Sep 4, 2010

A Dark Passage

Something wasn’t right. The power was out. Not unusual, Reed told himself. Out here in the country, outages were common and there had been heavy thunderstorms off to the east earlier that morning. But the phone was dead too, a long static hiss on the line.

Coop hadn’t said much until dinnertime came around.
When’s Pa coming home?
He’d been tearing around the farm all day, his eight year old legs in constant motion, head to the ground, lost in his own world.
I don’t know Reed said, working together a couple of sandwiches. Must be in town… at the Run Aground probably. Truck’s gone. He didn’t tell me nothin’ and he didn’t leave a note. Here… eat.

Coop was asleep by ten, worn out from his active day. Reed stepped out onto the porch and looked across the shifting fields. Silence. He sat on the porch swing, an oil lantern beside him. The air was cooler and still. Not a sound. Not even the usual song of crickets. But there were thunderstorms still to the east, silent with quick flashes of yellow-green light. An orange moon cast a blue glow over the fields. He sat and waited.

He woke in the morning on the porch-swing, shivering in the cold morning air. It was still dark. He went inside, checked on Coop sprawled in a mess of blankets, then went to his father’s room. The bed was undisturbed, the same as yesterday. He picked up the phone and tapped the cradle. Still nothing. He flicked the light switches and tried the radio and TV. Nothing. He went back to his room and grabbed a sweater. In the kitchen he left a note on the table for both Coop and his father: Power’s out. Gone to old man Shelby’s place. Back soon. Reed.
Outside, he scooped up his bike and sped off down the road toward the Shelby farm two miles away, the morning light flickering behind him, his breath puffing small white clouds.

The Shelby place looked empty. Reed went up on the porch and knocked on the door. Then he banged on it. He walked around the house and shouted. Anyone here? Mr. Shelby? Silence. A sour ache formed in his stomach. The fields carried a colder wind. He stood still on the porch for a while and listened, not a sound.

And then he heard it, a distant thumping. It was coming from the east, from town, towards the farm. He crossed the road and climbed on a tall fence. Shading his eyes, he could see the large mass of forest, just the other side of where their farm sat. The thunderstorms still flashed. He froze then and blinked. Trees were dropping. All along the horizon, the trees were dropping. He’d once seen on TV, a hotel being demolished, imploded from the inside, crumbling and dropping straight down out of the sky. He saw that now but couldn’t understand.
Reed ran to the house. He grabbed up his bike and turned and there stood Mr. Shelby, crooked on the road looking at the spectacle on the horizon. At first Reed thought he had imagined him but then Shelby shifted and in an odd voice said; we gotta’ go.
What’s going on, Mr. Shelby? I gotta’ get Coop. He’s home.
Cooper’s gone.
What? Reed said, his face blank.
Gonna’ be here soon. No time. Come on.
Shelby headed across the road and into the ditch toward a sectioned field. He turned to Reed who stood frozen, watching the falling horizon.
You see that? Shelby shouted. It’ll be here in a minute. If you wanna’ live, you best come with me. Nothin’ we can do ‘bout the others. Sorry.

Reed watched the hazed green horizon approach. The thumping had grown louder, a buzz-sawing hum, the forest now gone and the farm… Coop… then Shelby was at his arm, tugging him hard and they ran. A hundred feet into the field, Shelby stopped. Next to a block stone pillar, a dark maw lay open in the ground, a heavy wooden door propped open above it. A dark passage led down into the earth. Go, Shelby croaked, now panicked, pushing Reed down the dirt stairs. The sound was on top of him then and Shelby gave a quick glance over his shoulder, his eyes unbelieving as he slammed the heavy door down, bolting it. The passage swallowed them into darkness.