Fear stalked Kira like a ravenous wolf. It was a formless voiceless thing that coiled its tendrils around her heart. Walking carefully through the moon-shadowed forest, she held her hands up to catch the copious snowflakes falling all around her, felt the dread and wondered, while her heart raced.
With the eerie silence that accompanies snowfalls and the moonlight dancing through the boughs and flakes, the entire scene was a unique combination for the senses. Slowly, she walked while the hair on the back of her neck continually tried to stand on end. Where was she, and why was she so afraid? Her hands felt cold and clammy, and her pulse continued to accelerate. Home, she thought. She needed to get home.
Absently, she lifted her hand to catch the snowflakes and looked more closely to see the different shapes. Her eyes widened. They weren’t snowflakes. They were ashes!
Her gaze flew to the woods surrounding her, at the feathery flakes pouring thickly from the sky. Mounds of ashes everywhere!
Now the tendrils of terror coalesced into a cable as it wound its way around her heart, then ever so slowly began to squeeze. Her pace quickened, and as if in answer to her actions the ashes began to fall harder. She wanted to run, but the powdery residue clung to her feet. Pulling furiously, she tried to free her feet, but the harder she pulled, the more the now viscous amalgam clung.
A thick, foul, rotting smell accosted her senses. Her stomach clenched. Lifting her gaze to look for the source of the disgusting smell, she watched in shock as something began to bubble up out of the mounds of ash. As the first shape squeezed itself free, the grey flakes slid like feathers from its surface. It looked like the top of a glass globe. More globes broke the surface, shedding their strange coating and rotating towards her.
Slowly, moving in unison, they all turned to face her and shock turned to horror as she recognized severed heads were encased in the glass, each face frozen in the terror of its demise, eyes wide and mouths rigid in a final mortal scream. The unnatural silence of the night shattered at the sound of a ghastly scream. A scream that was coming from her.
Kira awoke with a start and instinctively reached for her chest. Her racing heart began to slow, even as she felt it. Nightmare again! She sniffed. The smell was gone. It had seemed so thick she’d half-expected it to linger. Her stomach still ached. Her pulse was still easing to a more normal pace as she noticed the sheets were soaked. She was going to have to wash them.
Turning her head in the darkness, she glanced over at the red numbers on the face of the clock: 5:00 a.m. “Man! Another nightmare!” she spoke out loud to the darkness.
The first tentatively warm days of March were here and it had been weeks since Kira had begun her mother’s painting. The horrible dreams had commenced shortly thereafter. She’d thought them unconnected at first, but as the days stretched on, she’d become more and more certain they were somehow tied to her new painting. The realization had caused her to consider stopping, but she couldn’t. The whole process was too cathartic. It was filling the void of her previous career as well as the loss of her mother and giving her life meaning, which she desperately needed. She also had a soul-deep certainty that what she was doing was important far beyond her current endeavor for her mother.
Should she get up, or try to sleep some more? Thunder rattled the walls and for a moment, she had the sensation of still being in the dream. That made the decision for her. She was awake now, and the clock explained why it was still pitch dark outside. There was plenty to do, and falling back to sleep wasn’t an option anyway. Like her dad had always said, “Time enough to sleep in the grave.” How appropriate, she thought ruefully.
With a sudden motion she threw back the covers and got up. Shit, she thought. She was going to have to take another shower and wash her nightshirt, too. What a night!
From his bed, Jason looked out of the window at his son Sean, watching him building the fence around the corral. As Sean wielded the large posts into their holes, Jason found himself feeling proud of the great physical power residing within his son, even though he knew it wasn’t a product of his own genes. His love for Sean was a bittersweet delight. That boy was about the only person or thing he’d ever truly loved, and these days it seemed better to reminisce about such things rather than the disease raging within him, slowly finishing its work on his sixty-year-old body.
He reflected on the oddity of the love he felt for Sean, the miracle really, and the strange circumstances that had led Sean to him in the first place. As Jason reminisced, shivers ran down his spine—shivers that were wholly unconnected to the cancer that was killing him. There had been so many black moments, so much evil, culminating on that stormy night when Sean had been four years old. The darkness had taken him once more and he had strangled the life out of his beloved Sarah. At the instant her beautifully delicate body had gone limp within his grasp, his senses had returned and the horror which had coursed through him as he’d released her throat seemed to awaken him from a nightmare. It had so exceeded all the other malevolence he’d done in his life that something inside him had finally snapped. On that most terrible of nights, Jason had finally found the strength to snap the chains within his mind, and at last break free of the evil blackness that had stalked him for so many years.
From that moment on, he had devoted his life to raising Sean and to being the best father he could be. It had seemed the only modicum of redemption left to him, the only opportunity to repay the world for some of the wickedness he’d unwillingly wrought on others.
Now with bare months left to live, Jason was becoming frightened of his own imminent demise, not so much of death itself but the retribution that he knew must await him for the vile deeds which had littered his miserable existence.
He leaned back on his pillows, wracked with pain, and noticed again the sick hospital smell that permeated his bedroom. At least that’s how he thought of it, but it had just a vague hint of rot that was distinct from typical sick room odors. The hated stench seemed to grow despite all of Sean’s efforts to eradicate it. Jason closed his eyes and tried to block it out.
Another bout of agony racked his tormented body and as he reached for the pain pills on the bedside table, his weakened heart finally surrendered. Eyes bulging in terror, he tried to mouth the word “No,” but it never came and as the life left him his hand fell limp just short of the table.
With his final sigh, a vague miasma rose from him. A nebulous shadow of the miserable and wretched Evil which had infused him for all those years rose from his body and dissipated into the cloying hospital room smell.
Had Jason’s olfactory sense still been functioning he would definitely have detected a lessening in the stench of his room.
Outside, Sean felt a chill ripple up his back, but the sensation was wrong. Even though the temperature was cool, his body was so heated from the morning’s labor that his clothes were almost warm to the touch. No, this chill reminded Sean of the impressions he’d get from others when he walked into a room.
Putting aside the post-hole digger, he let the sensation wash over him. It almost reminded him of being around someone who was very angry, only this was more indistinct; like anger, only diffused, spread out, but still intense. This was a new experience for Sean and it puzzled and scared him. Then he realized what it was. It wasn’t anger, it was terror, stark naked terror! Sean didn’t think he’d ever felt this feeling before and wondered fleetingly how he was able to identify it. But where was it coming from? He found himself looking around to see if anyone had approached unnoticed, but of course no one was there. Only the sounds of the birds and the wind moving through the trees in the distance impinged on his senses as the sensation grew. Maybe he should check on his father, he thought suddenly. His father.
Dropping the posthole digger, he raced to the house. He’d never even remember opening the front door as he ran in screaming, “Dad! Dad! Dad, are you ok?” Even as he yelled, Sean knew he wasn’t going to get an answer. He bolted up the stairs, probably only lighting on three steps out of thirteen, and ran to his Dad’s bedroom, still yelling as he entered.
Unearthly quiet pervaded, and Sean was as absolutely certain that his father lying there on the bed was dead as if he’d taken his pulse. The sense of life had left the room. That form on the bed was no longer his father. Without its spirit it was just meat, and Sean could feel the difference.
As he crossed the room to the bed by the window, Sean had another odd sensation. Something else was different. It seemed as though the heaviness in the room was gone. He walked to the far side of the bed. Apparently his dad had been looking out of the window. At me, Sean thought, watching me work.
Sean gently lifted his father’s hand and turned his head upward. As his father’s face turned towards him, he dropped the hand abruptly and stepped back. The look on his father’s face was the visual embodiment of the sensation he’d experienced in the corral. His eyes were bulging and his lips were pulled back in a distorted snarl. There was absolutely no doubt in Sean’s mind: this was the source of the powerful terror he’d felt. Here, before his eyes, was a vision so fearsome it caused Sean’s knees to go watery, a unique experience in his life.
If Terror itself had a face, this was it.
Sean regained his composure and carefully smoothed his father’s features with his hand. Just that act seemed to relieve him. What could have possibly frightened his father so? Sean’s curiosity was piqued, but at the same time he felt certain he didn’t really want to know. The raw emotions coursing through him slowly subsided; or rather they gently morphed into the more normal sadness and feeling of loss.
Then he realized he knew what had changed in the room. It smelled better. Some of the noxious odor which had persistently lingered in the room, despite his repeated efforts at cleaning, was now gone. That’s what made the whole room feel lighter. How could an odor make a room feel depressing?
In his current state, Sean’s brain couldn’t cope with riddles. His mind reeled and his head was beginning to ache. What should he do now? Standing there alone in the farmhouse with his dead father on the bed, clarity of thought seemed a distant memory. He was alone, really alone.
Sean finally broke his stunned inactivity by calling the funeral home. They suggested coming to pick up Jason’s body and having the judge pronounce his father officially dead. Then another trip to the funeral home would be required for Sean to make the necessary burial decisions. Without any prior instructions from his father, he listened absently as the funeral director droned on and on: about the various types of caskets, vaults, flowers, and preparations required for the body.
It was eerie, depressing, bewildering, disgusting, overwhelming and somehow felt so wrong that Sean finally decided on the simplest solution—cremation. It seemed more decent and required fewer decisions, even though Sean was somewhat appalled by the ill-masked chagrin of the funeral director at his lower-cost choice.
“Well, if that’s the direction you really want to go with your father, that will be fine. Certainly it’s the cheapest method of handling his remains.”
Several days later, the funeral was a simple reading by a local minister. Sean and the minister were the only ones in attendance and Sean left the ceremony feeling detached, disoriented and uncertain of his future.