An Esse Diem Halloween Story (4)

(Part 4 – go back to read Parts 1-3 to catch up with the story.)

The darkness ate people alive, all the while numbing them to the consumption.  Children starved to death while their parents got so high and disconnected that they forgot to feed their offspring.  Sometimes Webb thought the dead children were the lucky ones.

You just make it yourself with stuff from around town.  It’s so cheap it’s crazy.  I feel like a god.  I’m never stopping.  You have to try it.

The county couldn’t keep enough social workers on the job to respond to all of the calls about burnings and beatings and assaults of kids by their own parents torn out of their skulls, an evil coursing through their veins.  In one news item, a band of children managed to escape the hell of their own home, only to run to the neighbor’s house for protection and find all of the adults there dead.  The corpses were thin with mouths full of black teeth and fingers charred from fire damage.  The children were all in the county’s custody now, eligible and waiting for adoptions that would never come.  In their hollow eyes one could see they would live forever in a house they could never flee.

I can’t tell Sera these stories.

He felt the stabbing pain of fear as he thought of what might happen if his wife were aware of the deadly plague that seemed to circle ever closer to the center of their world on the farm.  He was sure she knew something about what was going on, but she chose not to engage it.  He chose not to tell her everything he knew.  It just seemed unkind and unnecessary.

The kitchen clock said 9:00 a.m.  He left Sera a note at the foot of the stairs.   He pocketed a pair of sharp anvil pruners and slipped back out the screen door, careful to lock the latch on the wooden door behind him.

It’s unlikely out here.  Still, who wants uninvited guests with your wife home alone?

An Esse Diem Halloween Story (3)

(Are you just joining the story? Go back! There are 2 short parts before this one!)

The sun was fully over the edge of the earth now.  He decided against more coffee and in favor of socks and shoes.  He slipped through the screen door, closing it gently and purposefully rather than letting it bang shut.

Sera has been working very hard in the new garden.  “She deserves to rest,” he whispered to himself.  She is a good woman, a good wife.

When Webb and Sera left North Carolina, Webb was able to buy ten times the land in West Virginia without even noticing the money gone.  They settled on ten acres of property on the river bottom of the Ohio in Mason County.  Huge bright blue skies, the sparkling river, rich soil, charming wildlife, four seasons, and tremendous privacy all made the decision simple.

For awhile, Webb could not understand why more people weren’t relocating to this gorgeous, cheap land.

I got it first.  Sera doesn’t read the paper, and she won’t even turn on the computer any more.  I had to figure it out on my own, but it wasn’t hard to do.  I should have done more research.  It was such an urgent mission for change, for a new place.  I only looked at acreage and price. 

Rural life has a dark side. 

I hate the darkness.

Image by Max Frear 2008

An Esse Diem Halloween Story (2)

(This is part 2. You did read part 1, didn’t you?)

Sera was beautiful in the way all women are at twenty.  She had thick brown hair that she wore in a pony tail most of the time because she didn’t really know what else to do with it.  Her slight slender simplicity was what drew him to her.  That night his eyes fell on a young woman wearing garden boots and a kitchen apron as she volunteered to serve the meal in the fellowship hall.  She had a strange transcendent quality that rendered him mute, and when she said hello to him, all he could do was nod and look away, confused and almost ashamed.

Webb invited her to his house to talk about life, God, and love.  He knew it was manipulative, but he couldn’t stop.  He even invited the preacher’s son to come over with her on several occasions to extend the illusion of a chaperone to her father.  The first time Webb kissed Sera on the mouth in the kitchen the other fellow was thumbing through Garden and Gun magazine in the living room, oblivious.

Webb could still see the e-mails he found on his computer between his wife and that same boy, the boy she’d known from childhood.  The words glowed off the screen with passion and affection, ripping Webb’s guts and leaving him catatonic from grief.

He held his temples tightly, his eyes pinched until stars came into the blackness of his thoughts.

An Esse Diem Halloween Story (1)

Image credit:

Two years ago, I had a dream — actually, it as more like a hallucination. I have these strange story-like visions that I feel like I am actually participating in when I get too warm while sleeping. I woke up quite hot and delirious, wearing too heavy clothes under too many blankets.

I also woke up with a story I couldn’t forget.

They say dreams are the mind’s efforts at consolidating and making sense of the unprocessed fragments of our lives. There are things, strange things, we encounter and never fully absorb. The brain is troubled, and starts assembling the fragments. This story is, I believe, built from brain fragments about a local drug scourge, deep concern for child welfare, conflicts over organized religion, periods of personal loneliness, uprooting my home, and much more. I don’t want to over-analyze it, but it’s been two years and I’ve had some time to think.

One thing I do know is that brain fragments don’t exactly make great writing. This is not a story that will be snatched up by Random House. For some reason, though, it’s a story I can’t forget about a man I imagined. His name is Webb Thomas. Webb, shall we say, has some issues.

I have a minor issue in that I’ve never been able to name this story to my full satisfaction. If you have any thoughts on that, please share.

In celebration of Halloween, I bring you Webb’s story in 7 parts. I’d love to know what you think. (Exactly 100 words from this story first appeared in the annual Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there. Many thanks to West Virginia writer S.D. Smith who brought this unusual writing tradition to my attention.)

An Esse Diem Halloween Story

Long toes hooked over the edge of the porch, their skin almost white in the cold morning air.  The cup of coffee was cold now, too, but Webb Thomas sipped it and rocked.  He reflected on how ridiculous it was to be uncovered in the bitter air, but he liked the intensity.

Forty-five years ago, he was born on a cold morning like this, and now he was spending his birthday freezing outside on a farm in Mason County, West Virginia.   He took another sip of cold coffee, and looked out at the bright line of the rising sun.  He thought about his wife, pictured her sleeping soundly upstairs in their bed.  Something turned foul on his tongue and he spit out the rancid brown liquid.  He could feel a churning in his head as hard memories cut into his peaceful moment.

Community members of a local church had all but corralled him and forced him to come to the fellowship supper years ago.  He had compassion for church people, but he knew exactly what they were up to when they tried to draw him into the flock.  He was an unknown quantity and they wanted him managed.

Why did Sera have to be there?