I know I promised I would tell you all the cool stuff I learned in the bayous of Louisiana, but then again you were supposed to tell me all the interesting facts you’d learned while researching your books. Which you didn’t. And I have to say, that really bothered Rob. He even threatened to boycott the entire blog-o-sphere (or is it blog-o-verse?) for the next forty-eight hours. But knowing how many of you depend on him for your Tuesday morning blog fix, I talked him out of it by promising him raw fish.
The fact that I came back to Utah after two weeks on the road only to have to turn right around and head to Chicago this morning has nothing to do with the fact that I have neither the time nor energy to write about my tour of the swamps. I promise next week I will tell you all about the fifteen foot alligator with the unlikely nick name of El Guapo or the zipper spider.
So instead I’ll share chapter one of my Mormon horror novel, Dark Memories. There is also a prologue but this is a better stand alone chapter.
Any guesses on what the readers will have to say about this?
Twin Forks, UT – 2008
Mandy Osgood woke with a gasp to absolute darkness. She felt like she was suffocating. She reached out for the switch on her nightstand lamp, twisting it viciously enough to raise blood blisters on the tips of her fingers. The master bedroom at the end of the double-wide trailer remained pitch black.
Fighting off panic, she slapped at the chipped surface of the little wooden table, knocking over a glass of water and sending a plastic bottle of Tylenol P.M. tumbling, before her hands closed around the alarm clock. Its display—the brightest she’d been able to find—was dark.
With one sweat-damp palm, she traced the cord back to where it plugged into the wall. It hadn’t come loose from the outlet like it sometimes did, but it was just as dead as the light she always left on when she went to bed.
The power was out. It had happened before—power lines were always breaking under the fierce mountain winds that gusted from the mouth of the canyon—and despite her dread, she’d managed to survive. Only tonight—tonight felt different.
For one thing, there was the silence. If a storm had knocked down the power lines, why couldn’t she hear wind whistling through the gaps in the trailer’s metal siding? That always happened when the gusts came.
Sitting up in bed, clutching the cotton sheet to her chin like a talisman against the night, she couldn’t hear a thing. Not even the mind-numbing reek, reek, reek, of the crickets which, along with the mice, seemed to be the only other things capable of surviving out on this crappy little half-acre of land she and Eddie had purchased the year before. It felt as if she were no longer in the trailer at all, but in a dark, dank cave.
That’s when she remembered the dream. All the air escaped from her lungs in what should have been a scream, but only managed to reach a reedy little whimper. The dream.
She’d been having the dream for the first time since . . . at least since her miscarriage, and that had been back in ’91. She’d hoped it was gone forever, but now she could remember it all too clearly.
In her nightmare, she is seven-years-old and cold, and it’s so-o-o-o dark. Her fear has finally abated, but only because an eternity of endless terror has drained her of the strength to feel anything. She isn’t alone, but she might as well be. Her cries for help, and those of the other children, have given way to soft sobs, until even that becomes too taxing, and the silence is broken only by an occasional hoarse moan or a whispered, “Mommy?”
Lying on the hard dirt, her thumb planted firmly against the roof of her mouth, she listens to the sniffled breathing of someone off to her left and tries not to imagine the walls closing in on her. She tries to think about something nice instead, like her family.
So far, this is not dream at all, but memory—merely a replaying of a terrible experience she has never quite been able to erase from her mind. There were five of them. Had been six until . . . but no. She won’t think about that. She can’t!
She’d been curled up into a hard little ball, trying to remember what her mommy’s face looked like, when the men with the lights finally arrived. The men lifted her into their arms, though she was barely conscious enough to realize it, and carried her to safety.
Only in the dream, the men with the lights never arrive. She is lying on the ground—a sharp piece of rock is cutting into the small of her back, but she is too tired to move—when she hears the voice—his voice—calling her name.
“Ama-a-a-a-n-n-n-n-d-d-d-a.” The plaintive, sing-song, cry echoes off the mine’s walls.
She wants to get to her feet and bolt into the darkness like a terrified rabbit. Even though there are things in the darkness—things much worse than the tracks and abandoned pieces of equipment that trip the children up and gash at their feet and legs—things that brush silently past them, touching their faces before disappering again. She would rather risk those other things than face him.
Because she knows that he isn’t coming to rescue her. He is coming to drag her deeper into the darkness.
She hears his voice again, and the air grows even colder against her skin. She can no longer hear the others. They are hiding too, covering their mouths with dirt-crusted hands like she is, because they all know what he wants. He hates them. He blames them for . . . for . . . what happened.
From only a few feet away comes a sound, the snick of a child’s shoe kicking up a pebble, and she knows that in a moment she will feel his icy fingers clutching at her throat. And when she does, the walls will close in. They will wrap their dank, crumbling arms around her, crushing the last breath of air from her body, and she will spend eternity here in the dark. Sharing his fate, sharing his—
Mandy jerked. She must have drifted off again. She’d been doing that a lot lately—seeing things and hearing things that couldn’t be. “Heebie-jeebies,” Eddie called them, drug flashbacks from her halcyon days. She didn’t tell him that she’d never really been much of a drug user, not even in her wild teenage years.
It was easier to blame it on the lasting effects of the couple of joints she’d experimented with than to face the very real possibility that she was losing her mind. People who started hallucinating and hearing imaginary voices usually ended up stalking celebrities—or believing that their imaginary visitors were real. Either course led to a tightly strapped white coat in a padded room.
The thing to do was steel herself, get out of bed and walk across the room to the bureau. There was a flashlight in the top drawer—actually three flashlights. She would turn on all three and keep them on until Eddie got home from his shift.
If she moved quickly, she wouldn’t have time to think about dead children waiting for her in the dark. The walls wouldn’t begin closing in on her like they always did when the lights were turned out.
She started to rise from bed, the soles of her feet just beginning to brush against the nub of the bedroom carpet, when she heard the noise in the hallway.
Swish, swish, like the whisper of a silk blouse being pulled from its hanger. Almost too soft to hear—but not quite.
“Eddie? Eddie, is that you?”
Nothing but the sound of her own pounding heart for almost a minute. Nearly enough time to convince herself that she hadn’t heard anything at all.
And then, there it was again.
Swish, swish. The sound of the field mice that were forever finding new ways to get up into the trailer?
Or the wispy sound of a child’s footsteps?
“Who’s there?” She pulled back into bed, knees tucking up against her chest, the sheet pulled almost to her eyes.
“I have a gun.” She tried to sound intimidating. But even to herself, her voice sounded as empty of any real threat, as it must to an intruder. She waited, wanting to jump from the bed and race across the room, but unable to even move.
Another almost interminable silence, then the stealthy creak that she recognized as the sound of the bedroom door swinging open.
“Oh God, please help me.” She couldn’t remember praying since she was a little girl and the only words that came to mind now were the lyrics to a Sunday School song.
“Reverently, quietly, lovingly we think of Thee.” The sound of her voice was so much like her seven-year-old self that she immediately stopped.
From the corner of the room came something that might have been just the water heater gurgling, but sounded too much like a soft chuckle.
“Don’t . . . don’t hurt me,” Mandy whimpered. She could feel the walls beginning to close in, could hear moisture dripping from the ceiling somewhere in the distance.
Another sound, this time clearly the titter of a child’s voice, and her terror bloomed full and overpowering. She couldn’t stand it any longer—couldn’t bear to spend another second in darkness. Hallucination or not, she had to get away.
The dresser with the flashlights was less than ten steps from the bed. Fueled by mind-numbing fear, she managed to roll off the mattress, her knees wobbly and barely able to hold her up. She took three tentative steps, and paused. The room suddenly felt far too big. Was she even moving in the right direction? In the pitch black it was impossible to tell.
She shuffled forward another two steps and froze; suddenly sure that someone was standing only inches away in the darkness. Waiting silently for her to step into his grasp. Pressing her hands to her mouth, she stood trembling in the middle of the room. The words repeating mantra-like over and over in her head. “Reverently, quietly, reverently, quietly, reverently—”
The voice that whispered to her from the blackness was as quiet as a falling leaf, gentle as a lover’s touch. At its sound, all rational thought left her mind. Hands outstretched, she fled—no longer caring what direction she was moving in, knowing only that she had to escape. Her thigh collided with something hard and a hot burst of pain exploded down her right leg.
Her hand dropped to a smooth surface littered with bottles, and pieces of cosmetic jewelry—the dresser. She found the top drawer and yanked it open, peeling back a nail, but not even feeling it. Fumbling around inside, her hands finally closed on the barrel of a flashlight. Nerveless fingers pressed at the button, missed, and pressed again. A ray of light cut wildly through the darkness as she spun around.
The tight beam revealed nothing—only an empty bedroom in a cheap mobile home. It had been just another hallucination. Collapsing against the dresser, she allowed the light to waver slightly down and to the left.
From the darkness the face of a child appeared, skin slick and pallid, black hair damp and matted.
The flashlight dropped from her sweaty hand, its light snapping out as it hit the floor—and the walls closed in on Mandy for good.