(Kindly forgive my typos. I’m writing and posting)
Rural Ohio, 1982
Dale’s eyes rolled open, and he lay on his back staring at the dark ceiling. From the forefront of his mind, a dream of heat and pain fled to the depths of his subconscious. He swallowed and rolled to his side, pulling the sheet off of his body. His narrow eyes looked out the bedroom window. It was open. The curtain sheers hung still from the rod. The air was thick and warm, and there was no breeze. Dale closed his eyes to find sleep again, but the seed of realization was beginning to bloom in his mind. He fought it, not wanting to engage in thought or acknowledge certain possibilities. His body begged him to return to slumbering while his mind got to thinking.
It was quiet. Of course it’s quiet, he thought. It ought to be. It’s the middle of the night. But it was too quiet. The warm, summer nights were anything but quiet in the countryside. Frogs croaked endlessly. Critters crawled in and out of every little hole they could find. But for the Swanson family, it was the crickets that lulled them to sleep at night. The miles of corn that surrounded their home was sanctuary to God knew how many crickets. It was a sound that was far too familiar to the Swanson’s. You only noticed it when it was gone. And when it did go away, it wasn’t for lack of crickets.
Dale heard footsteps go tearing across the gravel of his driveway. The steps were fast and dug deep and came with an eager panting. Cinder was on the move. Dale closed his eyes again and they snapped back open with the sound of Cinder’s barks. They were crisp and aggressive. Dale sat up grudgingly.
“The hell’s he on about?” asked Peggy. She pulled her pillow over her head.
“Dunno,” said Dale. He let his eyes drift out the bedroom window, out toward the sound of the barking. A gentle glow of white light spilled from one fluorescent bulb that hung from a nearby power-pole. A wide arc faded out into the distance, caressed the barn, and melded with the darkness. The sky was muted with a thin layer of clouds so that only the brightest of stars could shine through.
“Ain’t ya gonna yell at him?” Peggy moaned.
Dale just shrugged. “I don’t think he’s doin’ bad,” he said. “There’s something out there.”
“Probably the damn coons again, diggin’ in the garbage.” She pressed the pillow down harder.
“I didn’t hear anything like coons,” said Dale. “I think it woke me up. It shutup the crickets and the silence woke me up.”
Peggy lifted her pillow and listened. Cinder was barking with more ferocity now. Through the barking, she could hear the silence. “What time is it?” she asked.
Dale stood up and went to the window. He knelt down on his knees and rested his chin on the frame. “I don’t know.” He stared at the darkness that clung to the edge of that white circle of light. The bulb buzzed with electricity. He squinted to try to see where his dog might be. On the other side of the bed, Peggy reached an arm out and turned on the light.
“Christ almighty,” she said. “It’s 3 a.m.” She flicked the light back off and pressed the pillow to her head again. “Dale, please?”
“Sure,” he said. He stood and gave himself a scratch while still looking through the screen of the window. He exhaled lightly on the curtain sheers and watched them sway casually. There was no denying it. The air was very still. He turned and tugged on some Levis. While he dressed, Cinder’s barking moved from one side of the house to the other. Dale listened with interest. The rottweiler was snarling now. In his mind, Dale could see the slime being slung from Cinder’s mouth.
“Jesus, Dale. What is that?” Peggy cried. She sat up now, tossing the pillow to the end of the bed. “Cinder’s just about lost his ever-lovin’ mind.”
Dale kept quiet and opened the closet. On the top shelf was a pump-action shotgun and two boxes of shells. He pulled a plaid shirt from the hanger, grabbed the gun, and stuffed rounds into the barrel and his pockets. “Hell if I know,” he said. “But it’s sure caused Cinder some concern. I’m gonna take a look for myself.”
Peggy was quiet, but Dale could hear her mind working away. “I’ll be careful,” he said.
“You got your shotgun?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said. “I was thinkin’ of grabbing my pistol for Cinder. Sounds like he’s in want of one.”
Peggy rolled over the bed and looked out the window. Below her sat the same circle of dull white light that Dale saw with darkness all around. Dale reached the door and listened once more. Cinder had stopped barking. The night seemed to hold its breath. Then Dale heard his dog running again, running to another corner of the house. “It’s goin’ around,” he said. “Like a perimeter. Cinder’s keepin’ it back.”
Peggy turned and reached under the bed. She pulled up a double-barrel shotgun, her father’s, and began digging for some shells.
“Now what’s this about?” Dale asked.
“What?” Peggy said in a hush. The soft sound of her voice startled Dale. It was the first he realized how easily he could be heard. “You think I’m gonna sit here and play damsel in distress?” She was whispering, but she managed to convey the words as a shout.
Dale opened the bedroom door. “Just calm down,” he whispered back. “I ain’t gonna do nothin’ stupid. Just take a peak and see what’s got Cinder’s motor going. You stay inside. I’ll give a shout if I need ya.”
Peggy found two slugs and loaded them into her gun with a click. “I’ll be here by the window listenin’ and watching.” Outside, Cinder’s barking roared back to life with a feverish rage. As Dale stepped out, he started to close the door behind him. “No!” Peggy whispered with anger. “Leave it open! I need to know who the hell is out there.” Dale shrugged and went downstairs.