The heavy rain battered the speeding car on the highway as the wiper blades moved rapidly and splattered the water across the windscreen. The moon was visible somewhere behind the dark gray clouds that dressed the sky in darkness as far as the eyes could see. The man had a tight grip with his left hand on the steering wheel of an old and slightly rusted from the underside, red Ford hatchback, while his right hand shuffled the stations on the radio by turning the blue lined jog wheel.
[Static in the background]
‘…I got to keep my image
While suspended from a throne
That looks out upon a kingdom
Full of people all unknown…’
“This 108.9 FM and the time is 23:30 on 21 July 2008…”
‘…Oh, my love
I’ve hungered for your touch
a long lonely time
and time goes by so slowly…’
“Goddammit! f’kin every station… ”
“Holy Jesus! These clouds in the heaven…will ya leave it!?” He yelled at top of his voice at the darkening clouds stretching ominously in all directions and cast a gray shadow on everything that was under them. A thundering boom shot after a blinding flash and almost answered his query. The clouds were indeed in no mood to cheer up the only man driving across the county towards the New Belford city in this dreary weather. He kept turning the knob until this message streamed through the radio.
“...the state meteorological department has issued a flood warning for next 24 hours for the following counties…
The Rushmore, Orange, Jericho and the Mariana.
BEEP. Beep. beep.
All residents are requested to stay indoors and move to the second level of their respective buildings. The rescue teams would be dispatched if the need arises. Please do not enter the basements under any circumstances. Take all necessary precautions.
We repeat. DO NOT ENTER THE ….”
The sky had been overcast for nine hours now and there seemed to be no respite from the assault of the incessant rain that soaked the Rushmore county almost to its ankles. The sky would light up intermittently by the brilliance of the light flash followed by a echoing thunder. The bright blue arc crossed many a twisted paths to finally rest in the lap of Earth below. The rumbling that began in the heavens yesterday was not a clear sign for things to follow. The gentle tapings turned into scathing biting water shards that rattled the county in a matter of few hours. There were trees that were standing proud for so many years were now standing shattered and battered in the merciless winds and devilish rain. The leaves and branches were littered all over the place. Suddenly, a huge gust of wind hurled a torn branch at the windshield.
“Jeezus Christ! Is it doomsday already?” He howled at the wildness that engulfed everything around him in its marauding claws and was ready to crush its prey into submission at any moment.
He switched off his radio. The rain still sloshed heavily on the roof of the car and the constant pitter-patter was creating a sharp monotonous music. He twisted his arm towards the back seat and pulled out a bottle of cognac from the bag and took a large swig from an almost empty bottle. His face twisted in anger and his impatience grew as the journey seemed to take forever. It has been almost a day since he was on the road. He carelessly dropped the bottle on the floor of the car; which hit it with a dull thud and rolled under the seat. The car lights were fighting its way through the blinding rain that was hitting the vast swathes of land all around. The road was visible clearly for a few furlongs and only until the wipers cleared the inundated windscreen in full flurry. This was a perilous journey and he was almost cursing under his breath now.
“These women…they break up when they think is convenient for them. They think men have no emotions. They will deal with it in a bar and sober up in the morning to the business as usual or just visit a tramp and be fine. Men are just pigs after all…Goodness! …screw that b@#%h!” He murmured to himself.
Another loud explosion and a flash went right in front of his car. He slammed on the breaks maniacally and pulled the hand-breaks until the tires screeched in pain and the car stopped skidding on its tracks. He sat inside gripping the steering with both the hands and jaws clenched in unanticipated fear. His heart was thumping loudly enough for his own ears and his eyes were transfixed by the blazing light that smote the road ahead. The rain pounded the windows like heavy blows. There was nothing he could do. It was his decision to move out of her house as fast as possible and there was no reason that would keep him at her place a moment longer. After, he had traveled many miles to save his relationship; it had finally ended on a bad note. He felt the rush of cold air running all over his body. The heating was on and yet…
He looked at he rear view mirror and noticed the foreboding darkness that covered the tarmac to the ends of the Earth. He let out a melancholic sigh and looked at his dashboard. His GPS was showing a cracked picture of the road ahead and looked like a jigsaw puzzle. He switched off the unit and tried switching it again. It was dead. He pressed crazily at the ON button and still it resisted coming back to life. The black screen was all there was to look at. He sank into his seat in desperation and took out his mobile phone and frowned at its brightly colored display. The signal bars were simply missing and the battery was slowly running out of the juice. He turned on the ignition key and the engine first screeched for a while and then grunted to a start. He closed his eyes in satisfaction and pressed the gas pedal. The car rolled into motion. He was sure if he kept his speed at ninety miles an hour, he would be in the city by the first light of the morning.
He observed some blinking lights in a good distance to the right of the road and swerved the car towards them. It was a welcome change from the devious weather that rocked the journey. He left the highway and followed the rough road towards his twinkling destination. The rain had somewhat lost its previous rage and was smothering the area with a few gentle droplets of fresh clean water. The soaking car still bore the signs of a long tussle with a hard-hearted and gloomy weather. The car sped cautiously along the muddy road amidst the building up of quaint gray-white mist. This posed a problem for him as the veil of mist was thickening as the time went by. Its deathly colored tentacles swaddled the vegetation and everything that was alive in its icy cold grasp. The drops of cold sweat began to form on his forehead and the hands felt the grip on the wheel tighten a bit. The rain was almost a drizzle now and large shavings of mist flew across the meadows and crawled languidly over the road like a snake sliding on the sand. The earth had turned into slushy goo and swamp like structures appeared at places along the road and the potholes were scattered all over like a handicap challenge for the car.
‘I could stop here for a while and get rested till the weather clears and then I would take the road home.’ He thought. He was looking ahead at the road and the poor visibility made him anxious and nervous. He turned his wrist to reveal the analog wristwatch that he was gifted by his father. The seconds hand was teetering and the time stood still at 12: 15 AM.
“Oh God!…Really!?…Today of all days?” He said in an embittered tone.
He kept speeding in the direction of faint lights visible through the mist and after almost half an hour of journey came to a halt in the clearing in front of a few scattered buildings with an anachronistic architecture. He turned of the engine and sat in the driver’s seat inspecting the unearthly and brooding silence in which the unusual structures of wood and stone stood, as if mourning the passage of time. He hardened his trembling heart and unfastened his seat belt. Then, he slowly opened the door and stepped out of the car. The air was cold and damp and the smell of moldy wood filled his nostrils. The cursory look at his surroundings gave him enough chills to go and knock the doors for a few hours stay. He grabbed the pocket torch and walked towards the trunk of the car and opened to look inside. He searched for something and found his leather bag that housed a few rounds for his clip. He collected and stuffed them in the hidden pocket of his tweed jacket. A 9 mm Cougar, that he had bought last year, hung in the holster tied to his waist belt. It was a good solid Aluminum alloy, double action, and semi-automatic pistol. Good enough to keep jerks from creating any trouble.
He closed the trunk very gently and moved to the front of the car to examine any damage. The hood had taken a beating from the branch and taken away much of its impact before it hit the windshield. The dent made an unpleasant appearance on the previously smooth red surface. He was thankful that at least his car lights were safe. In these times, when everything was going against him, this was a hopeful consolation. The pale and deathly Moon cast its feeble and sickly light on the silent night in this nowhere. As he walked guardedly towards the path that led to the houses, the wet broken twigs silently crackled under his shoes. He paced towards the nearest house and tapped it twice. No answer came. Not a soul stirred in this bizarre place. Everything glistened in the pale moonlight as if it were a part of some dreadful nightmare. The ivy leaves on the side wall of the adjacent house looked curled and a strange discoloration exhibited through them. The ghastly moonbeams were striking the front of the house like loose and worn out threads and accentuated the dark and bright corners in a strangely terrifying contrast.
“Hello! anybody there? I need some help… anyone?” He called out into the grim silence. The voice echoed back through the mist and sent frosty message back to his ears. He shuddered and his ears pricked up for any subtle sounds of life in this apparent desolation.
A slit in the door opened slightly in front of him and a hand brought up a flickering lamp to see the unexpected visitor banging and shouting outside. The light hurt his eyes and he could not see the person on the other side of the door.
“Who be you?” a grating voice asked.
“Hi! …Uh…I am Mark Sawyer. I have been hit by the bad weather. I was on the Highway when an accident happened. Listen…Er…could I spend some time at your place and wait until the dawn?… Money is not a problem. I will pay in cash. Do you have some space? I…I mean no harm. I just need help.” He replied in high expectancy.
“Where you be from?” the voice inquired.
“I live in an apartment on the Souvant street in the New Belford city. It’s a … a hundred miles probably from here?! I have my visiting card. Here…take a look!” He pushed his card through the opening in the door.
The man looked at the card with curiosity and gave it back to him through the slit.
“Come Inside…quickly.” the reply came.
The door opened and he was ushered in by the man and the door banged shut again. The sound of many locks clicking and chains rattling filled the hallway. There was a rumbling of the clouds in a far off place. The man turned towards Mark and the golden light from the lamp revealed his face. It was a craggy old face of a worn out middle age. The right eye had suffered a glaucoma perhaps and was nothing but a white ball in the socket. The face looked like it was mummified long ago and the hair were all frizzy and dessicated. The man indeed looked time ravaged and yet Mark could not put a year on this face. His clothes were from another era and the stench of musty and soiled nature was too conspicuous to be ignored. He walked with a wilting gait that bespoke years of lethargy having set in the joints. The man was facing him with a strange look of disbelief on his face.
“Do you always keep the doors locked like this?” Mark went ahead and broke the ice.
“No…yes…uh…No…tonight is the night. A storm is approaching from the other world. We must be prepared and do not venture out, lest IT takes us along; never to return.”
Mark turned his head quizzically and stared at the man. He did not understand much.
“You mean the storm?” He asked.
“No. It be the formless cloud who comes and visits these lands and then goes back to the place where it belongs. The legend says…the ten years and hence IT comes. The shadow grows longer as the hour draws nigh. The foul things creep out of those shadows and take what is found alone and wandering. Here come along…come..come.” The man grabbed his arm and dragged him to the window which was covered by wooden planks nailed to it in the form of a Union Jack. Mark observed a palpable fear in his voice and unknowingly his hand moved to feel the pistol in the holster. He felt reassured when he found it hanging securely by his wait belt.
They were both standing near the window and the man forced open a little vent on the side and peered out into the dreary moonlit landscape. The mist was thick and one could not make out much of things lying at quite a distance. Only a faint silhouette of things was accessible to the strained eyes. The man pointed him to look down in the distance and he did. He observed the still waters of a lake that stretched back and was lost behind the frightening mist. The languid moon shone over the still waters of the eerie lake which was surrounded on two sides by tall trees. Nothing moved and it was dreadfully silent. Only the sound of their breath was audible. The man was wheezing from either exertion or excitement or perhaps out of fear. Mark looked at him in anticipation and looked out again. Still nothing could be made out that seemed out of the place or otherworldly as described by the man.
“There is nothing…” Mark stood stunned as a distant shrill ululation of some malevolent beast filled the air and they both stood wide eyed and transfixed. The man was trembling with fear and the lamp in his hands was shaking.
“I went against my family to open the door for you. Please, do not make any unnecessary noise now. The time of the baneful darkness has begun. The clock has struck twelve!” He whispered in a quavering voice.
‘How could it be?’ he said to himself and looked at his clock. The clock had stopped working at 12:15. The clock on the wall was showing exact 12.
Mark moved to the opening in the window again and peered over the plank to see what was outside.
A dark mist was moving above the foaming waters and an unmade apparition floated towards the lake embankment. The hoarse whispers in the air carried a sinister tone and cast a spell of some hideous villainy on everything it touched.
Mark was breathing heavily and stood with a hammering heart. He clenched his fists to stop his nervous shaking and looked at the shivering man.
“What do we do now?” Mark struggled to bring words out from his throat.
“I cannot keep you with my family. You are a stranger. You could hide anywhere you want. I am going to the basement to join them.” The man said in panic ridden voice.
“Why can’t I join the basement with the other members of the family?” Mark whispered in frustration.
“Because there is not enough space for all of us and then there are children. They be scared of you. Never seen a man like you. You dress up different and speak different. You ain’t from these lands it seems. Lemme go now. I beg of you.” The man pleaded.
“But, what about that thing? It comes inside the house?” Mark said.
“Yes…uh..No…please hide as soon as possible. There is no time. There is nowhere to go.”
The man blew out his lamp and ran tiptoed into the darkness and there was a little thud and the deafening silence resumed. He was standing alone in the house. His hand grasping his gun firmly. He checked the clip for one last time before plugging it back into the chamber. The numbing chill of fear was working its way up to his head from the toes. His breath must have begun to form vapors if there was light to see. He stood in darkness of the house which was broken at places by the moonlight that streamed in through the cracks in the windows. He proceeded with some determination towards the window and again looked out through the vent. The gray mist had taken over the little settlement and it was difficult to look out or make any sense of direction.
He stared out transfixed at a particular spot where something could be made out moving or rather slithering as if it was not particularly inclined to walk despite the vague outline of appendages with looked like limbs. He cursed himself for taking this strange road and landing himself into this nightmare. He wished, he would wake up sweating any moment in his bed and feel safe. The thing was that he was not waking up. Was this real? He tried to recollect all the events of the day. He was able to put it all in a sequence. It all made sense to him. And yet, there was something that didn’t.
He considered easing out and start running back towards his car and driving as fast as he could from here. No, that would be insane to do so.
Why was he not waking up?!
He knelt down on the floor and put his ear to the ground. He heard muffled voices from underneath. He stood up and walked to the table in the middle of the room and sat down on the chair.
‘Well, if death is coming this way. The so be it. I would like to enjoy every moment of it. Sooner or later I will wake up from my dream. It’s all a dream and nothing much.’ he thought as he grabbed the bottle of wine on the table and gulped it down. The warmth of alcohol fought off the coldness of fear and death. He stood up again and counted his steps in his mind as he had moved from his car to the house. He had moved thirty paces up the road from the car. All he needed was to run like crazy and get to his car. The keys were in his pocket, he felt them. He pulled out the gun and walked towards the door.
The door was locked!
“That crazy old man!…he has like a thousand locks and chains to the door. How am I supposed to go out?”
He came back to the spot where he had heard the voices and started knocking on the floor. After a few minutes of locking a pale and frightened face of the old man appeared.
“What you be doing!?! Ye will git us all kill’d” He spoke through a parched throat.
Mark grabbed him and said “You just let me get out of here. I shall go and take my car and be as far away as I could be.”
The man stared at him blankly for a moment and said “but ye will surely die if ye go out!”
“Listen to me…its all a dream. It is alright. If I die in the dream, I shall wake up somewhere safe.” he said.
“I do not undurstaand ye sir. I do not… but please do not put my family in danger.” the man was sobbing.
“Get a grip on your emotions. Just open the door as silently as possible and close it behind you as swiftly as possible.” Mark instructed him.
The man took out the two keys with a trembling hand and started towards the door. He looked back at Mark and nodded. Slowly, he began to take down the chains and then the two locks. The door opened with a slight squeak and out ran Mark with full speed towards the car. He did not hear anything behind him. His heart was pumping so furiously that his ears were blocked to any sound other than his thumping heartbeat.
As he neared his car, he took out the keys from the pocket and opened the lock to the driver’s side. The car was freezing cold in the summer night! The lock opened with a click and he jumped inside. He saw something moving towards the car from a distance. His hands were working in a haste to start the ignition. He drew deep breaths and tried to calm down his involuntary trembling. IT was moving very close to the place where car was parked. The car will not start. He tried the choke and there it was! The engine gargled the fuel and the grunted into a start. The thing was almost near the hood. He could see the red gleam of its eyes and the slithering formless smoke that surrounded it. The limbs were just some appendages for balance. It was a creature that came either from deep space or deepest oceans. He had never seen anything like it. He still repeated inside that he will wake up any moment and it will be alright.
The car’s headlights shone brightly and the creature cowered to hide from the piercing lights. Mark had his chance. He put the reverse and drove the car backwards and then veered it towards the right. The car’s tires screamed a horrifying sound as he turned a drive on the gearbox. The engine revved up and along sped the car on the sludge filled road. His back mirror showed various shadows following his trail and they were gaining slowly. A shadow was coming closer to the trunk of the car when he slided down the window and fired a shot at it. The bullet simply went through without doing much harm. It just impeded the flow of the wriggling darkness with hideous red eyes. He shot twice with the pistol held in his right hand to keep them away from getting too close to the car. Still, the loud shrieks and macabre ululations filled the sky with dread and haste.
He sped is way through the potholes and his car jumped up and down as it crossed the muddy road. He desperately hoped not to get stuck in the mud. IT was chasing him with all its hatred and malevolence. There was a strike at his trunk and the car trembled and swerved to the sides. He was pulling at the steering wheel furiously to keep it in control. The rear windshield was broken and the shards of glass were scattered on the back seat. He shot again into the swirl of darkness that was following him. Suddenly, he saw the highway in the distance and he pressed the gas peddle to the maximum. The engine was working hard to keep up with the wishes of the driver. The chase was getting again very tense as the creatures closed the gap again.
“My God! What are these? They are speeding up with the car!” said Mark in a shock.
As he was nearing the Highway. He could see the sunlight spreading in the distant horizon. His car jumped on the highway and as he tried to control it, the car skidded on the slippery road to the other side and the banged into a tree. The air bags blew out to save him just in time.
Blankness. Light fading….eyes closed.Blankness.
He woke up to the sound of a chopper which was hovering above his car. The man spoke over the wireless
“Its a red car…hang on….We found a survivor… There is a man who needs immediate medical attention. We are going to airlift him now to the hospital…Over!”
He fainted again.
Mark opened his eyes in the hospital late that evening and there was a policeman present to record his statement. Mark told everything as it happened to the man in uniform and looked at him.
“You said, you were at this place on the night of 21st or the morning of 22nd, when this ‘incidence’ happened?” the officer asked.
“Er…yes. This is what happened.” Mark replied in a faint lost voice.
“But today is 23rd when they found you in your car. So, you were on the road for two days according to our information…and the place you described does not show on the official map of the county. The road you described does not exist! its simply wilderness.” the policeman said with a slight tinge of disbelief in his voice.
“There is a lake nearby, which is covered by the tree-line on two sides.” He said with a distant look in his eyes.
“Hmmm…curious…There is not even a lake that you mention. Are you sure you were not drunk? ‘coz, they found a bottle of cognac in your car and alcohol in your blood. Which is strange, if you passed out on the night of 21st…It doesn’t make sense. Does it?” said the policeman.
Mark stared at him and spoke.
“Nothing makes sense…its all a dream. I shall wake up from this one as well.”
“We were searching for survivors in Rushmore county for past two days. you are lucky they found you in time. The crash didn’t do much damage to you but your car…its almost doubled up in the front.” the officer added.
Mark just looked at the wrist watch lying on the side table beside his bed, that had stopped at 12: 30 AM on the eventful night; and then out of the window and watched the clear blue sky brightened up with a beaming Sun.
He had touched the time and space from another dimension. Nothing made sense anymore to him.