I’m into the second part of the novel now. It’s called “Susurration of Souls,” and I see it as the second major part of three in the first book.
Yes, I’ve pretty much decided Twilight Gardens will indeed be comprised of two full-length books. The sequel, following the pattern of the old drafts I’ve now consigned to languish on my flash drive for all eternity, will be titled Moonlight’s Requiem.
Also, there will be a novella that will run parallel with the events at the beginning of MR. That novella will be titled Exile.
And now that the news has been relayed regarding my plans for the tale, here is an excerpt from the first chapter of Part II. Enjoy.
The Path of Least Resistance
Alma Deepneau was nearly at her wit’s end when she discovered the dirt path behind the property of their new house the day after one of the house’s former owners, Montgomery Ferguson, drove out of Seattle nearly a continent away.
It was the voices, see? Those maddening whispers that would wake her out of uneasy sleep, that came to her from the air vents throughout the house. And what did they say? What did whispers of this sort ever say? They said horrible things she’d rather not think about, and along with those things came images, flashing unbidden in her mind, like grotesque paintings splashed on the underside of her eyelids, following her into the dark with their
ravings and their
A time or two since they had moved in, Alma had sensed more than mere whispers. A few times, she had actually seen things too. She had stepped out back to take out the trash the other day, for instance, and when she turned around, she had found that the side of the central air conditioning unit had been splattered with blood along one blunt corner. A smeared blood trail led inside. She had followed it as if in a daze, dreading what she would likely find but unable to cease her progress.
In the office, she had seen a man she had never seen before sitting in an office chair… a young man, yes, but a man nonetheless, the side of his head bashed open, his scalp peeling away in a flap of bloody, pulpy flesh that looked far worse than anything she had ever seen on that Walking Dead television show. That side of the man’s ghost pale face had been drenched in crimson rivulets, and a pool of blood had gathered about his feet.
Alma had made it as far as the hallway between the far office and the kitchen through which she had followed the blood trail before the specter opened his eyes. His jaw hung open slackly, then opened even more, as if the bones in his face would dislocate, and that horrible O of a maw produced a blood-curdling moan as shadowy tendrils emerged, hungrily licking at the air…
Mrs. Deepneau had to shake Alma out of it. She had no idea she had stood there screaming, but her throat had become raw and hoarse, the only sound emerging from her throat a mere breathless shadow of the ear-splitting shriek it had been, and an hour passed before she could talk above a whisper again.
Then, from her bedroom later that night as she lay in bed, Alma had noticed that the door to the basement had opened seemingly of its own accord… which was frightening in its own right, seeing as how a previous owner had installed a deadbolt lock on this side of the door, a lock that always remained engaged. There, in the depths of shadow, she had seen another face leering at her, this one gaunt and haggard yet simultaneously young. The mouth had stretched in a rictus of a smile beneath a nose so crooked it resembled a mountain chain more than a facial feature.
She does not remember how she eventually got to sleep, but that horrible, shadowy visage followed Alma into her nightmares that night.
On the day she discovered the dirt path, however, she saw nothing in the house, but the voices, God, the voices wouldn’t shut up. When she was in the living room, watching reruns of Lost, she heard something whisper her name from the next room… and it had to be a thing, couldn’t be anything but a thing, because no person ever had a voice as horrible and grating as this!
She refused to turn, to look toward the whisper in the other room, but she could hear something scratching the wall and imagined long talons scraping at painted wood. She did her best to shut out the sound, but she was about ready to turn and scream for it to stop, please stop, just fucking stop when her mother walked in and asked if Alma would like a bit of tea. Alma smiled her best sweet, everything’s peachy-keen smile, and said yes, thank you, and all that jazz. When Mrs. Deepneau left the room, Alma finally looked toward the next room (a room the Fergusons had referred to as “the green room,” and not because it housed plants but because the walls were painted the color of its namesake) and saw the deep scratches – no, gouges – in the wood of the archway frame, as if the claws of a velociraptor had been tearing at the wall.
In the kitchen, she heard whispers from the bathroom. She heard footsteps, although she wouldn’t look in that direction – no, she wouldn’t dare – and heard those footsteps enter the stairwell leading into the basement. She heard a woman scream, heard that same woman falling down the stairs, her weight slamming down each step. Alma would have run to the basement door right that second had her mother not been standing three feet to her left, oblivious to the sounds of the woman falling, for in that scream Alma almost heard her mother’s voice and would have gone instantly out of fear that it actually had been her mother.
The other whispers she had heard remain unimportant in the vast scheme of things. Every last one is merely another auditory taunt, and most of them are so faint, they are unintelligible. They are sinister – of that, there is no doubt – but all the same, they are merely the voices of a house haunted by things far worse than ordinary ghosts.
Monty Ferguson knows this, for this house rests uneasily on a precipice above what many would consider hell.
Alma was outside with Zelda when she first noticed the path.
They had been playing fetch with a Frisbee for a bit, but after a few disinterested throws on Alma’s part (she still couldn’t get those whispers, now beckoning to her from the basement windows, out of her), Zelda had begun to wander away, looking first this way and then that way, before she finally caught whiff of a scent that immediately arrested her attention and began to pad her way around the side of the old garage.
Alma called after her when she realized Zelda no longer cared about the Frisbee, and when the dog disappeared from view, she went after her. The dog led her, sniffing, around the side of the old structure, tail wagging slowly from side to side as it remained erect and alert before Alma. The Deepneaus did not bother with leashes, not with the fence around the yard, but as Alma followed Zelda around to the back of the building, she discovered that there was indeed a break in the chain-link. A casual glance would not have revealed the break, but closer inspection revealed a growing gap in the fence, camouflaged by overgrowth.
And what was this? Zelda came upon a small patch of dirt Alma had not noticed a moment before. (And was it that the bare patch of earth hadn’t been there a moment before? Had it truly been a solid stretch of grass and weeds? Alma knows not, and she certainly won’t consider it at length until much later.)
The gap yawned open before Alma, and through it the patch of dirt became more than a mere patch; it became a path, twisting off to the right to run parallel to the fence. The overgrowth grew around it, as if to shield it from the rest of the world – a feat that Alma thought it had done amazingly well.
Zelda stopped before the gap, nosed the dirt, then backed away, her butt rubbing against the vine-covered bricks of the back side of the garage. She growled deep in her throat, never voicing a full bark, but her ears lay flat against the curvature of her skull, and her eyes regarding the path with pure, unadulterated distrust.
“Zelda, what’s wrong?” Alma asked, but the Dalmatian Retriever paid her no mind.
Alma stepped forward, gripping the side of the cut chain-link, slipping a couple of fingers through, and ducked through a mass of growth hanging about the top of the fence. Zelda darted forward, firmly but carefully affixing her teeth around the hem of Alma’s jeans, and tugged with such fervor that Alma nearly went sprawling, face first, into the dirt. Only her grip on the fence kept her from pitching all the way forward, and she turned back to Zelda, incredulous.
“Zelda, what’s gotten into you?” she demanded, pulling free of her dog’s jaws. Zelda looked up at her with wide, full eyes, a low keen rising from her, and this time she did bark, once, and sat at the edge of the dirt path, regarding Alma with a pleading expression.
Alma regarded Zelda with a puzzled expression. Back here, away from the house, she could no longer hear the whispers of the house. All feelings of dread and despair had left her, and curiosity had swept in like a flood, filling her and leaving her feeling less drained than she had in days. Here, in the presence of the new, of the unknown, with something that seemed far more normal and devoid of the supernatural that plagued her waking moments close to the house, only curiosity remained.
“If you’re going to be that way, stay here,” Alma told her.
Zelda looked back toward the corner of the garage with one eye, looking positively antsy, then back at Alma. She whined, as if to say, Come back with me, girl. You mustn’t go.
But why shouldn’t she? Alma wondered.
The curiosity of what lay beyond, along the path, drew her forward more than her dog’s worrying could hold her back. “Stay,” she told Zelda, with added emphasis, then turned and began to follow the path.
Zelda sat at the beginning of the path and did not follow.
Had anyone been watching this from afar, it would have looked as if Alma had vanished into midair. And, for all intents and purposes, she did.
The path was narrow, and in places the overgrowth, thick with choking kudzu and brush, clung to branches that overhung the path, creating a thick canopy that effectively blocked out the sun, casting the path in shadow. Despite this, Alma thought the path was uncharacteristically bright, as if the molecules in the air itself were self-illuminating just enough to drive back the darkness.
The farther Alma walked down the path, the greater her sense of calm increased. And the voices? They were silent, thank God, they were silent! Back here, the voices did not reach out to her.
Alma cast a single glance back to see if Zelda might have decided to follow her after all, but of the dog there was no sign. She was probably still waiting at the gap in the fence. Alma gave her dog only one more thought, wondering why she was acting so strangely there of all places, and dismissed it. Even that little bit of worry ebbed away, replaced by the soothing calm of this place.
Further down, the path snaked slightly to the left, and from beyond the curve Alma saw a basking glow of sunlight painting the leaves of kudzu. Particles of pollen danced in the shafts of yellow light, and she thought that this view could easily be a painting. That light! It was so saturated, so hyper-real, that it almost broke her heart in its pure beauty!
A faint smile pulled at the corners of her mouth, and after Alma had marveled at the beams of sunlight long enough, she hurried along, almost running, until she reached the end of the path… and stopped, breathless, to find a small clearing. At its center, a pond filled with the clearest water she had ever seen sparkled in the sunlight and reflected the sky above like a mirror. Perfect trees – perfect, as if they had come to life from a Disney painting – surrounded this space, and a boulder, smooth across its top, overlooked the pond. There, astride the rock, was a girl of about Alma’s age, her vibrant red hair pulled back from her face and braided in magnificent ponytails, a ribbon so starkly red tied around each braid of hair that it looked like saturated blood, and she wore a beautiful sundress to match the ribbons. The girl was reaching down, trailing a finger along the surface of the water, creating small ripples along its surface, and it was only then that Alma noticed the duck floating serenely across the pond’s surface.
The entire sight looked like something straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting.
Alma stepped forward, her dirty shoes sinking into the pristine grass. When she looked down and saw her filthy Reeboks contrasting so horribly with the wonder around her, she frowned momentarily. She looked back to the girl on the boulder and wished ardently that she didn’t look so downtrodden in comparison.
“Hello?” she called, a little meekly at first. The clearing reminded Alma of a church in that she felt like any loud sound would be taken as blasphemy, any blemish (such as her dirty sneakers) would be a desecration.
The girl atop the boulder looked at her, and for the briefest of moments, Alma thought she saw a flash of something else in the girl’s eyes. Whatever it was, however, must have been a trick of the light, for they revealed themselves to be the captivating shade of a glistening emerald. The girl offered a smile. “Greetings,” she called back, sounding far more sure of herself than Alma had.
Alma approached slowly, eying the pond before her and then everything around the clearing. Now that she was here, she wondered where this was in relation to the other houses. Weren’t there houses beyond the back fence? Whose property was this? The girl’s parents? Despite the site’s majesty (or perhaps in spite of), Alma found herself wondering how this wondrous space could possibly coexist in the same neighborhood as her house, a residence filled with restless spirits.
“I’m sorry if I’m trespassing,” Alma said. “I came across the path and was curious.”
The girl’s smile brightened. “Oh, that’s quite alright. This is a place for anyone who wishes to come.” Then, dropping her voice and giving Alma a conspiratorial wink, she added, “It’s a great place to get away from the voices.”
Alma’s eyes widened. Her heart beat escalated. “You hear them too?”
“Why, of course!” the girl said, rising onto her knees, the fabric of the sundress pulled beneath to protect her bare knees from the surface of the boulder. “I’m quite certain anyone close to that place–” (she pointed to beyond the tall growth of kudzu, which Alma was surprised to see had grown here to nearly the height of her house; how on earth had it grown so high, and why hadn’t she noticed it from the house before?) “–hears them, nagging at the brain. They tend to get in deep and grow there, sprouting like weeds.”
Alma looked back to the girl. She noticed a glimmer of a grin touch her lips that was far less inviting than the smile had been.
“What’s your name?” Alma asked.
The girl looked away, glancing off into the trees. “You haven’t lived there very long.” This was not a question, Alma noticed, nor was it lost on her that the girl had blatantly ignored her question.
Alma said nothing at first, but when the girl looked back, her gaze piercing, those green eyes seemingly penetrating into the depths of her soul, she replied, “No, I haven’t.”
“No one lasts long. The writer certainly didn’t.”
Curiosity got the better of Alma. “Did you know him?”
The girl smiled, shook her head. “I knew of him. Who didn’t?”
A shadow fell over the clearing. Alma looked up and noticed that a dark cloud, nearly black, was rapidly spreading, eating up the whole sky. It’s cancer, she thought without knowing why. It’s cancer, and it’s spreading. If we’re not careful, it’ll gobble the whole world up.
It did not occur to her to wonder what she meant by we.
“It’s coming,” the girl said.
“It,” she said again, casting her eye to the tumor of a cloud above. “The dark cloud.” The girl looked back to Alma, and her face was suddenly simultaneously young but also much older – ancient, in fact. Her skin had dried nearly to the point of putrefaction, yet her eyes remained a beacon of vitality blazing in the center of that dead mass. Her lips were dry, chapped slivers around her teeth, and her hair hung in dead clumps that looked more like dreads than pigtails. She leered, lips cracking open in puffs of dust.
“He’s coming home,” the corpse girl rasped, and from behind her back she withdrew a pair of wicked shears, their blades long and pitted and stained a rusty color that might have been dried blood.
And there, beneath the girl, the pool retained its mirror quality, but the duck was no longer alive. It floated atop the water’s surface, its body dried and dead, a mummy sans mummification, for its corpse had been preserved almost as a Medusan statue. Its eye sockets were empty, hollow.
Zelda’s behavior suddenly made sense. This place was not one of peace but of death, and she had sensed the truth behind its glamour from the foot of the path.
Alma turned to leave, but where the opening to the path had been, now there was only a thick network of interwoven branches and kudzu blocking her exit. She ran for it anyway, throwing herself at the vines, ripping at them, crying all the while, the fear coursing in her veins, pounding in her heart. She was determined to get out, to race back to her Zelda (whom she could hear barking frantically in the distance; now that she recognized it for what it was, hadn’t she heard the dog barking for quite a while already, somewhere beneath the peaceful silent of the clearing), but for every branch and length of kudzu she ripped away, lacerating the flesh of her hands in the process, several layers more blocked her progress.
A corroded blade pressed against the flesh of her throat. Alma froze, tears coursing down her cheeks, and the corpse girl leaned close to her ear.
“Who are you?” Alma asked, trembling.
The corpse grinned. “Oh honey, why do you want to know my name?”
Alma squeezed her eyes shut, and a new trail of tears streaked from beneath her eyelids. “What do you want?”
The corpse grinned wider, and a drool of black bile escaped the corner of her lips, ran down the side of her chin. “I want you to deliver a message for me.” She leaned closer then and began to whisper in Alma’s ear.
Alma opened her eyes, and they grew wider by the second. Her mouth dropped, hung agape, and her lips began to tremble.
A moment later, she began to scream.
Copyright © October 2013 by Michael David Anderson