shouldn’t you be in bed by now?”
“No, I don’t wanna go to bed.” She said putting on her saddest puppy dog eyes in attempts of swaying his mind on taking her with them. “I wanna go with you and Sammy. Pease. Please. Please!”
“Sorry squirt, mom already has you in your pretty pink night gown, and I bet you’ve already washed up, and your teeth are probably already cleaned, huh?”
“Well then we definitely can’t take you with us. See, Pa told Sammy and I we had to stay and eat dinner with the family and get our chores done, that’s the only reason we haven’t left yet. Well, that and the fact he doesn’t know which of those silly monster comics he wants to bring. Maybe when you’re a bit older and a lot less bed ready we can take you with us, sound good?”
“I sure do.” He said pinching her nose. “Now git tiny.” He scuffed up her silver blonde hair and set her back on the wooden porch. “Oh, and tell Sammy I’m still waiting on him, could ya?”
She smiled hugging her fairy doll that she had always carried as she ran back into the house on her tip toes, the screen door slamming shut behind her with a loud bang followed by the drumming of tiny feet running up the stairs and toward the children’s rooms. He could hear his mother yelling from the kitchen. “ROSE ANNE, I KNOW THOSE LITTLE FEET BELONG TO YOU! YOU BETTER GET BACK TO BED THIS MINUTE!” which made him laugh to himself knowing that his stubborn little sister was not only bed ready, but in bed when she snuck down to persuade him into letting her tag along on her brothers’ night out.
It was going to be the first time Pa ever let Charlie take his kid brother, Sammy, out on his own past dark. Sure, they had been hunting and camping with him too many times to count, but never had Pa trusted Charlie to take Sammy by himself. It was “a big step toward becoming a man” he had told Charlie and that was exactly what he wanted to do, prove to his father that he was becoming a man. Hell, maybe that was where this lust for the darkness truly came from he thought. His need to illuminate the dark hole he thought his father held within his heart for him. Or maybe it truly was something else. Something more sinister.
His father was a big man with muscles that could only come from working on a farm. Broad shoulders, a thick keg of a stomach, and a barrel chest. The true American farmer. He had a face that seemed to be crafted of leather and wore it as a badge of hard work and hard living. The only thing that was harder was his way of showing love. Charlie’s mother told him it was the War that changed his father, that the things that he saw and did were too much for any man to come back the same man he once was, and it was just something that they would have to work at until they saw eye to eye. The only problem was that Charlie had no idea how to get his father to see eye to eye with him, the Nazi’s were gone and they took his father’s soul with them. He never seemed proud, never once said he loved Charlie, not even as much as a thank you for all the hard work he’d done.
It was almost as if everything that Charlie did was expected. All his achievements were diminished by the fact that to him it seemed as if it they weren’t good enough for his old man. But this, this seemed like it might be his way to prove to his father his worth. This little bit of responsibility that was “a big step towards being a man” was his way to show his father that he was worth being proud of.
He wondered what his father would look like with a smile on his face.
Louder, heavier feet ran down the stairs. “Hey Ma any more meatloaf I can have for the road? I’m starving somethin’ awful.” Sammy said panting a little from running full speed from his room to the kitchen.
“Are you serious Samuel?” their mother asked with a hint of agitation in her voice. “For heaven’s sake, we just ate thirty minutes ago.”
“But Ma I really am hungry I swear it, I’m a growing boy you know. You’ve said it yourself. Look I’m practically withering away.” He held up his shirt exposing his large gut and laughing.
“Alright.” Their mother said walking toward the refrigerator to before yelling out to Charlie on the porch. “CHARLES, CHARLES!”
He walked inside and back into the kitchen where his mother and little brother were and sat at the table facing counter where his mother was now fixing a brown bag with meatloaf from their dinner earlier in the night. “No need to yell mom I can hear you from the porch.” He said with a smile.
“Would you like any leftovers to take with you Charlie?”
Sammie was standing out of his mother’s line of sight rapidly shaking his head up and down in hopes that Charlie would agree and give him two portions of the leftover meat loaf. Sammie was big for a twelve-year-old and loved to eat a little too much and his stomach showed it.
“No, I think I’ll be alright for the night Ma. Thank you.” He said smiling at her, then to Sammie.
Sammie stormed out of the kitchens back door with his brown bag special portion of leftovers and toward the garage.
“Charles.” His mother said in a way that was faint and almost sounded like she was asking him a question. He could tell she was worried about something but couldn’t figure out why. Her eyes seemed to look through his and into him. Not physically at him at all but spiritually deep. She grabbed him by the face and continued. “Do you promise to watch out for your brother tonight? I don’t know why but something just doesn’t feel right. I can’t explain it. I just need you to assure me you will keep him safe.”
Charlie grabbed his mother’s hand on his left cheek gently looking back into her eyes, still trying to figure out the meaning of the severity. “I promise Mom.” He said with comfort and sincerity. “I always do, right?” he smiled at her to further assure her. “Are you going to be alright here? I mean if your truly worried we can stay. Hell, I can go back and get our things tomorrow.” He closed his eyes and bit his lip, immidiatly regretting wording the offer that way to his mother.
“Charles Owen, you watch your language.” She said pointing a finger at him and breaking her gaze into his soul. She looked away rubbing her eyes and face and shaking her head as if to bring her mind back into reality almost as if she’d been absent the whole conversation. “No Charles, I know how much tonight means to you, and I know your brother is chomping at the bits to get some time just you and him. He’s been helping me a lot with Rose while you and your father work out on the field and can use a little boy time, I’m sure.”
“Alright Ma, you sure you’ll be alright? You kind of had me worried for a minute there.”
“I’m sure, you boys have fun.” She said finally smiling. “He really does love you, you know that right? “
“No, your father. He told me at breakfast this morning, ‘This might make a man out of ol’ Charlie’.” She said mocking his father’s burly voice. “That’s about the closest I’ve heard him say to ‘I’m Proud’ of anyone, you know.”
“Sure.” He said giving her a hug before walking out the back door to catch up with Sammy. She leaned against the doorframe and he could feel her eyes watching through the screen door as he walked down the porch steps before being swallowed by the darkness.
He Could hear Sammy in the outbuilding that the family called the garage that stood about one hundred yards from the farmhouse. To be honest it was more of a mausoleum for vehicles that had past their prime and succumbed to their own mechanical illnesses. If it was too broken to fix or bought with the soul intention of swapping parts, then it found its way into the garage. Cars, trucks, tractors, bikes, and even old wagons with their cracked wooden wheels and worn and torn leather seats filled the outbuilding with only a few tight paths leading back to the opening of the toolshed that the garage was built onto. In fact, the only vehicle that Charlie knew for a fact worked was the John Deere tractor that sat directly within the threshold of the building, and possibly the crop dusting plane that sat directly behind it, although no one had ever seen it fly or knew how to fly it.
Charlie could hear that Sammy was close to the toolshed now and heard a loud thump as he tried to find his way through the labyrinth of vehicles. “Shit, stupid junk. They don’t even work and I have to run into them.”
Charlie however had traveled the path to the toolshed thousands of times and easily walked with one hand out to his right feeling the smooth metal and curves of the different vehicles as he passed them toward the back. He knew them all by name, and most he even remembered helping put into the space that would become their final resting place. On long Summer days when his chores were done and he wanted away from the chaos of his two younger siblings he would come out here. He would sit in the quiet sanctuary of the cars, hidden from the world. Here is where he would come to read. Dive into stories of horror and suspense, fiction and fantasy, completely alone and fully immersed in a world outside of his own.
“Where is that little fucker?” he heard Sammy say and imagined his brother’s hand swatting through the air as he searched for the metal pull to turn on the toolsheds light.
A light clicked on and swung back and forth in the rear of the structure. Humming with electricity as the pendulum began to slow toward a stop. The bulb was covered in dirt and dust giving the room a dull, opaque orange glow.
Charlie was leaning on the hood of a car just outside the door to the toolshed with his arms crossed as Sammy’s eyes adjusted to the light that they had been craving since he had left the house minutes before. “Ahh Shit! Why is it always so bright?” Sammy yelled.
Charlie laughed startling Sammy and finally drawing his brother’s attention to the fact that he was there. “You kiss Ma with that mouth?”
“No, but I’d kiss Jessie McAlister square on the lips with it to teach you a lesson.” Sammy said with a smirk on his face.
“You leave her out of this you little shit. She’s a nice girl and you don’t even know her.”
“Neither do you.” Sammy pointed and laughed. “But I know you go goo goo eyed every time she walks by, with those long legs of hers, you practically drool you know, swear to God I’ve seen it. Isn’t she a senior anyway Charlie?’
“Yeah, yeah. You have a big mouth for a twelve-year-old you know that? If you weren’t my kid brother I’d probably knock you clean out.”
Sammy laughed a little harder knowing that he’d riled his older brother up a little bit. “Yeah, sure I know I do, but you wouldn’t knock me out. I’ve been doing karate.”
“You dumbass you don’t know karate.”
“Yes huh.” Sammy almost seemed offended by the doubt his brother was showing him. “I’ve read a ton of comic books on it already. I’m practically a master by now.” He puffed out his chest and presented his best Kung Fu pose.
Charlie slapped his knee doubling over in laughter at the idea of his short chubby brother trying to kick and chop with grace knowing that a jog downstairs to the kitchen could make him gasp for air. “Ok Master Samuel, what are we doing in here anyway?”
“Getting the flashlights” Sammy said presenting a flashlight in each hand.
As Charlie reached out to grab his, his brother quickly chopped him in the side of the neck with an open palm. “Hiyah! See, told ya I’m a master” and he ran off through the cars. The light bobbing back and forth as his arms moved trying to carry him out of the garage.
Charlie could hear him hit another car near the front of the building as he pulled the toolsheds chain and chased after his brother.
Sammy was sitting on the tabletop of the picnic table behind the house breathing heavily and trying to catch his breath when Charlie finally caught up to him and punched him hard in the shoulder. “Ouch!” Sammy yelled grabbing his sore arm. “How about we cut through the field to get to the tent quicker?’
“Why such a hurry, the campsite isn’t goin’ anywhere.”
“Just a thought.”
“Alright, but don’t pull any of the corn or Pa will tan my hide.” Charlie said as they began to walk toward the field.
The stalks rustled as they walked causing Sammy to quickly turn toward the sound and squat down in fear. “What the hell was that?” he said. “You think it was some kind of monster or somethin’?”
“Nope, Probably just a bear.” Charlie laughed at his brother’s reaction thinking it was most likely a few deer running through the corn. “You should show it some of your karate Master Sam.”
“That’s not funny Charlie.”
Whatever it was, it seemed to follow them, unseen but well within range to hear as if it wanted them to know it was there. Lingering in the darkness, taunting them.
They came upon the section of forest that prevents their field from being a perfect square. It had been there his whole life but Charlie never really stopped to think why. To him it was just an obstacle to work around in the field. But now, looking up at the tall, ancient oak trees that lay in front of him he found it odd and out of place. These trees don’t belong in the back of their land, hell they don’t belong in this town, trees like these belong in a national park in a state like California or Maine.
He knew that on the other side of this primordial forest, that he could not look away from, was the towns church, St. Benedict’s. After the cemetery, of course. A cemetery that was primarily full of empty graves.
Westminster Falls, Kansas like every other town has its fair share of natural deaths and accidents because of course no one lives forever, but few towns can match it in the amount of murders and missing children that the town has accumulated over the years. Big cities like New York, Chicago, Kansas City, or even Wichita with their high crime rates might beat Westminster Falls on a year to year bases, but when the disappearances start, that’s when the numbers rise and the cemetery fills. Most of the children are never found. There one moment and gone the next, vanished into thin air. But the ones that are found, or at least, what is found of them, isn’t usually enough to fill a coffin from what Charlie has heard. There was never an open casket for a murder victim in Westminster Falls.
The last time any kid went missing was more than a decade ago. Only the old-timers locked their doors in Westminster Falls now. Still fearful of what goes bump in the night. There were sixty missing children that Fall in Westminster Fall sand a hundred and six total throughout Kansas. Charlie wasn’t older than three or four at the time. He remembered that his parents wouldn’t let him outside, wouldn’t let him look out the window, or even sleep without his mother lying in the room next to him. He was one of the lucky ones. The survivors that didn’t become a graveless tombstone, or even worse a box of parts serving as a stark reminder of the dreadful year that had come to pass.
As Charlie stared into the wood he saw what seemed to be the silhouette of a man sitting high up on the branch of a tree. The tree seemed to be far away, however, it stood out because unlike all the other trees surrounding it, it was pale white. The man seemed to be looking at the ground, watching the red leaves of the oaks fall like a shower of blood covering the ground more and more with each passing second as the wind began to pick up and howl.
The man seemed to be tall even from a distance, six feet at the very least, but more likely closer to seven. He was slender and lean and dressed in all black. His legs were abnormally long and dangled from the branch swaying forward and backward like a young child on a chair that was meant for adults. As Charlie began to move his foot slowly to keep walking toward the campsite he stepped on a fallen twig snapping it in what seemed to be minutes even though he knew it had to be mere moments.
The man’s eyes rose.
Focused on Charlie they were yellow like fire drawing all those wandering in the dark in like flies to meet their doom. They were terrifying eyes, yet beautiful and powerful. They studied Charlie and stalked him like a lion watching its prey. The blacks of the man’s eyes were darker than anything Charlie had ever known and there were no whites. Where the white should have been was more black, further brightening the ring of fire that was his iris. As Charlie focused in on them he went momentarily blind.
And so it begins.
The words appeared in his mind as clear as if the speaker was standing directly in front of him. He could suddenly see again, and he had moved multiple steps past where the twig had been. He looked back at the forest and there was no man, no white tree, no movement, no life, just darkness and leaves.
“Did you hear that?” Charlie asked
“Stop it Charlie, I know I got a little scared of the corn moving earlier, haven’t you made fun of me enough? Ha ha, right?”
Charlie felt like he must have imagined it. Even though it seemed so real, so close, so deadly. It must have just been the darkness playing tricks on his mind. That must be it.
The fire at the campsite seemed to only remind him of the eyes of the thin man in the tree. Charlie had to look away from it to pay attention to Sammy. Its warmth radiated toward him and its light illuminating the approaching darkness.
“This is the scariest comic I’ve ever read. Hands down Charlie.”
“That’s what you always say Sammy, I thought the Vampire magazine was the scariest you’ve ever read, and the Werewolf one before that.”
“They’re not magazines Charlie, you know that.” Sammy said perturbed. “This one though, this one is the most terrifying. It’s about witches. They can get you without even being there you know. It’s true. Werewolves and vampires have to be right there to grab you. Dark magic is the really scary stuff Charlie.”
“So, what’s it about anyways?”
“So, this coven of witches lives in the mountains right. High above a town full of people that have no idea that they’re there. Watching and waiting, even praying to the devil himself.”
“What’s a coven?”
“Like a ton of witches ok. And they start setting a spell on the town below that makes the people start losing their minds. All except this one boy. The whole town is going nuts, running around attacking each other like a bunch of crazies, and this kid is in the middle of it all. When all of the sudden a man on a horse rides out and saves the kid.”
“The guy was on a horse? Like a knight?”
“Yeah, like a knight. So, the knight takes the kid up to the mountain and tells him whatever he sees, stay by his side. And the farther up the mountain they go, the stranger things get. Dead people and blood and all kinds of stuff until finally they see the witches. They are all old and warty with black eyes and wands and caldrons and stuff, chanting. The kid starts walking toward the center of the witches and strait into a pot of boiling blood or something like he isn’t even aware. Then the knight points at the witch that is standing away from the group and runs toward her sword risen and yelling ‘And so it begins,’ and fights with the witch sword to staff until finally he defeats her and the boy snaps out of it. All the other witches begin to crumble into dust. The knight rides off and the town seems safe”
“Of course, it’s safe the knight killed all the witches.”
“Only he didn’t. The last page has a lady with the same black eyes getting into a bus, and get this. It was heading to Kansas.”
“Bullshit! That is the most ridiculous story I’d ever heard.”
“It’s not, mom said all stories contain a bit of truth. Charlie it’s got to be kind of true.”
“I don’t think Ma was talking about witch stories when she said that. Plus no one has black eyes.” But as the words came out of his mouth all he could see was the blacks of the disappearing man’s eyes. If any part of the story was right it was that, evil looks like a pair of the darkest eyes pure black like the sky without any stars.
The campfire had been put out more than an hour ago and yet its embers still cracked and popped. The campsite was dark as they lie on the ground beneath their tent. Sammy had been asleep practically since his head hit the pillow, but Charlie could not clear his mind of the eyes. Those yellow eyes that seemed to contain the night.
Hello, Charlie. Do you like heights?
It was the voice of the man on the tree and he knew Charlie by name. He sat bolt upright. Sweating profusely and squinting to see into the darkness of the night. He grabbed the flashlight and shone the light out through the flap in the front of the tent only to find that nothing was there.
The light failed. He began hitting the back with solid blows praying for light to once again stream forth. When it finally did, through the wisping smoke of the extinguished campfire stood a woman directly in front of the campsite just within the pecan trees of the orchard. Her eyes were black holes glaring directly through him.
The tent collapsed around Samuel and him as they fought against it to get out. Outside of the trap they could hear chanting and singing, cackling and howling of what sounded to be several women. It flew up into the air spinning and tightening. Charlie grabbed his brother in an embrace as tightly as he could. Clinging on for dear life. Until his brother was ripped away from him and into the night with great force and he could no longer keep him.
He is mine now Charlie. You could be too, you know. So fearless, so strong. I’ll give you the choice. Come play with us, won’t you? Take your own life and I’ll let you join. That wouldn’t make your father proud at all would it? Ah yes, perfect. It would show him. Think it through, we’ll be waiting. We all will be.
The tent fell to the ground as Charlie continued to fight his way out. The chanting had stopped. The night was quiet. He lifted the tent off of him and all that remained other than the tent was his brothers bloody shoe sitting next to a comic upon the fallen leaves of the orchard floor.
A hand clung to his shoulder as cold as death and as tight as a vice. It was his brother’s voice, but seemed to carry with it the voices of countless others, “Charlie, we want you to come play with us. Won’tcha come Charlie please? Here I’ll help you out.”
He turned around to see his brother with marks that looked as if he had been mauled across the chest by a grizzly bear, blood dripping from his jacket and shirt. He was holding a military knife that Charlie knew well, it was his fathers.
“Do it Charlie.” the dead brother said.
As Charlie considered he looked into the dead boy’s eyes and he noticed that the blue green eyes that existed before were now covered in only black, this was not his brother.
He grabbed the knife and threw it as far into the wood as he could.
Charlie awoke in his own bed in the clothes he remembered wearing the night before clutching a comic book about witches that he recognized from the campsite, but had it happened?
How did he end up here?
It was obviously some bad dream. A nightmare that seemed so real. So strange that it would not make sense to be a reality. Real life doesn’t contain witches and monsters and things that go bump in the night.
As he walked past his brother’s room he saw his father’s knife sticking to the wood of his brother’s desk. He approached to see a note
Please come join us.
He walked down to see his mother and father sitting in the living room holding hands, immidiatly he knew something was wrong, his father never held his mother’s hand. She was crying looking up to see Charlie at the stairs.
“Charlie, I’m going to need you to come here and sit-down bud.” Officer Lucas, the young new police officer that graduated Westminster Falls High just before Charlie had entered, told him.
He slowly moved to the couch by his mother looking from her to the police officer. It seemed so surreal. This couldn’t be happening. It was impossible.
“We’ve found one of Samuel’s shoes, and we believe the worst may have happened.”
“No, he’s probably just at the store getting a comic or something, he’ll be back.”
“I’m afraid not, the evidence we’ve found says otherwise, however, I don’t feel comfortable sharing the details.”
But everyone in town knew the details within a few short days. The police had found a bloody shoe in the woods, and eventually a mauled young body they believed could only be Sammy’s, whatever had gotten ahold of it didn’t leave much for recognition, but no comic book, or knife were ever found by anyone other than Charlie. He did not know how, but deep-down Charlie knew that night was real. Even though his mother refused to admit it to herself or Charlie he knew that he had been in that tent, with the women chanting and that evil presence, and the voice. That voice that knew him. It was all real and it wanted him too.
They held Samuels funeral one week after the discovery of the body in the woods. It was a sad funeral as Charlie was sure all children’s funerals are. He would soon discover however that he would become an expert on attending children’s funerals. Seventy children in all had went missing from Westminster Falls in 1957, Sammy was the first.