A Mistake to Run

Happy Halloween, folks!
This is a snippet that came to me a while back as I considered part-one of my WIP. Whether or not it will appear in the finished work, who knows! I changed the names because, well, I’m not sure, yet, whether or not I want this blog linked to the work itself. I am rather of a mind to finish my work, try and get it published, then be hands-off. But that is just how I feel now. Who knows how I will feel when, and if, the time comes?
Anyway, here it is!

Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

The crickets were singing. Aubry lay awake, enjoying their rise and fall as if he would not hear it again for months. So late in the season, there was no telling when the first frost would cut them short.

One trilled in the corner of the cabin. A “thump” below told Aubry that ma or pa had thrown something at it. The inside-cricket was silent for a short time, then he started up again.

Aubry sighed. It was cozy under the thick quilt with his newly-adopted brother, Egan, curled up like a squirrel at his back. The small loft window stood open, letting a trickle of cool air move over his face.

Since the death of his last sister, years  back, he had forgotten what it was like to have a bedfellow. The extra warmth, the sound of soft breathing, and the occasional elbow or cold foot jabbed into his side were, at least for now, welcome things.

Sleep came smoothly, and dreaming too, like changes in the sky where gray becomes salmon and gold, then purple, then a luminous dark blue, and blue-black, swift yet gradual.

A chill crept into Aubry’s back, near his shoulder. He shifted, and felt something round and hard against him, cold, like a stoneware jug from the springhouse. He rolled away and turned to look.

What lay on the pallet beside him, where Egan should have been, was a gray, greasy-looking skeleton, still bound with shriveled strands of flesh. With a nearly silent, strangled cry, Aubry shuffled backwards until he was against the wall, next to the ladder. As he started to climb down, the corpse moved, rubbing at the remains of its face as if to wipe away sleep. It made a dull sound of bone on bone.

Aubry froze as it sat up, empty sockets turned to him. Moonlight from the window outlined the angles of its wagging jaw. He slid down the ladder and pulled it away from the loft before the thing could try and follow. His parents’ bed was empty.

At the door, he glanced back to the loft and saw the skeleton kneeling at the edge.

How lonesome.

The thought stung him unexpectedly, like the time he found Lily crying and realized that his teasing, along with the others, was the cause. But little Lily was pretty, when you really looked at her, and alive. The skeleton was cold and filthy, something that should be buried deep, or burned.

There had been a price to pay, learning to see Lily. He had gained a friend and a heartache, and found himself distanced from several of his oldest companions.

The skeleton clacked its jaws.

What’s the cost of this? To let it kill me?

     It had no tongue, or throat, or eyes for expression. Just a blank grin. Only the tilt of its skull and it’s shriveled hands gripping the edge of the loft gave it character. Was it saying “I want to get down and kill you” or “Are you going to leave me here alone?”

“What d’you want!” Aubry squeaked.

The corpse dropped down onto its creaking ribcage and reached out the remains of its hands.

Aubry stared at it, then fumbled for the door behind him and, opening it, ran out into the night.

The fort was as silent as a picture, full of gray and nothing. No wind, no crickets.

“Bear!” He called his dog, but nothing shuffled under the porch. Behind the closed door came a creaking, scraping sound.

With a groan, Aubry leaped off the porch and ran down the common.  Even his footfalls were swallowed into silence as he ran, but the scraping at his cabin door echoed out behind him.  He was scarce strong enough to open the main gate, even with the winch, so he made for the eastern one.

When he reached it, he paused to listen. There was nothing, no creak or clatter, just thick, congealed quiet.

In the dark, he fumbled for the latch and found it locked. He wrestled with it, fighting like a raccoon in a cage. The lock gave way and he burst through the gate into gray, silent fields.

He ran, and ran, past the pine grove, past Dorwich farm, down to the ford at High-bend creek.  There, at last, was sound, but it murmured defeat. The creek was up, too high to cross.

For the first and last time, he turned to look back.

There was nothing in sight.

Trees swayed, but did not rustle, grass moved in soft waves, but he could not hear the wind.

He realized, as he watched the empty fields, that running had been a mistake. The thing could now be anywhere, doing anything. He might live his whole life looking over his shoulder, wondering.

“Where’re you?! Come on out!”

Nothing. He backed away from the nearest tree, sat as close to the creek-bank as he dared, and tried to watch in all directions.

Then something grabbed and shook him. He lashed out, and someone caught his arm and smacked him across the face.

He startled awake. The waning moon was up and the shutters of the loft window were still open. He could see Egan kneeling beside him, holding his arm.

Aubry sat up, shivering, and rubbed his hands over his face. He looked over to see Egan’s crooked little smile.

“I get nightmares, too. Mostly that I’m still dyin in the shack and yall’re jus a dream.” He leaned towards the window and closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath. “If that happens t’ be so, I’d rather die dreamin.”

“I…” the fright was too near for Aubry to put it into words. He managed only “I dreamed you’as dead.”  That’s right, ain’t it? It was Egan. It was Egan, and I ran from ‘im ‘stead of tryin to help. Some brother that makes me.

Egan blinked at him.

“Boys?” Pa rumbled from down below. “Hush and get sleepin.”

“Yessir,” said Aubry. He patted Egan’s bony shoulder and lay down. Egan curled up and rested his shaved head against Aubry’s back. It was round and solid, but warm.

As Aubry drifted off to sleep, a chill moved over him, and brought him full awake. It was just a passing feeling, perhaps a  final shred of that horrible dream.

If you want more, or something different, here is my favorite spooky poem: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/the-listeners/
and a spooky poem that I actually wrote: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/gothic-galatea/

And, for fun, this is “Lily,” once she’s all grown up and sich: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/voice-week-day-3/
One of the characters involved in this story eventually picks up a nightstick: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/mystifying/
And this story is neither mine, nor is it related to any of the above, but I think it is awesome and everyone ought to read it: http://bekindrewrite.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/flash-fiction-the-mysterious-case-of-the-marshmallow-mushroom-forest/

About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

10 responses to “A Mistake to Run

  • Colleen

    We need to crank up the readings again. I am so sorry I have not gotten to your writing yet. I need deadlines to make me work.

  • Stephanie Orges

    What a blend of warm and cold, cozy and chilling! “Congealed quiet” is a fantastic description, among many. I definitely felt for these characters, and the added layer of guilt Aubry had for not helping skeleton-Egan lends it even more depth.

    • jubilare

      ^_^ That dichotomy is one of the primary things I was hoping to get across. Hurrah!
      “Aubry” has some pretty bad guilt-issues, I think. I dreamed, once, that my brother got turned into a zombie and was chasing me, and as painful as the dream was, I didn’t feel guilty for running from him. Then again, dreams are a way we process the world, which accounts for much of their weirdness. Who knows what may be worked through in a dream, or what we might get out of them?

      • Stephanie Orges

        Hmm. Well, a zombie is presumably incurable and attempting to eat your brain, so you should feel no guilt in running from one. But an unspecified skeleton creature has ambiguous intentions and may not be past redemption, therefore running may logically incur some guilt.

        • jubilare

          That is certainly how Aubry sees it, but I think he’s being too hard on himself. After all, there are actually, occasionally, undead things around where he lives, and he’s been taught that the right thing to do, as a kid, is to run away.

          Then again, maybe he’s partially aware that dreams can mean more than themselves, and he feels bad about having such a dream in the first place?

  • stephencwinter

    I think what I liked best, and this tells me about me as all reflections do, was the way in which the dream opened up the relationship between Aubry and Egan. I found myself wanting to read more about the way their friendship develops as hidden things begin to come to light. It reminded me a bit of Tom Sawyer (hope you don’t mind that comparison!) in which the nightmarish is genuinely frightening but accepted by the boys as part of the natural order of things. In many ways as we grow older the world becomes more fearful with our growing sense of the “normal” and boundaries drawn so tight around us that outside them even things that we once enjoyed become threats.

    • jubilare

      Mind? I take that comparison as high (and highly undeserved, but much appreciated) praise! Twain’s voice, tone, and way of seeing the world are great inspirations. I’m not aiming for his level of social commentary, though I love it in his work, but the humanity of his characters is something I strive for.
      “Aubry and Egan” have a long road ahead of them, and a complicated relationship, as many brothers have. I hope I can write it as well as it ought to be written.
      I had a lot of fear as a kid, but it was a more pure kind of fear than what I deal with as an adult, if that makes sense.

      • stephencwinter

        I think it is that kind of purity of childhood fear that I see in Tom Sawyer, especially in his encounter with Injun Joe, that I also sensed in the way Aubry and Egan speak of their experience to each other. It struck me as being utterly authentic and also something from which I have become more distant in growing older. The story thus becomes food for my soul.

        • jubilare

          I am glad. :)

          In a way, the two of them are a little like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, just in the contrast between a kid who has been loved and cared for, and one who’s had a harsh start. I think there are two very different kinds of purity (if that is even the right word for it) at work. One is closer to innocence, while the other is the product of bare survival.

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