The sun had descended behind the tall pine in the west end of the pasture over an hour ago. The western sky had already changed from bright red and orange to deep purple and crimson, and then proceeded on to the dark glow of twilight.
There were nine doves in Timothy Hatch's bag and his supper would be getting cold, yet, for some strange reason, he wanted to see the back pasture today.
Timothy propped his shotgun on the fencepost, tossed his game bag to the other side, then he crawled between the top two strands of the barbed wire fence that separated the pastures. Retrieving his gear, Timothy turned to find Nell, his half-lab half-cur, companion standing on the opposite side of the fence. "Come on, girl," Timothy said.
Nell remained on the other side of the fence, whining lightly as she paced back and forth. Timothy knew the fence was no barrier to Nell; he had often seen the agile mutt rocket under the bottom strand without breaking stride.
Timothy dropped to a knee and extended a hand between the strands of barbed wire. "What is it, Nell? What's wrong?"
Nell moved up, allowed Timothy to ruffle her ears, then turned and darted away from the fence. She stopped after only a few steps, then looked over her back to see if Timothy was coming. Seeing he was still on the other side of the fence, she resumed her pacing and whining.
Timothy rose to his feet. He pondered his dog's strange behaviour briefly before turning about and setting off into the back pasture. He needed to see the back pasture today.
The sound of Nell's whining faded as he continued further into the pasture until he could no longer hear it. Now the only sound he could hear was the soft crunch of his boots on the dried grass and the crickets singing in the woods on the far side of the back pasture.
There were so many tales about the woods that bordered the back pasture. The presence of Indian burial mounds had given rise to the belief that the woods were haunted, and it seemed as if ever old timer in the area had at least one story about the area. Some of the tales were quite fanciful, ranging from strange sounds and lights, to ghostly forms that walked the night, emitting an aura of cold that would put frost on the tall pines in the middle of a sweltering East Texas summer. The most common tales, however, were simple stories of men who had simply disappeared into the woods, never to be heard from again.
These old tales were far from Timothy's mind as he made his way across the open field. There was only one concern weighing on his mind: the back pasture.
Timothy heard rustling grass behind him. He turned about but it was already too dark for him to see very far. He had almost convinced himself it was the wind and was about to continue on his way when the sound came again. Timothy dropped to one knee and squinted against the darkness.
He caught a glimpse of something low to the ground, keeping its distance but not fleeing. He shouldered his shotgun and suddenly found himself wishing the double-barrel was loaded with something more powerful than birdshot.
Oddly enough, Timothy found himself less afraid for his own safety and more afraid that he would miss important appointment in the back pasture.
"Who's there!?" Timothy called out.
The shape froze.
Timothy aimed high for a warning shot, then thought better of it. The two shells in the gun were the only two Timothy had left. He took aim at the small dark shape.
The black form slowly advanced.
Timothy steadied his gun, took a deep breath, and placed his finger on the trigger.
Then he heard a soft whining and realized Nell had followed him into the back pasture. "Jesus, Nell," Timothy swore as he stood, "You almost got yourself shot."
Startled by the break in the silence, the nervous dog retreated into the darkness.
Without the least concern over Nell's strange behaviour, Timothy continued on his way. As he made his way across the back pasture, he realized that his appointment wasn't in the pasture at all, it was in the woods behind the pasture.
Darkness had fully descended by the time Timothy reached the old barbed wire fence that marked the border of his father's land. The moon had yet to peek over the tree line, but the stars gave off just enough light to guide his footsteps. He didn't know where he was going, yet somehow he knew the way. He dropped his game bag while making his way through the fence, but this was okay; he wouldn't need it where he was going. With the tall pines blocking out the meager starlight, the woods were pitch black. Briars and underbrush tore at the exposed flesh, but Timothy trudged on.
The low grassy mounds were invisible in the darkness, but he was aware of their presence.
There was one particularly large mound near the center of the ancient graveyard. A yawning hole at its center gave way to a dark stairway descending into the earth. Timothy entered the portal and made his way down the stairs. Despite the pitch darkness, his feet found each step without stumbling.
Timothy stopped at the foot of the stairs.
Above and behind him, the earth began to crawl, slowly puckering the portal into the mound as the doorway began shutting.
Somewhere inside the tomb, Timothy heard movement. He wasn't alone.
He couldn't make out his hands if they were directly in front of his face, yet he could plainly see something moving before him. The shapeless mass actually seemed darker than the room. Like the black waves that drift along the back of closed eyelids, this form was actually blacker than the empty void. If black is the absence of color, a zero while all other colours are positives, then this shape was somehow a negative color.
The sub-dark shape expanded as it moved forward. Black tendrils silently reached forward and wrapped themselves around Timothy's arms and upper body.
A sharp sound came from the direction of the steadily closing doorway.
The tentacles tightened as the mass of darkness drew closer.
The sound came again, and this time it was familiar. A dog barking - Nell. With this recognition came realization. It was as if a bucket of cold water had been tossed into Timothy's face. What was going on? What was he doing here?
Timothy tried to turn and flee, but he found his body wouldn't cooperate. It didn't seem as if the tentacles prevented him from moving - their touch was soft, almost loving - yet that is just what they were doing. His body was paralyzed by their touch.
During his mindless trek through the woods, Timothy had completely forgotten the shotgun cradled in his arms. Now he concentrated every ounce of his willpower on his forgotten gun. He could do no more than make his hands tremble, but this proved enough to pull the trigger.
The loud discharge echoed throughout the tomb, and the burst of light revealed the nightmarish interior of the tomb. The green mold clinging to the smooth walls only partially concealed the morbid hieroglyphics that lined the inside of the chamber. Scores of wicked rituals were played out in the crude drawings. A layer of pale bones littered the floor - human bones.
In an instant darkness once again filled the room. Thanks to the bright shotgun blast, an oblong blue streak now marred Timothy's vision. He could no longer see the nightmare floating in the darkness before him.
Nevertheless, the sudden light had also startled the dark shape, causing it to withdraw its black tendrils. As soon as he was free of their paralyzing touch, Timothy swung the twin barrels of the shotgun in the direction he'd last seen the shape. He doubted a blast of birdshot could harm something that appeared to be more vapor than solid, but perhaps the flash of fire from the gun's muzzle would do some damage.
Once again the blast echoed throughout the subterranean chamber.
The brief snapshot of light gave Timothy a horrifying image of the black shape. It seemed be expanding in order to come at him from all sides.
Timothy dropped the shotgun, turned and fled.
At the top of the stairs he could barely see a steadily shrinking patch of starry sky. He blindly lurched up the stone stairs, stumbling with every step but somehow managing to keep his footing. He didn't have to turn to see the sub-dark shape following him up the stairs; he could feel its slender tentacles grasping in the air a mere hair's breadth from his body.
By the time Timothy reached the top of the stairs the portal was barely a foot across. Arms over his head and legs outstretched, he dove into the opening portal like a diver. However, diving at an upward angle rather than straight down, everything didn't go quite as he had planned. His body halfway out of the cave he struggled to pull himself to freedom. He was able to work his chest free of the earthen womb, but the lips of the portal closed about his waist. A moist cold enveloped his feet. Timothy screamed, thrashed, and kicked, but it was no good. Slowly but surely he was dragged back into the dark depths of the ancient tomb.
Copyright © 2003 by Byron Starr