This is an excerpt from my current work in progress. It takes place in Ann Arbor, MI.
Alone, he walked in the middle of a familiar, snow banked street. The piles from the snowplows seemed to rise up much higher than they should have, trapping him in a canyon of ice. As he walked, each street light he walked under went out, leaving only darkness behind him. He trotted faster, the way he might if he thought someone followed him. He didn’t want to run. Silence surrounded him. Deep, cold, winter silence. The park where he and Barnum hung out in the summer was at the end of this street.
The park’s lights went out as he passed them, the same as the street, and they started going out ahead of him too. Darkness trying to trap him. The one working light in the park stood guard over the swing set, illuminating three figures. He made for the warm white circle, not wanting the darkness to catch him alone. A thrill of dread made him stop, unsure whether this group offered safety or if they were more dangerous than the Darkness.
He recognized one of them as a girl from school. Beth was her name. She was friends with some of the jerks who hassled him but he didn’t think she ever said bad word about anyone. If she got her away from her so-called friends, she even acted human. A pair of kids stood beside her; little kids, maybe nine or ten. None of them dressed for the cold. The kids were in sweatshirts and jeans and Beth wore a pink summer dress and bare feet. She shivered, her mouth a little blue, like when you swim in a freezing lake for too long. A green winter coat lay uselessly on a nearby picnic table along with gloves and boots.
“Are you sure?” Beth said.
The smaller of the kids nodded. “It’s best this way.” A voice too deep, too flat came out of the child’s mouth. “The medicine the doctor gave you won’t work. Depression and anxiety? Those are just fancy words for selfish and lazy. Everyone knows you’re too lazy and idle to get yourself together. Once they get over the shock, they’ll know you did them a favor.”
The taller one spoke with the same flat intonation making the hair on the back of Bailey’s neck rise. “Things are never going to change. This is the best way. Everyone will be so relieved.”
She nodded and threw something up in the air. A thin piece of rope she tossed over the top. She tied one end to one of the posts supporting the structure, the other end she fashioned into a loop with a slipknot. She put it over her head.
“Hey!” Bailey yelled, forgetting it was a dream. “Don’t!”
The kids turned towards him. Bailey stumbled backwards, tripping over something under the snow, sprawling onto the cold wet ground. He jumped to his feet, but they moved impossibly fast. They stood right in front of him. “You should let us come to your house,” The expressionless voice made his skin crawl. “You should ask us in. It’s cold.”
“Stay the fuck away from me!”
“We’re just kids,” said the taller one, “We can’t do anything to you. It’s not like we have a gun or anything.”
True, they weren’t big but they terrified him, nonetheless.
Looking over the tops of their heads, Bailey saw Beth kneeling on the cold ground, eyes closed, hands resting on her knees. The rope around her neck pulled taut, and a raspy wheeze came from her chest, but she could easily stand up again and save herself. “Beth!” He shouted. She had to get up. Why didn’t the simple animal reflexes of her body kick in and demand oxygen? It was so hard to kill yourself–Your mind might be ready to die, but your god damned body always did its best to survive.
“She can’t hear you,” The taller kid was apparently the spokesman. “You’re dreaming.”
Bailey shifted his attention back to the creepy kids and realized what kept striking him as wrong. Their eyes had no iris or pupil, only fathomless black orbs, gleaming in the streetlight.
Suffocating, tearing at his own throat, desperate to get the cord around his neck loose before it could strangle him, he woke in a bed soaked through with sweat. His searching, painfully contracted fingers met with nothing. A weight on his chest prevented him from breathing or moving. Fighting this immobilizing force with every scrap of willpower, he fought his way free of the covers. He retched, but didn’t bring anything up. He cupped his mouth and nose with both hands and willed his breathing to slow.
The silence of the empty house was as deep as a tomb. The dark room’s walls as close as a coffin.