Because I seem to enjoy crazy writing competitions, I entered the Fall “Fiction War” competition last month and had 3 days to write a 1,000 word story including the prompt “I can’t leave her now. She’s already gone.”
I found out today that my story didn’t place, but I still had fun with it. Be warned it’s a darker tale; if you’re not a horror fan, you may want to sit this one out.
The rain started just before they stumbled upon the lodge. In the dying light, the building seemed somehow sinister.
Tim was glad they’d found shelter. He’d been worried about spending the night in the woods. With no cell service this high up the mountain, his smartphone lay useless in his pocket.
“Daddy, I’m tired.”
Tim took Kayla’s hand. He shuddered involuntarily, thinking about what could happen to them in the woods, unprotected.
“Let’s get out of this rain, kiddo.”
The light shining through the building’s dirty windows created long shadows. Over the wind, Tim thought he heard voices singing or chanting, but the sound stopped when the door creaked open.
Shivering, Kayla gripped Tim’s hand.
“It’s OK,” he said softly, not sure whether he was reassuring Kayla or himself.
Inside, dozens of faces turned toward the newcomers, their gazes glassy and unfocused.
Who the hell are these people?
A man approached them, almost gliding across the floor. He smiled, revealing bright teeth. His smile didn’t reach his eyes, though, and a single word came, unbidden, to Tim’s mind:
“Welcome, lost sheep! I’m Brother James. Please sit. Join my flock.” His voice was smooth, almost hypnotic.
Tim wanted nothing more than to rest, but the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Kayla tightened her grip on his hand.
When Tim spoke, it was with a bravado he didn’t feel. “Sorry to intrude. I’m Tim and this is Kayla. We were hiking the trail, but we must’ve missed a marker. If you’ll just point us toward the trail head, we’ll be on our way.”
“Nonsense. That storm isn’t letting up anytime soon.”
With a sinking feeling, Tim saw James was right. Sheets of rain pelted the windows.
“Stay. In the morning, I’ll personally help you leave. OK? Sit. We’re nearly finished.” His voice was soothing.
He’s right. I can’t take Kayla out in this storm, and I’m certainly not going to leave her here to get the car myself.
Resigned, Tim leaned back against the wall. Kayla burrowed under his arm, her head on his chest. “We’ll just rest until the storm is over.”
In the center of the room, James resumed preaching. Both his words and the way he delivered them made Tim’s hackles rise.
“When we make our GLORIOUS Ascension tomorrow, brothers and sisters, you will achieve a NEW state of being. The good Lord has shown me the TRUTH and the WAY!”
The crowd murmured “Praise be!” and “Hallelujah!”
James continued in the same dulcet tones. “REVEL in the knowledge that the Ascension will save us ALL from this EVIL world!”
Tim glanced around and saw that the crowd, to a person, hung on James’ words.
“Now we rest again in this mortal place, prepared for the GREATNESS that awaits us in His new kingdom. HALLELUJAH!”
After a vehement “AMEN!”, people began placing blankets and pillows on the floor.
Although the fervor indoors was over, the storm outside raged on. Tim glanced down and saw Kayla struggling to keep her eyes open.
We’ll leave as soon as the storm breaks…
James interrupted Tim’s thoughts. “Kayla can sleep with the other little lambs.” He gestured to the corner. “YOU bunk down with the men over here.”
Kayla slid off Tim’s lap but looked at him questioningly.
After a brief hesitation, Tim nodded and kissed the top of her head. After all, he’d be in the same room and could keep a watchful eye on her. “Get some rest, kiddo.”
Tim intended to stay awake as James’ flock settled down for the night. He succeeded for a while, but his exhaustion won out sometime after midnight.
Tim woke to brilliant sunlight streaming through the windows and James touching his shoulder.
A wave of relief washed over him. Thank God – the storm is over. We can go home.
“God has given us a FINE morning for Ascension, Brother Tim.” Smiling, James offering Tim a plastic cup.
Rubbing sleep from his eyes with one hand, Tim took the cup with the other.
Orange drink? Beggars can’t be choosers.
His throat parched and his mind still full of cobwebs, he didn’t question the cup. Instead, he drank half of the liquid in one swallow, grimacing at the bitter aftertaste.
His eyes sought Kayla and found her sitting across the room, her own drink in hand. She smiled sleepily, cheeks stained orange from her cup.
Tim realized James was still speaking, so he turned his attention back to the preacher.
“The good Lord brought you to us for a REASON. You’ll leave with us today to help establish His NEW kingdom.”
Recognizing crazy when he heard it, Tim decided to play along rather than risk antagonizing James.
“I can’t go anywhere, Brother James. Thanks for your hospitality, but I have my daughter to consider. I’m all she has; I can’t leave her now.” Tim took another sip and glanced up, startled by James’ expression.
“Leave her? You’re not leaving her. She’s already gone. ASCENDED! You’re JOINING her.”
Tim looked at James, not understanding. He fought to keep his suddenly heavy eyelids open and looked over to where Kayla now lay, slumped on the floor.
As he tried to stand, he realized with growing horror that his limbs wouldn’t cooperate. Comprehension dawned too late as Tim watched the last few drops of the orange drink drip from his spilled cup.
James’ voice seemed to be coming from far away.
“ASCEND, Brother Tim!”
Outside, the mountainside came to life with the dawning of a new day.
Inside the lodge, James hummed to himself as he surveyed the lifeless bodies of his followers. His mind whirled with the possibilities for his next destination. Wisconsin? Minnesota? Maybe even further west.
Stepping through the doorway to the sunlit clearing, James checked his pocket and felt his wallet, made fat by the Ascension offering. Smiling, he pulled the creaking door shut behind him.
“Yes, it is a FINE morning the good Lord has provided us.”