“This report just in,” the radio crackled through the old speakers of the car, “the ninth murder this month has been discovered. Lydia Waif, 14 years old, has been found in a small town cemetery. Stabbed and cut apart in the same manner as the other eight, and in the same sort of location: a cemetery. There seems to be no connection between all these young girls,”-
“My! What a world this is coming to.” said Martha Sinny, leaning back from turning off the radio. She glanced back at her son, Richard, and inquired, “Richie? Are you okay?” Richard was sheet white, hunched over, his gray-green eyes gazing at an unseen world, his eyes that had seen too much. He didn’t respond. “I know this will be a big transaction with you coming home from the institution, but the doctors said you were ready...” she trailed off. The shadows seemed to creep and warp around the backseat, licking at Richard’s frail frame. She shook her head and faced the front once more, convinced that it was a trick of the light from the setting sun behind them. Just then, they pulled up in front of their old, little house.
Richard steadied his footing as he stepped from the car. It was the first time he’d seen his home in about ten years. He had been twelve then. His thick black hair ruffled in the light chilling wind. He held his bag close to him with his shoulders hunched as a shiver ran down his spine. His parents came around the car and stood beside him. They were getting on in years. Grey tinged the edges of their hair.
“Welcome home.” Martha said uncertainly. She glanced from his emotionless face to the house and back again.
“We’d better go inside.” Said his father, putting his hand on Richard’s shoulder. Richard flinched, and his father drew his hand back. They walked along the cobbled sidewalk to the front porch of the little house. All the autumn leaves crunched under their feet, and everything glowed orange with the setting sun. The door opened and a little girl leaned out. She was the scrawny, pale skinned, thick black haired, gray-green eyed replica of Richard. She smiled a shy smile with some missing teeth, and her eyes lit up. Richard was a bit taken aback at her open and warm smile. He felt a weight leave his shoulders, and was allowed a tentative smile in return. He wasn’t used to smiling, and it felt awkward on his face. He let it fade.
“Richie,” Martha said, “you remember all we’ve told you of Melissa, right?” Richard nodded his head. Melissa was eight, born about two years after he was gone to the institution. He’d been told that she rarely talked, but her mannerisms spoke volumes, and made up for her silence. Melissa opened the door, and let them in. Her eyes stayed on Richard as she shut the door behind them, and followed the procession down the small hall to Richard’s old room. Richard hesitated at the door. He opened it slowly. It looked exactly as it had the day he left: tidy, almost empty seeming, and dark.
“Melissa has dusted and cleaned it up in preparation.” Martha said admiringly. Richard felt a pang of hurt, but it faded quickly. He wasn’t a child to be proud of. The entourage shuffled their feet in uncertainty, and finally, dispersed. He was alone; alone in the room that had been his waking nightmare in childhood. It was too dark. He could feel the shadows drawing closer from the cracks, corners, and crevices.
He had a flashback. He was ten years old again. He was crouched down in the corner with his hands over his ears and his wide, scared eyes staring unblinkingly at nothing. He was rocking back and forth. With a voice bordering on hysteria, he chanted in a nursery rhyme like way, “Darkness, darkness, go away...darkness, darkness, go away...” over and over again. Then the darkness would reach him, and his screams would be heard in the dead of night, echoing throughout the whole house.
A knock came at his door, breaking him from the binds of memory. His breathing was haggard, and his hands trembled. He opened the door to a worried looking Melissa. She was in a pair of light blue pajamas. Under her right arm was a pillow, and in her left arm trailed a blanket. She wedged her way through the door with her load, and dumped it next to his bed. She pulled out a mattress from under his bed that hadn’t been there when he’d lived here last. She had obviously slept in his room many times before. She settled herself on the mattress and looked expectantly at Richard. He looked down at his worn jeans and T-shirt. He grabbed a pair of dark blue pajamas from his bag, and slipped away down the hall to the little bathroom. As he finished changing, a light knock came at the door. He opened the door. Melissa stood there holding out his toothbrush that he had left in his bag. After he was done, she took his hand, and pulled him along the hall to his room. She smiled up at him. Richard was feeling the most freedom than he had had in a long time.
That night was the first night that he didn’t have nightmares, that he didn’t have to suppress his screams, and that he didn’t hear Thomas’s voice. Richard woke up in the middle of the night from the first deep sleep he’d had since he could remember. The shadows were moving, whispering, and closing in. He glanced down. Melissa was gone. Thomas felt a chill seep inside his bones, numbing his mind. ‘Thomas.’ he thought, ‘Thomas got Melissa.’ He jumped out of bed, and raced down the hall. He followed the cold air current to the open front door. The full moon glared down from the sky and bleached the landscape. He knew where to go. The place Thomas would lead Melissa to. He ran as fast as he could, autumn leaves chasing after him on the breeze. He turned the corner in time to see Melissa turning into the graveyard down the street. He ran. He stopped. The thick mist and clouds had covered the moon. It was dark. Richard was at the opening of the graveyard, of the cemetery. The mist engulfed him, and painted his skin with dew. He could make out the shadowy figures of worn down tombstones, and broken statuary. Then the wind picked up, and the mist dispersed; the moon spotlighting the cemetery. The naked trees with their deranged limbs clawing at the sky swayed in the breeze. He made his way through the tombstones and broken angels, crunching the trees’ apparel underfoot. He could feel the darkness reaching from where it hid. He walked on. He had to find Melissa. Richard made it to a large clearing illuminated by the moon. Melissa stood in the center of it. Richard ran to her. She was in a trance-like state.
“Melissa!” he coarsely called. He hadn’t used his voice much as the years went by. He shook her.
“You know its pointless.” came a mocking voice from the darkness. Richard’s blood ran like ice. He knew who it was. The shadows gathered and deepened. They formed a figure... He stepped from the darkness. He was the darkness. He had Richard’s same face and features, but he had a malicious smile on his face. He was Thomas. His maniacal laughter rang through the clearing.
“I won’t let you hurt her!” Richard yelled, trying to bolster his failing courage.
“You tried to stop me the last nine times, but failed Richard. What makes you think you’ll have a chance this time?” Thomas mocked. He slipped a knife from the shadows and advanced on Melissa. He ran, yelling, “This is the end for her Richard! You’ll never beat me!”
“No!” Richard yelled, “This time, I’ll get rid of you! You ruined my life!” He threw himself in front of Melissa as the knife swung down from its arc, imbedding itself in his chest.
“No!” Thomas yelled. He disappeared in a puff of darkness, unable to retain his form without Richard’s strength. Melissa snapped out of the trance in time to see Richard hit the ground. She saw the knife and seeping blood, and gave a little cry. She dropped onto the ground beside him and started to sob. She took his hand.
“Richard,” She whispered in her small broken voice, “I don’t want you to die. I finally got you, I don’t want you to leave yet.” She started sobbing.
“I won’t be going far.” Richard whispered, “Besides, I’m free now.” He gave her a genuine smile before his face went slack, and his hand fell from her grasp.
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