And the Darkness Drank Them In
by Richard A. Hebert
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Then suddenly he looked at me dead straight into my eyes as if I might be the only one that could understand or believe him. He said, “Somethin’ sprung up from outta that black hole. It was hard to look at and so goddamn fast it just sprung up in the wink of an eye.
“It had a trunk, black as hell, and it hurt my eyes to look at, like lookin’ at the sun, but it weren’t no light at all, and like it was suckin’ all the light outta my eyes...”
He must have realized how preposterous this sounded and paused a moment but continued regardless. “It had the girth of a big oak tree and just as tall, and it had these... arms... kinda like a squid’s tentacles... dozens of ’em! And it was all blacker than night itself and howlin’ something fierce and sounded like nuthin’ I ain’t never heard. And them arms was all whippin’ around so fast you couldn’t ’ardly see ’em!”
He paused with his forehead furrowed and straining as if to gather his words. “Then some o’ the arms all pointed at Tom and Ed.”
He gulped loudly and a horrified grimace overtook his face. “And... and...”
This man was visibly on the verge of going mental. What he was about to describe was the most impossible thing imaginable yet there was no shadow of a doubt he believed every word of what he told us even as he struggled for the very words to describe it.
“And... Tom and Ed just kinda stretched, they stretched long and thin and they faded black and they shrieked like I never heard no man sound before. And the sound kinda echoed and faded away to nothin’... And the Darkness drank them in... It just drank them in...”
We sat there stunned, each lost in our own thoughts while Angus sobbed for a bit and eventually succumbed to his coma again.
He believed every word of his tale, there was no doubt, but it defied all reason and only a mind wracked with madness could possibly concoct such a grisly tale.
Somehow poor Angus had found his legs and escaped the horror and made his way back through the woods although later he said he had no recollection of it.
We sat in silence until I decided that it was late and time to head home so I might brood over this in private. We also decided that we would keep Angus’ story to ourselves. It was far too incredible to retell and impossible to believe much less try to convince anyone else of its plausibility.
I couldn’t sleep that night, not a wink.
It kept going through my mind, that even though I had seen the place briefly myself and indeed had felt some trepidation that day, I lacked the will to believe such a thing could exist out there just a morning’s walk from town, and it took its toll on my concept of reality. Even to this day I lack the mind to grasp it.
The next morning at dawn we gathered at the town center to form a search party. I told Angus’s tale to the assembled townsfolk, or at least as much of it as I thought they could swallow. Thankfully I was not chosen to go along, but I and a few others went and waited near the edge of the wood.
In a couple hours the searchers returned with Angus’s shotgun, which he had dropped in his panic. One of the searchers told about the boot on the ground near the stones that belonged to Tom and their shotguns leaned against the stones, but no man would go close enough to the stones to fetch them back. Despite a fairly thorough search of the area there was no other sign of the missing lads.
The next few days there was an obvious pall over the village. People asked politely of Angus, but barely spoke of the standing stones as if they did not want to really know what happened.
The stones were not even mentioned by the old folks who seemed vindicated and absolved of the stain of our arrogant and foolish manner towards them. The only words that came from them were their sharp “We told ya so’s.”
Over the next few days I spoke now and then to poor Lisa, who took Angus’ condition hard.
Angus had not left the cottage since he arrived. He was startled at every tiny movement and he stared into the dark corners for hours as if watching for something only he could see in the deep shadows. He would ask her, “Do you see it? Is there something there? I can just barely see something there...”, and his voice would trail off.
Never seeing anything more than dust bunnies and the dark-loving insects in the corners, poor Lisa was distraught and frightened to the edge of her wits from it all. Seeing her beloved falling into this madness took its toll and her face had taken on a drawn, hollow look from the strain.
He mentioned to her in his quieter moments that nothing escapes the dark. He would often break into quiet sobbing while she held him close. He took to staying awake at night, huddled near the fireplace with the oil lamp turned up to full bright and to sleeping in the daytime in the light of the sun that fell through the windows.
Eventually things returned to normal, except for Angus. He would get out and about again but in his madness would only wander around town mumbling. He cast about as if looking for something, always looking deeply into the dark corners of places. Some buildings he would not go into at all, though there was no particular reason given. It was as if he could sense just beyond the shadows something that none of us could.
From the day he fled the woods until the day he left this world there was always a haunted look in his eyes.
His work went undone and his farm unkempt and for the following few weeks. Jennie Morgan and I visited Lisa to help with chores and such until Angus might find his self again.
When we saw him about town or at his farm we humored him and tried to engage him in idle conversations. But he was either silent or, more often, he would lash out in anger, calling us idiots for not seeing the things in the dark corners. It looked to us like Angus would never find peace.
For a long while, the families of Tom and Ed blamed Angus for the disappearance of their boys, accusing him of murder most foul. They were not bad people, but they had no closure. Their sons’ disappearances had more questions than answers and they needed something to blame it on.
That is, until one night I visited their homes and told them the full story. Tom’s father, in his mournful anger, called Angus a liar and me an accomplice. In anger I faced him down and demanded he go to the old stones and retrieve Tom’s boot himself if he didn’t believe there was something untoward at the old stones.
Mr. McGowan sent me out of his house in anger and we never spoke again, but the accusations ended, and to my knowledge the boot was never retrieved.
Then several months after his ordeal on the night of a new moon Angus disappeared. Lisa was beside herself when she came to the village and shaken badly because Angus had railed the night before wailing piteously and saying repeatedly, “It’s coming for me!!” and “I won’t, I can’t let it take me!!” But nothing more.
It was enough to cause Lisa to break down in anguish. She fainted on the couch from the exhaustion of it all. When she came to, Angus was gone, along with the oil lamp.
The entire village searched the area, combing the fields and groves and the nearby woods though none of us would dare go into the dark woods where the ancient stones held reign. We were beginning to conceive of the idea that we would have to venture there if Angus did not turn up soon.
But we were not going to have to walk that gloomy trail after all, for on the second day of searching Angus was found at Angler’s Gorge, dashed upon the rocks below. The oil lamp had been carefully set beside the bridge and had by that time burned itself out.
It seemed obvious to us all that he had hurled himself onto the merciful rocks below to rid himself of his demons.
How many countless eons had the stones stood there in the darkened woods where nobody goes? How many countless lives had it touched in this way or ways even more ghastly?
These things I pondered daily as life in the village returned to normal. In the following years we often recounted with dark recollections the passing of Angus McNeal and his friends and the legends of the dark stones in the wood.
In time, the wise old folks of my youth passed on, and as I grew old I spoke with morbidity and in hushed tones with wide-eyed reverence of the place and always in subdued whisper such that one might think the very mention of that old sore of the woods would conjure up some horrendous, hell-spawned minion right there on the spot.
I became a mirror of my own past while the boisterous lads of the day laughed callously at my old-man’s fear while I cast knowing, contemptuous looks at them in their youthful arrogance and ignorance.
As for me, I never returned to the old stones in the woods.
Copyright © 2013 by
Richard A. Hebert
a.k.a. Anthony R. Hebert