Part 1 here
A straight staircase connected the house to the street, and it appeared much like an arrow, pointing me to the front door; without effort I was upon the steps, three up, then detected movement behind me from the street. I knew the movement’s source without looking, but I looked anyway and watched a timeless SUV climbing away, away from me and the house, and I could see through its rear window two figures, male and female – driver and passenger; a curious longing welled up in me as that ancient vehicle approached the end of the street, left turn signal on and off and on, and I blinked my eyes hard until I was certain they must have left my view, because I knew I would never see those two again, and the pain in knowing gnawed my stomach, threatened to grow uncontrollable. Longing curdled to disdain. How could they leave us here alone?
I stared several minutes at the blankness left behind in the SUV’s absence, reminded of a blankness in me that manifested long before its occupants drove away from us. They would be strong where they were going; they would be peaceful. They would be forgetting of all the ills here behind the dancing trees and the creeping shadows that remained hidden so long as their strength remained present, but they took it with them on their car ride to Liberty, departed without thinking of me on the staircase, forcing me to climb, forced to be strong. “I will be strong.” I said aloud, but I could barely hear myself speak, could not feel my throat flex with the effort to say the words, betraying a lack of inertia behind them. Boring my eyes into blankness, I felt a touch of wet on my chin and was aware I’d been biting through my lower lip; I was bleeding, and I was not strong.
The pre-twilight glow was fading. If my own will were weighty enough to prevent me from ascending further – it wasn’t – that weight was diminishing rapidly as the light itself; forsaken memories of stories told to children of yesterday returned to me – stories which told us dancing trees would mutate to haunting sentinals when the day failed to soften them, stories of what horrifying apparitions trees will become and the accusations they may speak to any foolish souls who should remain in places they ought not be during hours they ought not be there – YOU’LL DISAPPEAR!
Ambition hatched anew in the waking realization that my surroundings were transitioning from merely ominous to wholly perilous. I was alone out here; there was no changing it, and my only course was to carry out the non-choice before me; repellant as I found the stationary house – knowing as I was of its occupants and the abiding mood that would be, leeching me of vitality – I could not endure the impending darkness; even less so could I fathom that I remain there when the fated hour would arrive – that abominable hour I believed would entreat an awful, unmentionable thing – that thing I’ve not spoken of until this time. The steps, climbing became my urgent mission.
I am no small man, but I felt so, as my long legs were hardly capable of overcoming the stairs, which appeared to swell in height and depth the higher I ascended. To my left, a poorly aligned handrail jutted from the steps, and though I’m not in the habit of using them, I gripped this rail with the urgency of an unsecured rock climber with his pick.
With the jagged rail assisting me, my progress toward the house improved, but not well enough, for the once silent breeze gained velocity with the second, and this strange, awful wind began to groan, appeared less to be pushing against me and more to be tugging me from behind, as if the shape of the air’s movement could form a hand to pull me back and hold me in its outdoor lair. Still white-knuckling the rail, I peeked over my shoulder, feared to find a sentient tree branch grasping me by the shirt and a phantom, zigzag mouth in the background, breathing terror – YOU’LL DISAPPEAR!, but there was nothing, not visible anyway.
The worst dream to dream is to be running from something, for one can never seem to run fast enough, but again, this is not so unlike the real world, where most of us spend our days running from people or predicaments, or most often we run with vigor from whatever we should be doing with ourselves, and again, perhaps this was no dream, or perhaps it does not matter. Perhaps there is little difference. More frightening than running from something is to be running from nothing, because nothing leaves much room for the imagination to brew the most awful concoction, to think up a more terrifying evil than reality itself could produce.
The advancing wind groaned louder, calling an end to my short paralysis, and I heaved step over step; somehow I knew that reaching the top stair would break me from the grasp of nothing, and I was close; the front door of the stationary house was close; I nearly felt I could reach it if I stretched hard enough.
There was a sign on the door.