Authors: Jillian Peery
Father, please grant me the strength to spread your light. Please give me the courage to spread truth to the darkest of lands so that every shadow may be engulfed in your light. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
I read the prayer several times, noticing the beautiful cursive writing—the undeniable honesty behind the words. This prayer seemed very familiar to me, as if I had read it before. I unintentionally repositioned myself in the uncomfortable wooden chair while my eyes darted to the next page.
Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power…
I hovered over the book, but before I could finish the sentence, the library went completely dark. I carefully helped myself out of the chair and turned around. I found myself facing pure darkness.
I reached out to the front and side of my body. I felt nothing but cold air. I carefully put one foot in front of the other, easing down the dark aisle. I had never been scared of the dark, but for some odd reason, I was on edge. Frightened. Alarmed.
On my third step, my hand hit something firm. I froze while I moved my hand up the obstacle. In a matter of seconds, something grabbed my wrist. I did not move, and I couldn’t make a sound. I was telling myself to say something, but nothing could escape my lips. My heart began to beat hard and fast—trying to jump out of my chest. I tried to jerk my wrist away, but the grip became tighter. I lifted my other arm to aid in the rescue—the shadow figure grabbed it without warning. I looked up and squinted my eyes peering into what I thought was a face.
He had long, dark hair, but I couldn’t see his face—only darkness. I opened my mouth to scream, but again there was no sound. An eerie feeling came over me as I felt the shadow figure leaning toward me. A thick scent of smoke and incense exuded from the man in the shadows, making it difficult to breathe. I closed my eyes and concentrated on pulling away—on breaking free. I heard a loud explosion and then opened my eyes.
I opened my eyes to find myself tangled in the sheets of my small bed. Relieved that I was only having another nightmare, I rolled to my side to watch the rain beat against the window. I gazed into the belly of my room, watching the lightning flicker through my window and parade across the ceiling. The sound of rolling crackles and loud explosions followed the display of light. The storm was somewhat comforting to me now. The lightning had rescued me from a horrible dream; therefore, I was very thankful.
Since the fight with Erik, the nightmares were becoming worse. The dreams were sucking me into a world of frightening images and leaving me to wonder in confusion. It had become increasingly hard to determine what was real and what was not.
I rolled over to peek at the alarm clock; it was only a little past one, barely a new day. In an effort to avoid another nightmare, I flung the covers off and slowly rolled out of bed. It was time to talk to Erik. I hesitantly crossed my room, on a mission to call him. The pale yellow phone that was placed perfectly square on the corner of the desk seemed like a foreign object as I raised the receiver to my ear. I never enjoyed talking on the phone—tonight would be no exception. I started dialing while my eyes ventured off to my bedroom window. I had a perfect view of the house in the cemetery, his house.
Before I could dial the final number, I noticed a small light oozing from the cemetery, from his house. Perfect. He couldn’t sleep either. I could just go over there and confront whatever this feeling was. Better yet, I could interrogate him—find out what he knew about my past—and find out what was going on between him and Lydia.
The window in my room opened to a tiny fenced veranda. The veranda had been built close to a century ago as a sunporch for blossoming flowers and ivies, but since the cypress and willow trees now shaded that half of our house, my aunt never bothered to set out any plants. Given that the wooden patio was always empty, I simply considered that area as my reading loft on a sunny day or escape route on a sleepless night. Right now it was my escape route.
I quietly slid into an old black T-shirt, faded shorts, and my red rain boots and then unlocked the latch of the window. It was the same outfit I was wearing the night I had met Erik. As I pushed the weighted windowpane up, warm rain immediately began to pool on the inside ledge. I wasn’t excited about getting wet and muddy again, but I had to talk to him. I couldn’t wait any longer.
By the time I crawled through the opening and slid the window down, my hair and clothes were plastered against my skin. The raindrops were the size of nickels and were flying horizontally in the night air. I looked up, and between twisted branches I made out the faint glow of the moon covered in black clouds. This was going to be a nasty storm, but that didn’t matter. I had to do this, and I had to do it now.
I stepped to the edge of the patio and wrapped my fingers around the largest branch on the tree. The wind continued to rip at the branches and moss as I descended down the belly of the old cypress. I had made this climb many times before with no problem, and I usually made the climb with a heavy bag filled with charcoal and paper, but tonight the limbs and bark of the tree fought against me.
I jumped to the ground as soon as I was close enough to land softly without hitting the parked Coupe. A spear of lightning pierced the black sky, and with its blue streak of light, I saw the scratches the tree left behind on my skin. Hopefully I wouldn’t run into Alice in the morning. She would have a cow if she knew I had been out tonight. Thunder rolled from the heavens; then another jagged spear of lightning ripped the darkness.
I sprinted across the soggy field and didn’t stop until I had reached the wall of the graveyard. I was strangely calm once I toppled over the crumbled ruins of the stone fence. Most people my age would have probably been scared out of their wits. Tonight the cemetery looked like it came straight out of a Stephen King novel. A canopy of trees protected the graves from the harsh flow of rain, but a light blanket of fog had swept in to take its place. The cracks of thunder seemed to echo under the trees, and the constant flash of lightning animated the figurine headstones. For the first time, it looked like a dark place.
I wondered what I would say once I saw Erik.
Should I throw my arms around him and apologize for being irrational? Should I kiss him?
I really just wanted him to hold me again and to tell me that it was all one big horrible joke. Or maybe I wanted it to be real. My mind flipped from one scenario to the other. If everything he said was true, if he had the answers to my missing past, then I had to see him. I had to know the rest of the story.
I stopped in front of the dark porch of the house in the cemetery. The fog had covered the entire entrance to the house, leaving only the two small windows under the porch visible. The flicker of light that I’d seen from my bedroom window still danced from inside the house. I inched forward and carefully felt for the two large steps that met with the wooden deck. I had never been this close to the house. For some strange reason, I had never had a desire to see inside, and once Erik and his father moved in, he insisted that we keep our distance, that his father liked his privacy. The wood creaked below my feet. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
As I continued to inch toward the door of the old house, my nerves started to waver.
What if Erik refuses to talk to me? What if his father answers the door? And what would I say?
I wasn’t prepared for rejection, from either one of them.
A light wind scurried over my boots and around my knees while I stood and stared at the rusty doorknob. I wanted to see Erik. I wanted to see him so badly that I had thrown out all common sense and good judgment to stand on a porch in the middle of a cemetery during a massive thunderstorm. And for a moment, I was paralyzed by that thought. I wasn’t scared of the dark night, the raging storm, or the ominous graveyard; I was scared about my sudden feelings for Erik. I had made such a mess of things, and I had no idea how to get things back to the way they were, or if I even wanted things to go back to how they were.
The sound of wood bending under a heavy foot cut through the wood of the door in front of me. Then the light that poured from the right window of the house wiggled, before abruptly dimming. Someone was watching me from inside. I tapped lightly on the door, two soft taps that were just loud enough to hear over the storm. No answer. I tapped two more times, slightly louder. No answer. I heard the wood bend on the other side of the door again.
“Erik? Is that you?” No answer. “Mr. Galway? I know it’s late, but I saw a light on…If I could just talk to Erik for a minute…” Only the roar of angry clouds responded.
I was becoming impatient. I knew that I had no right to knock on someone’s door at Lord knows what time in the morning, but then again, Erik had no right to ignore me the last few days. He had no right to talk to Lydia about me. I treaded my rain-filled boots over to the nearest window, then pressed my face to the damp glass. A minute spider scurried to a glistening web in the corner of the window while I peered inside the house.
I could see a dark figure moving in the shadows. I could hear the boards creaking, one after the other. Why wouldn’t he answer the door?
In seconds the door flew open. My eyes darted to the doorway to catch a surprise. Standing in the shadows was a tall, rounded woman with a deep scowl on her face. Lightning flickered behind me, enough to highlight her deep-colored skin. Another flash illuminated the sky. I noticed a brown scarf tied around her head, leaving only the ends of tube-like hair visible in the night. With the grimace plastered across her face and the poor lighting, her hair looked like black snakes trying to escape the confines of the hair scarf. The frown on her plump lips did not waver as I tried to change my frightened expression to a polite smile. I had a feeling she could see that I was more than surprised.
“Shoo, shoo!” Dark, spotted arms flew forward through the doorway, waving frantically in the damp air. “Dis no place for chir’en be hangin’ round. Go back home.” Her voice was stern and full of old Cajun inflection—her long brown arms continued to shake in the space between us, like a grandmother scolding a small child.
“W-Who are you?”
“We don’t be speakin’ names in dese woods. Now, go home child—nuttin’ good come from nights like dese.”
“But I have to see Erik. Just tell him Clara needs to talk with him,” I explained.
“Don’t be speakin’ your name, child. Come. Come inside, hurry.”
I stepped over the threshold into a dark room. The storm sounded angrier as it beat against the tin roof. I sniffed the air while the strange women walked a few steps ahead and grabbed a squeaky lantern from a hidden surface by the window. The house had a strange scent.
What is that smell?
I took a deep breath. Kerosene and formaldehyde and something else, it was a smell that was unfamiliar, yet familiar, and it masked the others. It almost smelled like incense, but I felt like it was something else. I closed my eyes while the determined women fidgeted with the glass on a seemingly broken lantern. I knew the smell; it was the same musty scent from my dream. Smoke and spice. I heard a match scratch over a rough surface, and then light erupted from within the glass of the lantern.
The house was empty.
“Who are you? Where’s Erik? Where’s his dad?”
“I am Maytide Gaudet.”
“Maytide Gaudet? I’ve heard of you—you’re the faith healer of Coushatta.”
“You’re talkin’ with de last traiteuse in six parishes. We are a dyin’ breed, ya know.” She spoke with great pride for her title. “Now, go home child. Nuttin’ good comes from nights like dese.”
“Not until I speak with Erik.”
“Someting’ be wrong with your eyes, girl? It’s just you and me here. De boy and his father been gone for some time.” She moved her hands slowly over her face and scratched her freckled forehead with her long fingernails. “It’s best dey gone, too. Strange dings be happenin’ round dese parts.”
“How did you know the Galways?”
“I only knew de boy child. He came to me a few weeks ago—askin’ about you, little nightingale.”
“Why? I mean, what did he ask you?”
“I see many dings, child. And I know many dings. That is why people search for me,” she said. “Come—I show you someting.”
I stood stiff, thinking about what she was asking of me. I shouldn’t follow a stranger into the night; that’s safety 101. Of course, I shouldn’t have been where I was at the moment—but I was. My curiosity always worked against me—I wanted to know too much.
I stumbled out onto the deck, wrapping my arms around one another.
“Quick!” she yelled. “The storm be rollin’ in some kinda fierce.”
“Why should I follow you? I-I don’t know you.”
“But I know you, child.”
She pulled me to her side and extended her arm over my head. A dark brown material draped over my hair, shielding me from nature’s fury. Lightning continued to light the night sky, quickly followed by booming thunder that shattered the sound of the rain.